Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published online by De Gruyter August 30, 2021

AI and Phronesis

Nir Eisikovits and Dan Feldman


We argue that the growing prevalence of statistical machine learning in everyday decision making – from creditworthiness to police force allocation – effectively replaces many of our humdrum practical judgments and that this will eventually undermine our capacity for making such judgments. We lean on Aristotle’s famous account of how phronesis and moral virtues develop to make our case. If Aristotle is right that the habitual exercise of practical judgment allows us to incrementally hone virtues, and if AI saves us time by taking over some of those practical judgments, or if its pattern recognition capacities are very good at learning that kind of behavior – we risk innovating ourselves out of moral competence with the introduction of AI.

Corresponding author: Nir Eisikovits, Applied Ethics Center, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA02125, USA, E-mail:


Aboujaoude, E. 2012. Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality. New York: Norton.Search in Google Scholar

Annas, J 1999. “Aristotle on Virtue and Happiness.” In Aristotle’s Ethics, edited by N. Sherman, 35–56. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Search in Google Scholar

Aristotle. 1999. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Martin Ostwald. London: Pearson.Search in Google Scholar

Avati, A., K. Jung, S. Harman, L. Downing, A. Ng, and N. H. Shahet. 2018. “Improving Palliative Care with Deep Learning.” BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 18 (Suppl. 4):122.Search in Google Scholar

Awoyemi, J. O., A. O. Adetunmbi, and S. Oluwadare. 2017. “Credit Card Fraud Detection Using Machine Learning Techniques: A Comparative Analysis.” In 2017 International Conference on Computing Networking and Informatics (ICCNI), in Google Scholar

Bostrom, N. 2016. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Chawla, R. 2018. How AI Supports Financial Institutions for Deciding Creditworthiness. India: Entrepreneur. in Google Scholar

Danaher, J. 2019a. “The Rise of the Robots and the Crisis of Moral Patiency.” AI & Society 34 (1), in Google Scholar

Danaher, J. 2019b. Automation and Utopia: Human Flourishing in a World without Work. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Danks, D., and A. London. 2017. “Algorithmic Bias in Autonomous Systems.” In Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. IJCAI, in Google Scholar

Domonoske, C. 2017. “Elon Musk Warns Governors: Artificial Intelligence Poses ‘Existential Risk’.” In The Two-Way: Breaking News from NPR, in Google Scholar

Edwards, P. N. 1996. The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. Cambridge: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Eubanks, V. 2018. Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Search in Google Scholar

Floridi, L. 1999. “Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundation of Computer Ethics.” Ethics and Information Technology 1 (1): 37–56.Search in Google Scholar

Ford, M. 2009. The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology, and the Economy of the Future. United States: Acculant Publishing.Search in Google Scholar

Fridman, L., D. E. Brown, M. Glazer, W. Angell, S. Dodd, B. Jenik, J. Terwilliger, A. Patsekin, J. Kindelsberger, L. Ding, S. Seaman, A. Mehler, A. Sipperley, A. Pettinato, B. Seppelt, L. Angell, B. Mehler and B. Reimer 2018. “MIT Autonomous Vehicle Technology Study: Large-Scale Deep Learning Based Analysis of Driver Behavior and Interaction with Automation.” arXiv. in Google Scholar

Frude, N. 2019. “Technological Unemployment and Psychological Well-Being—Curse or Benefit?” In In Education and Technological Unemployment, edited by M. Peters, P. Jandrić, and A. Means. New York: Springer.Search in Google Scholar

Gunkel, D. 2011. The Machine Question. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Hughes, J. 2017. “Algorithms and Posthuman Governance.” Journal of Posthuman Studies 1 (2): 166–84.Search in Google Scholar

Kang, M. 2011. Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Kearns, M., and A. Roth. 2019. The Ethical Algorithm. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Kraut, R 1989. Aristotle on the Human Good. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Kuang, C. 2017. “Can AI be Taught to Explain Itself?” New York Times Magazine. in Google Scholar

Lohr, S. 2018. “Facial Recognition is Accurate if You’re A White Guy”. New York Times, in Google Scholar

Love, D. 2014. “Stephen Hawking is Worried about Artificial Intelligence Wiping Out Humanity” Business Insider. in Google Scholar

Mayor, A. 2018. Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Search in Google Scholar

MacGillis, A. 2021. Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One Click America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Search in Google Scholar

McCarthy, J., M. L. Minsky, N. Rochester, and C. E. Shannon. 1955. A Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence. Scanned, annotated typescript, in Google Scholar

Mindell, D. A. 1995. “Anti-Aircraft Fire Control and the Development of Integrated Systems at Sperry, 1925–1940.” IEEE Control Systems Magazine 15 (2): 108–13.Search in Google Scholar

Noble, S. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: NYU Press.Search in Google Scholar

O’Neil, C. 2016. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Crown.Search in Google Scholar

Pal, A. K., and S. Pal. 2013. “Evaluation of Teacher’s Performance: A Data Mining Approach.” International Journal of Computer Science and Mobile Computing 2 (12): 359–69.Search in Google Scholar

Qin, C., D. Yao, Y. Shi, and Z. Song. 2018. “Computer-aided Detection in Chest Radiography Based on Artificial Intelligence: A Survey.” Biomedical Engineering Online 17 (113), in Google Scholar

Randall, A. 1998. “The ‘Lessons’ of Luddism.” Endeavor 22 (4): 152–5.Search in Google Scholar

Randell, B. 1982. The Origins of Digital Computers. Springer.Search in Google Scholar

Roche, T. 1988. “Ergon and Eudaimonia in Nichomachean Ethics: Reconsidering the Intellectualist Interpretation.” Journal of the History of Philosophy (26): 173–94.Search in Google Scholar

Roochnik, D. 2013. Retrieving Aristotle in an Age of Crisis. Albany: SUNY Press.Search in Google Scholar

Roose, K. 2019. The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite. New York Times. in Google Scholar

Rosen, L. 2013. iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us. New York: St Martin’s Griffin.Search in Google Scholar

Sale, K. 1996. Rebels against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age. New York: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Schwartz, B., and K. Sharpe. 2011. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books.Search in Google Scholar

Sumagaysay, L. 2018. “Less Biased Facial Recognition? Microsoft Touts Improvement, IBM Offering Help.” The Mercury News. in Google Scholar

Terkle, S. 2011. Alone Together Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Vallor, S. 2016. Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a World Worth Wanting. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Wang, P., R. Mathieu, and H. Cai. 2010. Predicting Criminal Recidivism with Support Vector Machines. In 2010 International Conference on Management and Service Science. in Google Scholar

Witten, I. H., E. Frank, and M. A. Hall. 2016. Data Mining: Practical Machine Learning Tools and Techniques, 4th ed. Burlington: Morgan Kaufman.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2021-08-30

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston