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Practical wisdom and virtue ethics for knowledge co-production in sustainability science



Since antiquity, philosophers in the Western tradition of virtue ethics have declared practical wisdom to be the central virtue of citizens involved in public and social life. Practical wisdom is of particular importance when values are conflicting, power is unequal and knowledge uncertain. We propose that practical wisdom and virtue ethics can inform the practice of sustainability researchers by strengthening their capacity to engage with the normative complexities of knowledge co-production when aspiring to contribute to transformative change.

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Fig. 1: Metaphorical visualization of the learning journey that allows sustainability researchers to develop the capacity to wisely navigate the normative complexities of knowledge co-production.


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G.C. wants to thank C. Hu and E. Mermans for the numerous conversations that contributed to shaping the ideas in this Perspective. S.P.W. was funded by a Mobility Starting Grant (2017-01631) from The Swedish Research Council Formas.

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Authors and Affiliations



G.C. developed the idea, laid the conceptual foundations and led the writing and revision process. R.F. and C.L. contributed to the development of the main arguments and to the structuring of the paper. J.L., S.P.W., B.J., D.P., D.J.L., H.v.W., B.M.-L., I.F., F.R., T.v.W., M.S. and C.V. contributed to the conceptual development and to the writing process. R.F., J.L., S.P.W. and B.J. contributed the examples in Boxes 14 and engaged in multiple iterations in the development of the text. D.P. developed Fig. 1.

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Correspondence to Guido Caniglia.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Liezl van Zyl, Michiru Nagatsu and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Caniglia, G., Freeth, R., Luederitz, C. et al. Practical wisdom and virtue ethics for knowledge co-production in sustainability science. Nat Sustain (2023).

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