How are prudence and experience related?

In Book VI of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle intensively discusses knowledge in the form of Prudence, a form of virtue. In this section, he provides his take on the debate between teaching vs. experience as means to achieve something, the similar issue we face in Plato’s Protagoras in which Socrates argues whether good is learned or experienced. Unlike Socrates, Aristotle clearly states his opinion on this issue, which is discussed below.  

For Aristotle, prudence is the ultimate form of knowledge as he clearly states that “prudence corresponds to intellect, for intellect is concerned with the defining boundaries” (Book VI, 1142a 26-27). In fact, “He who knows about and spends his time on things that concern himself is held to be prudent” is the definition Aristotle uses to describe prudence (Book VI, 1142a 1-5). Thus, in this definition, knowledge is more related to experience because one needs to spend more time on something in order to understand it. In another word, passion and commitment are the requirements in achieving prudence. Aristotle strongly supports that experience is the key to knowledge in several other passages, such as “Hence even some who are without knowledge-those who have experience, among others-are more skilled in acting than are others who do have knowledge” (Book VI, 1141b 17-19), and “the cause is that prudence is also of particulars, which come to be known as a result of experience” (Book VI, 1142a 14-15). An example that Aristotle uses is the know-it-all young person who masters theoretical knowledge, but “not wise or well versed in nature”. There is always a sense of uncertainty when one learns thing theoretically. Yet, the same thing cannot be applied for experience.

Aristotle shares the same perspective that I have in my first post, titled “Knowledge vs. Experience: Which of these is education?” Knowledge cannot be classified as knowledge without the presence of experience. You cannot really know what you have not really seen in action, 

4 responses to “How are prudence and experience related?

  1. Hi Dinh, I also think experience is really important to knowledge. When I was training to be a lifeguard I had to read a lot about how to handle situations, such as diving in the water to save a drowning person, but when I had to take the practical exam I wasn’t able to perform as well as I thought I would. Without the experience of diving underwater and pulling out a person, it’s really hard to know for sure what I was in for.

    The point that you make about Aristotle’s view of “know-it-all” young people stuck with me. I used to think that I was very wise and capable back when I was in high school. But the reality is, I was too young, too simple, and maybe even a bit too naive. I just didn’t have the experience and world view that people older than me have to see things from a well rounded, substantiated point of view. I think Aristotle was trying to make this point about those young scholars.

  2. I definitely agree with Aristotle’s point that knowledge is more rooted around experience. When I read your post, and also Caroline’s comment on the correlation between the two and the inclusion of prudence, it made me think of the concept of being street smart versus being book smart. As a young child, my parents would often say that I was a smart kid book wise but that they sheltered me too much and kept me from experiencing certain things that would have helped to develop “street smarts,” or simply put- more experience on my own. To me, prudence is more dependent upon the street smarts component which is directly influenced by experience and therefore is connected to knowledge, or being book smart.

  3. I think it is very cool that you derived the connection between prudence and experience in a very Aristotle-like way(like syllogism?). What you said got me thinking about the connection between knowledge and experience in my life and I found I am really on the fence about the whole matter. I can think of circumstances under which experience is more prudent than theoretical knowledge as well a circumstances where theoretical knowledge might be more prudent than practical knowledge. That being said I think experience supplements theoretical knowledge greatly but I do not think it is always essential to attaining knowledge. For exmple, I know that touching lava would burn my hand, however, the fact that I have never actually touched lava does not disqualify that knowledge in any practical way.

  4. You all brought up some personal experience that is well-suited for this topic. I appreciate that. Trieste, I think the point that Aristotle wants to say about knowledge is that you don’t really know anything in-depth until you experience it. Yes! You know that you would burn yourself, but how would it feel like? Does it feel like a burn from a fire? Does it feel like a burn from touching a tail pipe? Similarly, there are different kinds of hot weather. Florida hotness is different from Nevada hotness. I would love to hear your opinion on this. If you could give some examples of theoretical knowledge as prudence, that would be nice as well.

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