Practical Knowledge?

Granted that there is such a thing as practical wisdom (phronesis) and deliberating well about actions, should it be called “knowledge” in the sense of episteme as used by Plato and Aristotle?

Episteme is generally associated with reason rather than with experience. It is supposed to have a kind of permanence. I have previously argued that the empirical “knowledge” associated with so-called justified true belief should instead be called a kind of well-founded belief, because it is subject to revision.

Aristotle distinguishes phronesis from episteme by saying that the former is concerned with (contingent) particulars, whereas the latter is concerned with universals (subject to necessity). He calls something a universal if it is said in the same way of multiple things, and necessary if there are no counter-examples. He is very careful to point out that wise ethical judgment is not characterized by the kind of “precision” or univocal interpretation that would characterize, say, a geometrical proof.

Kant makes a provocative counter-case for the possibility of unconditional universals in ethics, which could be said to potentially constitute ethical knowledge after all. But something like Aristotelian practical wisdom is still required to close the gap between those universals and real-world cases, and so if “practical” has to do with actions, this ethical knowledge would still not be practical in Aristotle’s sense.

Hegel points out that nothing in human experience is a pure particular, that some form of non-empirical judgment about the applicability of some universals is always mixed in. But it seems very doubtful that anything in experience would for Hegel qualify as purely universal, either. We come back again to the Platonic theme of the irreducibility of mixture and mixed things.

Pippin seems to imply that Hegel claims there is such a thing as practical knowing. But Pippin says “Practical knowing consists both in acknowledging the ‘reality of the good’ and in participating in the world’s own constant realization of its ‘purpose’ by acting”. If that is what that means, that is fine. But it does not remotely sound like knowledge in the sense of episteme. Rather, it captures some aspects of a good ethical stance.