Interested in the Phronesis: A Program in Politics and Ethics minor? Still not certain? See what Phronesis students have to say about their involvement with the program.
Jump to: David Tucker Andy Ingalls Lee McNish
Phronesis has been the unexpected treasure of my undergraduate experience. Before coming to the University of Houston, I read only the Arts page of the newspaper, shied away from political discussion, was bored to tears by philosophical types, and gave little more than a low groan at the mention of historical study. I was confident that I could whip out wildly impressive essays on a wide range of subjects, dazzle my core class professors, and be done with it, spending most of my time in the music school, where my major classes would be. I expected the Honors College to add yet another academic feather to my many-feathered cap and afterward leave me in peace. I have never been more mistaken.
The Human Situation course jarred me sharply from every delusion of ease. The intensity and expectations of the Honors professors caught me off-guard and I reeled and gabbled and struggled and stammered, having never been so scholastically uncomfortable or so rigorously challenged. And to my great surprise, this sensation of being utterly lost, stutteringly wordless, painfully ignorant, this feeling thrilled me!
This was the Human Situation, the foundational course of an Honors education and my first taste of what a program like Phronesis (if there are other programs "like" Phronesis) could offer. Needless to say I was hooked.
Would you believe that I didn't actually declare Phronesis as my minor until I had completed the requirements? Until I was signing up for my final semester of Phronesis classes, I didn't even realize I was so near completion in the program. I took classes that looked intriguing from professors I respected or about whom I had heard good tell, and they fell together into this marvelous program. There were no slogging, "do I really have to take that? Eurghhh," classes involved, and it really just fell together of its own accord. I find it funny because I didn't ever feel as though it was a conscious choice that I was going to be a Phronesis student (in fact, I at first shied away from the program expressly because of its esoteric name and the aggravating explanation it would necessitate for every last person who ever asked what I studied in college or looked at my resume, but this is now less worrisome than strangely exciting), but my growing enthusiasms led me toward the program nonetheless.
All political systems are founded on some ethical theory. Redistribution of wealth, maximized liberty, the maintenance of custom, and so forth. Aristotle exemplified this by writing his Nicomachean Ethics and his Politics so that the latter followed on from the former. However, policy and ethics questions are normally split, and it can often feel that they are being treated as mutually exclusive topics. The Phronesis program is an attempt to re-forge this link, and to encourage students to contemplate what policy implications an ethical theory would entail, or how to trace a political theory back to its ethical underpinnings.
Being given the opportunity to tackle both political and ethical problems at the same time allowed me to contemplate the relationship between the two subjects. In political theory classes, I would sometimes feel that the purpose of the theory was simply to serve as a stepping stone for considering policy questions, without necessarily asking how the theory operates and how the question actually relates to the theory. In philosophy courses, I would often feel that the questions posed concerning the readings done for the classes were isolated from everything else. The Phronesis classes gave me the feeling that there was an important link between the theories of these philosophers and the actual effects of their thoughts, and that the professors cared about investigating that link. And ultimately this gave me a new perspective on these subjects, and taught me to think about any given question from the different facets that are required for discovering a solution.