The Role of Humility in Exercising Practical Wisdom

73 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2015

See all articles by Brett G. Scharffs

Brett G. Scharffs

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School

Date Written: 1998


Practical wisdom provides a powerful paradigm for understanding legal reasoning and adjudication. One of the primary insights of practical wisdom is that it recognizes a role for character as well as intellect in deliberation. Intellect alone may suffice to make one clever, enabling one to figure out how to achieve one's ends. As Aristotle notes, however, if the ends are wrong, cleverness may facilitate mere villainy. Virtue of character, together with experience, transforms cleverness into practical wisdom. Kronman's account of the virtues of character necessary for exercising practical wisdom -- sympathy (or mercy) and detachment (or justice) -- is helpful but incomplete. The (or at least a) missing ingredient is humility. Humility helps one to become more just and more merciful. It also aids deliberation and choice by one who is just and merciful, one who is trying to determine the appropriate course of action in a particular situation. For these reasons, humility is a virtue of character that we should especially seek and value in judges.

Keywords: humility, legal reasoning, adjudication, practical wisdom, character, intellect

Suggested Citation

Scharffs, Brett G., The Role of Humility in Exercising Practical Wisdom (1998). Available at SSRN: or

Brett G. Scharffs (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School ( email )

430 JRCB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
United States

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