Prudence

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The crowned Prudencia, carrying scales, allegorically rides a wagon to Heaven. Concordia puts the finishing touches on the wagon. Upon entry Prudencia rides alone, on one horse, towards the Empyrean of the Christian God. On the lower left corner, Prudencia, with a book, addresses eight young women seated upon the ground. On the lower right corner, Prudencia enthroned speaks to eleven young seated women. The crowned Prudencia, riding a wagon and speaking to women Wellcome L0029370.jpg
The crowned Prudencia, carrying scales, allegorically rides a wagon to Heaven. Concordia puts the finishing touches on the wagon. Upon entry Prudencia rides alone, on one horse, towards the Empyrean of the Christian God. On the lower left corner, Prudencia, with a book, addresses eight young women seated upon the ground. On the lower right corner, Prudencia enthroned speaks to eleven young seated women.
Prudentia, detail from the 1514 monument of King Louis XII in St Denis, Paris Saint-Denis (93), basilique, monument funeraire de Louis XII et Anne de Bretagne, 1515, la Prudence.JPG
Prudentia, detail from the 1514 monument of King Louis XII in St Denis, Paris
Prudentia on the tomb of Pope Clement II in the Bamberg Cathedral Papstgrab, Prudentia.jpg
Prudentia on the tomb of Pope Clement II in the Bamberg Cathedral

Prudence (Latin : prudentia, contracted from providentia meaning "seeing ahead, sagacity") is the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason. [1] It is classically considered to be a virtue, and in particular one of the four Cardinal virtues (which are, with the three theological virtues, part of the seven virtues). Prudentia is an allegorical female personification of the virtue, whose attributes are a mirror and snake, who is frequently depicted as a pair with Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice.

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The word derives from the 14th-century Old French word prudence, which, in turn, derives from the Latin prudentia meaning "foresight, sagacity". It is often associated with wisdom, insight, and knowledge. In this case, the virtue is the ability to judge between virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place. Although prudence itself does not perform any actions, and is concerned solely with knowledge, all virtues had to be regulated by it. Distinguishing when acts are courageous, as opposed to reckless or cowardly, is an act of prudence, and for this reason it is classified as a cardinal (pivotal) virtue.

In modern English, the word has become increasingly synonymous with cautiousness. In this sense, prudence names a reluctance to take risks, which remains a virtue with respect to unnecessary risks, but, when unreasonably extended into over-cautiousness, can become the vice of cowardice.

In the Nicomachean Ethics , Aristotle gives a lengthy account of the virtue phronesis (Ancient Greek : ϕρόνησις), traditionally translated as "prudence", although this has become increasingly problematic as the word has fallen out of common usage. More recently ϕρόνησις has been translated by such terms as "practical wisdom", "practical judgment" or "rational choice".

As the "mother" of all virtues

Allegory of Prudence on the tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany The female face depicts Francis' daughter Anne of Brittany. DSCN2047.JPG
Allegory of Prudence on the tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany The female face depicts Francis' daughter Anne of Brittany.

Prudence was considered by the ancient Greeks and later on by Christian philosophers, most notably Thomas Aquinas, as the cause, measure and form of all virtues. It is considered to be the auriga virtutum or the charioteer of the virtues.

It is the cause in the sense that the virtues, which are defined to be the "perfected ability" of man as a spiritual person (spiritual personhood in the classical western understanding means having intelligence and free will), achieve their "perfection" only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfected ability to make right decisions. For instance, a person can live temperance when he has acquired the habit of deciding correctly the actions to take in response to his instinctual cravings.

