Can anyone be prudent without being virtuous?

In the virtue ethics perspective, phronesis, or prudence, has an essential role for virtuous habits. It has been stated that prudence is necessary for the exercise of moral virtues. The relationship between prudence and moral virtues has been defined as one of interdependence, interrelationship. And classic approaches consider prudence as the mother virtue, that which functions as a conductor of others (Sison & Ferrero, 2015).

However, can anyone who is apparently sagacious or clever (cleverness), but who is not inclined to be courageous, just, resilient or temperate, be considered prudent? In other words, can anyone be prudent without moral virtues? Aristotle states that one who is not virtuous cannot be prudent. We would like to deepen our understanding of the dependence that phronesis has on the other moral virtues, something that has been little addressed, despite the extension of studies on the subject of practical wisdom (Bachman, Habisch & Dieskmeier, 2017).

The practical problem is that little has been discussed about the implication for business ethics when people are astute but without virtues, as well as the theoretical implications of not distinguishing between astute actions (practical wisdom without moral dimension) and fully virtuous actions, that is, based on the combination of moral-phronesis virtues in the light of the fundamentals of virtues ethics.

For example, an experienced entrepreneur can more easily understand his business context, the needs of consumers and his own personal circumstances. But in the face of a new business opportunity, where there is great uncertainty about future results, risk, volatility and potential, what would a cunning entrepreneur do? And what would a virtuous entrepreneur do? Why is there a great possibility that everyone’s action will be different?

Would these entrepreneur profiles have a different moral imagination to the point of acting differently? To what extent could the virtue of courage, temperance, and fortitude lead to distinct action by the virtuous entrepreneur? What is the relevance to such action of the purpose (telos) of each entrepreneur? Do they see their decision immersed in social relationships and, therefore, consider the impacts that their choices are capable of representing for the common good? These are questions that we seek to understand through the research and reflections developed in the Admethics research group.


Aristotle. (1999). Nicomachean ethics (T. Irwin, Trans.). (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.

Bachman, C., Habisch, A. & Dierksmeier, C. (2017). Practical Wisdom: Management’s No Longer Forgotten Virtue. Journal of Business Ethics, 153, 147–165. 1-016-3417-y

Sison, A. J. G. & Ferrero, I. (2015). How different is neo-Aristotelian virtue from positive organizational virtuousness? Business Ethics: A European Review, 24(S2), S78–S98.

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