This is a branch of the philosophical sciences whose origins lie in the distinction theorized by Socrates and the Sophists and clarified by Plato, who generally divides science into πρακτική (referring to πρᾶξις, action), and γνωστική (referring to γνῶσις, knowledge), and more fully in Aristotle, who adds the poetic (ποιητική, referring to ποίησις, productive action) to the theoretical (ϑεωρητική) and practical sciences. The term “practical,” which post-Aristotelians replaced with “ethical,” is found again in medieval and scholastic terminology.
In the Kantian system, which is based on the dyad of theoretical and practical reason, the distinction between practice and ethics or morals becomes clearer, with the former relating to the world of action in general and the latter determining, within that world, the sphere of morally valid activity. This distinction, which reappears in post-Kantian philosophy, was abolished by the actualist idealism of G. Gentile, who conceptualized theory itself as praxis and denied the possibility of an autonomous practical philosophy. From the second half of the twentieth century onward, the distinction was reintroduced and re-proposed by the major German schools of thought on the basis of a renewed critical reflection on the themes of action and political rationality.
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