Making Intuition Matter
Leslie Paul Thiele
Rather than indulging their “physics envy” for another fruitless century, Bent Flyvbjerg entreats social scientists to develop practical reason grounded in contextual judgment. By integrating an updated Aristotelian notion of phronesis into social-science inquiry, Flyvbjerg argues, practitioners can gain the knowledge and skills appropriate for their enterprise and ensure its practical relevance. Phronesis is an intellectual and moral virtue that develops out of experience. As a reflexive form of knowledge and inquiry, it allows one to interpret the meaning of social practices and negotiate the networks of power that generate and sustain them.
Flyvbjerg argues that the highest level of social science practice cannot be achieved without extensive worldly experience. In this respect, the social sciences parallel many other fields of skilled performance, where novices may demonstrate book knowledge but fail to exhibit flexible talent. As novices gain worldly experience, however, adaptive practices play a larger role. By the time the status of expert is reached, the context-sensitive practice of phronesis is all important.
Virtuosos do not apply rules. Rather, they act on the basis of a holistic, intuitive understanding. Following rules and abiding by logic allows competency. Proficiency is achieved only through intuitive knowledge and skills acquired over years of effort. If one remains caught in rule-following procedures and limited to strictly analytic rationality, progress towards virtuosity will be stymied. To become an expert social scientist, Flyvbjerg insists, one must move beyond the antiseptic massaging of data and get one's hands dirty grappling with the real world.
Making Social Science Matter provides a compelling argument for the development of phronesis, understood as a form of contextually