Aristotle, Phronesis, Research Ethics and AR posted by Mary Brydon-Miller

“Ethical reasoning requires a different form of intellectual engagement than that of scientific analysis.” (McKee & Porter, 2008. 724)  Ethical reasoning, these authors suggest, requires instead “what Aristotle calls phronesis, or the art of practical judgment.”  My own introduction to this concept and its relationship to the theory and practice of action research comes from the work of my friend and colleague Olav Eikeland.  Olav has written extensively on the ways in which Aristotelian concepts can provide a lens through which to better understand the practice of action research and, in particular, assist us in deepening our examination of the ethical implications of our work (Eikeland, 2006, 2008a; 2008b).  Porter and McKee go on to observe that “the methods that many science researchers use to conduct their studies are not well suited to addressing the ethical questions related to and raised by those studies” (p. 725), and yet it is the biomedical model on which our basic models for evaluating research ethics are based and it is the certainty and the clear-cut answers that human subjects review processes seek to impose.  Action research, in contrast, embraces uncertainty and accepts the notion that there may not be clear cut answers to our questions, and that it is by testing our understandings of the world through dialogue with others and through experience in action that we reach greater clarity of understanding.  Action research at its best encourages us in the development of practical wisdom and provides opportunities to share this wisdom with others, and in doing so has the potential to make an important contribution to our understanding of research ethics in general. 

Eikeland, O. (2006) Phronesis, Aristotle, and action research.  International Journal of Action Research, 2(1) 5-53.

Eikeland, O. (2008a).  Aristotle, validity, and action research.  In B. Boog, J. Preece, M. Slagter, and J. Zeelen 9Eds.), Towards quality improvement of action research:  Developing ethics and standards (pp. 29-44).  Rotterdam:  Sense Publishers.

Eikeland, O. (2008b).  The ways of Aristotle: Aristotelian Phronesis, Aristotelian Philosophy of Dialogue, and Action Research

McKee, H. & Porter, J. L (2008).  The ethics of digital writing research:  A rhetorical approach.  College Composition and Communication. 59 (4), 711-749).