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47. The Virtue of Prudence

1. Prudence is the knowledge of how to act, how to conductone's life rightly. St. Augustine says that prudence is"the knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid."Prudence belongs to the knowing faculty of the soul, rather than tothe appetitive faculty; that is, it belongs to the intellect ratherthan to the will. Since intellect (as the thinking mind thatenlightens the will for its choice) is called reason, prudence,properly speaking, is in reason as in its proper subject.

2. Prudence is no mere knowledge of what things are (ofwhat is so), but of how to act (of what to do). Hence,prudence belongs to the practical intellect or reason, not to thespeculative intellect.

3. Prudence is not just a general grasp or understandingof right procedure. It serves a man in the concrete and individualsituations that make up his daily life.

4. Prudence is one of the cardinal virtues. While, as wehave seen, it is, strictly speaking, in the intellect, it is aguide to right action on the part of the will, and hence it sharesthe nature of a moral virtue, that is, a will-virtue.

5. Although prudence suffuses the other moral virtues, itis a distinct and special virtue on its own account.

6. Prudence does not set up the end and purpose of themoral virtues, but regulates the means by which these virtuesoperate to their determinate ends. It does not indicate what themoral virtues are to do, but shows them the right way to do it.

7. Prudence discerns the mean or measure of moral virtues,and sees how their action can be reasonable, and not marred eitherby excess or deficiency. For prudence is the knowledge of howthings ought to be done.

8. And prudence, as Aristotle says (Ethic. vi),gives orders. Prudence commands. It does not, indeed, take over thework of the will. It shows with certitude and authority how thewill ought to choose. And, to a reasonable will, this amounts to acommand. This function of commanding is really the chiefact of prudence.

9. Prudence gives her commands in no aloof, detachedfashion. Prudence is ever careful, watchful, solicitous that aperson's conduct be right.

10. Prudence is not only a private virtue, looking solelyto the individual good conduct of a person; it also serves thecommon good. St. Paul (I Cor. 10:33) indicates the social functionof prudence when he says: "Not seeking that which isprofitable to myself, but to many, that they may besaved."

11. Indeed, prudence is of different species according asit serves a person in his personal conduct, or serves the good ofthe home (domestic prudence), or the good of the commonwealth(political prudence).

12. Political prudence is itself of two kinds, for it mustbe in the rulers and legislators on one hand, and in the citizenson the other hand. Aristotle (Ethic. vi) says thatprudence is like a mastercraft in rulers, and like a handicraft inthose who are ruled.

13. True prudence, as a virtue, is only in the good.Serious sin casts out prudence. A sinful person in his evil lifemay exercise a kind of craftiness that has the outer look ofprudence, but it is not the genuine article.

14. A person in the state of grace has prudence, for hehas charity, and charity cannot exist without prudence. Prudencesuffuses all virtues; it is a kind of bond that links themtogether, and it is necessary to them all.

15. Prudence is a natural virtue, too. We have beenspeaking chiefly of supernatural prudence, but we must notice thatthere is a natural prudence also. This natural prudence is callednatural, not because it belongs necessarily to human nature, butbecause it can be acquired by the powers of human nature. It isacquired by being taught, or by learning through experience, or inboth ways.

16. Prudence is not forgotten. Forgetfulness may, indeed,hinder prudent action, but the virtue itself is not lost throughforgetting.

"Happy is the youth, because he has time before him to do good. "
St Philip Neri

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"To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself. "
Thomas á Kempis

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"God has no need of men."
St Philip Neri

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