aporia + phronesis = eidos

For Plato knowledge (episteme) is derived by justifying an opinion (doxa) with an argument (logos). Hence the Platonic formula: 

doxa + logos = episteme.

So too, I will argue that can we say say that:

aporia + phronesis = eidos.

For me C. Wright Mills’ offered not just a methodological influence but an intellectual guide in how he combined aporia and phronesis to offer eidos: the distinctive expression of the cognitive or intellectual character of a culture or social group.  Symbolically I would put this as:

α + Φ = Σ

I believe this uncovers the basis of Mill’s ethical dimension, itself firmly rooted in reason and philosophy; something we might simply call Socratic. His approach can be described as firstly to draw from the aporia: for Mills these were the pivotal intellectual questions of the locus classicus presented in ‘Images of Man’ and elsewhere.  Secondly he uncovered the mechanics of change in terms of phronesis.  Here he engages in shifts in perspective from the political to the psychological to understand a more complete eidos—a fuller analysis of social and historical meaning.

Eidos is the distinctive expression of the cognitive or intellectual character of a culture or a social group.  With Plato, the eidos is the immutable genuine nature of a thing, one of the eternal, transcendent Forms apprehended by human reason.  Aristotle rejected the notion of independently existing forms and understood them instead as abstract universals stating that by eidos he meant the essence of each thing and its primary substance. Husserl used the term ‘eidetic’ for the phenomenological apprehension of essences generally (Husserl, 1962).

In Book B of ‘Metaphysics’ Aristotle uses aporia to begin his method of inquiry by examining the various aporiai that exist to find out what his predecessors wanted to find out.  It is used in contrast to an a priori rationalist inquiry, or similarly, an empiricist inquiry that begins from a tabula rasa (Younis, 2007).  The aporia induces a state of recognition of one’s own ignorance as a prelude to discovery, but it also enables us to search for knowledge about the nature of being, what constitutes knowledge or finding knowledge of the nature of being.  The aporia-based method is a variant of the dialectic method (Ross, 1994).

Ross (1994a) defined phronesis as the capability to consider the mode of action in order to deliver change and distinguishes it from wisdom (sophia) the ability to think well about the nature of the world: phronesis is a true and reasoned state or capacity to act with regard to the things that are good or bad for humanity.  For Castoriadis (1997: 114) phronesis is the: “capacity or power to judge at the very place where no mechanical, objectifiable rules that would facilitate judgement can be found.”  Phronesis is an intellectual virtue, a state that allows the individual who attains it to be able to ascertain what is good for humankind, and then to deliberate about how best to reach that good. Phronesis is a mediation between poles of tension: the ontology of ethics, but not generalisation: it is the truth of existence in the reality of action.  Plato’s phronesis was the virtue of the individual who exists in the vision of the good, it is neither a moral nor an intellectual virtue but more an existential virtue.  It possesses the same character as political science but differs in wisdom.  Aristotle turns his attention to (imagination) phantasia as the production of mental imagery, and this is related to practical reasoning and to phronesis in that to perceive an appearance can be to say that we see it as an appearance of a particular type: and thus move to the interpretive power of the individual to see that object as something (the noetic) and subsequently draw distinctions. See: Noel (1999) for a simply put version of linking phantasia within phronesis.

Tilman (1979: 479) offers nine basic categories of Mills’ intellectual pedigree (none of which mention the above) which can be paraphrased as: (1) a Marxian position within the Marxian tradition (2) influenced by Marxism, but never completely converted (3) influenced by both Marx and Weber with tension existing between the two (4) under the sway of institutional and neo-institutional economics in Thorstein Veblen, John R. Commons, and Clarence Ayres (5) within the pragmatic tradition influenced by Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead (6) swayed by the ‘neo-Machiavellians,’ Michels, Mosca and Pareto (7) influenced by Freud and the neo-Freudians (8) difficult or impossible to catalogue or label neatly (9) eclectic and lacking a dominant commitment to any particular school of thought or intellectual tradition.  So we will stick with Socratic.  Mills’ position on Marx is set out in his (1962) ‘The Marxists,’ which seems a greatly overlooked or misunderstood work.  For Tilman much of the scholarship on Mills serves basically politico-ideological functions.


Castoriadis, Cornelius (1997) World in fragments, Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Husserl, Edmund (1962) Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, New York, Collier Books.

Noel, Jana (1999) ‘Phronesis and Phantasia: Teaching with Wisdom and Imagination,’ Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 277-286.

Ross, W. D. (trans.) (1994) ‘Metaphysics: Aristotle,’ (accessed 3.11.2011), available at: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/metaphysics.html.

Ross, W. D. (trans.) (1994a) ‘Nicomachean Ethics: Aristotle,’ (accessed 3.11.2011), available at: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html.

Tilman, Rick (1979) ‘The Intellectual Pedigree of C. Wright Mills: A Reappraisal,’ The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 479-481.

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