Aristotle on Deliberation

In the ninth section of the sixth book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle looks into what makes good deliberation good. Good deliberation is the characteristic quality of the prudent person. Prudence is practical wisdom — the ability to deliberate well about what actions would be beneficial and expedient in leading a life of virtue and eudaimonia.

Good deliberation is a variety of inquiry, investigation, or seeking (inquiry in general can be toward good or bad ends, but good deliberation only toward good ends).

Among the things good deliberation isn’t:

scientific knowledge
Why not? Scientific knowledge concerns things that are invariable/eternal (remember?) that are known. Deliberation concerns things that are unknown and might be one way or another.
skill in conjecture, quick perception of causes, or clever guessing
Why not? Clever guessing is quick and doesn’t involve reasoning, whereas deliberation is, well, deliberate: slow and careful.
sagacity, presence of mind, acuteness, quick-wittedness, or acumen
Why not? Aristotle doesn’t say much about this except to call it a variety of conjecture or guessing. One commentator compared it to the skill in science of coming up with good hypotheses and knowing which ones are worth pursuing.
correctness of knowledge / science
Why not? Deliberation can be better or worse, but knowledge can only be either true or false (and if it’s false it’s not even knowledge anymore).
correctness of opinion
Why not? Deliberation is a process of inquiry; opinion is a conclusion.

What’s left? Dianoia: a.k.a. correctness of thinking, rightness of deliberation, rectitude of counsel, or correctness of the intellect.

There are four things that can masquerade as good deliberation, but that are really something else:

  1. good reasoning towards bad ends (e.g. the incontinent or bad, but clever person)
  2. true conclusions attained through fallacious logic
  3. correct reasoning that arrives at true conclusions, but in an overly-cumbersome and time-consuming way
  4. good reasoning toward ends that are good, but middling — ends that do not contribute to eudaimonia
Index to the Nicomachean Ethics series

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics