Practical Judgment

Aristotle referred to this kind of judgment as phronēsis – often translated as “practical judgment.” For Aristotle (and for many ethical traditions around the world), the development of this sort of practical judgment – i.e., one that can help us discern in the first place just which norms and values do apply to the particulars of a specific case – is an ongoing project that continues throughout one’s entire life. This is in part because it requires experience – both of successes and of failures – as these help us learn (oftentimes, the hard way) what “works” ethically and what doesn’t. The first time we try to learn a new skill or ability – say, ice-skating – we are certain to stumble and fall, perhaps catastrophically, and almost certainly more than once. Analogously, our first efforts to grapple with difficult ethical issues that require phronēsis do not always go well: we are caught in the ethical “bootstrapping” problem of needing precisely the ability to judge that will be robust enough to help only after it has been developed and honed through many years of (sometimes hard) experience.

The good news is that – however daunting all of this might seem – the Aristotelian view (among many others) argues that the vast majority of us are already ethical beings equipped with phronesis, and thereby the foundations and abilities for taking on these challenges.

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Overview of the book, suggestions for use By now, readers should have a reasonably good idea of the features of digital media that lead to specific sorts of ethical issues that we will explore more fully in subsequent chapters. I also hope that you are beginning to have a sense that, especially with regard to digital media that interconnect us globally, it is important to do so in ways that go beyond the either/or polarities that tend to dominate popular media reporting.

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