Ethics without the Will: Vernant, Heidegger, and Agamben on the Relation Between Praxis and Phronēsis


This article examines the articulation of praxis and phronēsis in book VI of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. With some help from Vernant, Heidegger, and Agamben, it brings out a dimension of Aristotle's thought that makes it challenging for us to think today, namely its lack of a concept of the will. Instead of seeing this as a deficiency, this paper argues that Aristotle's thinking can be more productively read as carving out a space for an ethics that is not governed by this metaphysical concept, in this way showing it not to be as essential to ethical thought as we often think. Phronēsis appears as the point of in-distinction between many oppositions that govern modern thought such as thinking and doing, being and acting, or theory and practice. In this way, it provides a suggestive example for those interested in developing new forms of ethics beyond those that have been bequeathed to us by the modern European tradition.

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