Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Thoughtful action is a quality of tact.


Tact seems to be characterized by a moral intuitiveness. A tactful person somehow seems to sense what is the good or right thing to do. One may distinguish several types of tact. For example, pedagogical tact shares features with general social tact but it possesses its own normative integrity. To act tactfully as an educator may mean in a particular situation to be able to see what goes on with children, to understand the child’s experience, to sense the pedagogical significance of this situation, to know how and what to do, and to actually do something right.


Often tact involves a holding back, a passing over something, which is nevertheless experienced as influenced by the student to whom the tactful action is directed. To act tactfully may imply all this, and yet, tactful action is instantaneous. The perceptiveness needed, the understanding or insight required, the feeling for the right action are not necessarily separate stages in a sequential process. Somehow, perceptiveness, insight, and feeling are instantly realized in a mode of acting that is interpenetrated with a certain thoughtfulness or thinking attentiveness. Tact could be defined as a thinkingly acting.


While steering clear of the stubborn theory-practice distinction, we may suggest that tact is a kind of practical normative intelligence that is governed by insight while relying on feeling.