The function of prudence is to point out which course of action is to be taken in any concrete circumstances. It has nothing to do with directly willing the good it discerns. Prudence has a directive capacity with regard to the other virtues. It lights the way and measures the arena for their exercise. Without prudence, bravery becomes foolhardiness; mercy sinks into weakness, free self-expression and kindness into censure, humility into degradation and arrogance, selflessness into corruption, and temperance into fanaticism. Culture and disciplined actions should be about the beneficial action. Its office is to determine for each in practice those circumstances of time, place, manner, etc. which should be observed, and which the Scholastics comprise under the term "medium rationis". So it is that while it qualifies the intellect and not the will, it is nevertheless rightly styled a moral virtue. [2]

Prudence is considered the measure of moral virtues since it provides a model of ethically good actions. "The work of art is true and real by its correspondence with the pattern of its prototype in the mind of the artist. In similar fashion, the free activity of man is good by its correspondence with the pattern of prudence." (Josef Pieper)

In Greek and Scholastic philosophy, "form" is the specific characteristic of a thing that makes it what it is. With this language, prudence confers upon other virtues the form of its inner essence; that is, its specific character as a virtue. For instance, not all acts of telling the truth are considered good, considered as done with the virtue of honesty. What makes telling the truth a virtue is whether it is done with prudence.

Versus imprudence, cunning and false prudence

In Christian understanding, the difference between prudence and cunning lies in the intent with which the decision of the context of an action is made. The Christian understanding of the world includes the existence of God, the natural law and moral implications of human actions. In this context, prudence is different from cunning in that it takes into account the supernatural good. For instance, the decision of persecuted Christians to be martyred rather than deny their faith is considered prudent.

According to Thomas Aquinas, judgments using reasons for evil ends or using evil means are considered to be made through "cunning" and "false prudence" and not through prudence. [2]

The Ancient Greek term for prudence is synonymous with "forethought". People, the Ancient Greeks believed, must have enough prudence to prepare for worshiping the Olympian gods.

Integral parts

Justice and Prudence window, Lindfield. Third window, south chapel, All Saints Church, Lindfield, West Sussex. Made in or after 1906 by Christopher Whall. Justice and Prudence window, Lindfield.jpg
Justice and Prudence window, Lindfield. Third window, south chapel, All Saints Church, Lindfield, West Sussex. Made in or after 1906 by Christopher Whall.

Prudence is the application of universal principles to particular situations. [3] "Integral parts" of virtues, in Scholastic philosophy, are the elements that must be present for any complete or perfect act of the virtue. The following are the integral parts of prudence:

Prudential judgment

Allegory of Prudence by Titian. To Titian, prudence was preparation, foresight and judgement from experience and human history. The three faces in the painting represent the passing of human generations, with the young facing the light while the oldest fade into shadow; the faint inscription above their heads may be translated as "From the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoils future action". Titian - Allegorie der Zeit.jpg
Allegory of Prudence by Titian. To Titian, prudence was preparation, foresight and judgement from experience and human history. The three faces in the painting represent the passing of human generations, with the young facing the light while the oldest fade into shadow; the faint inscription above their heads may be translated as "From the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoils future action".

In ethics, a "prudential judgment" is one where the circumstances must be weighed to determine the correct action. [5] Generally, it applies to situations where two people could weigh the circumstances differently and ethically come to different conclusions.

For instance, in the theory of just war, the government of a nation must weigh whether the harms they suffer are more than the harms that would be produced by their going to war against another nation that is harming them; the decision whether to go to war is therefore a prudential judgment.

In another case, a patient who has a terminal illness with no conventional treatment may hear of an experimental treatment. To decide whether to take it would require weighing on one hand, the cost, time, possible lack of benefit, and possible pain, disability, and hastened death, and on the other hand, the possible benefit and the benefit to others of what could be learned from his or her case.

In rhetoric

Main gate of 18th-century Castellania portraying Lady Justice and Lady Prudentia above Main ornate of the facade, Castellania Malta.jpeg
Main gate of 18th-century Castellania portraying Lady Justice and Lady Prudentia above

Phronesis, or practical wisdom, holds an important place in rhetorical theory as a central aspect of judgment and practice. Aristotle's notion of phronesis fits with his notes on rhetoric because neither, in his estimation, could be reduced to an episteme or a techne , and both deal with the ability to deliberate about contingent, variable, or indeterminate matters.[ citation needed ]

Cicero defined prudentia as a rhetorical norm in De Oratore , De officiis , De Inventione , and De re publica . He contrasts the term with imprudens, young men failing to consider the consequences before they act. The prudens, or those who had prudence, knew when to speak and when to stay silent. Cicero maintained that prudence was gained only through experience, and while it was applied in everyday conversation, in public discourse it was subordinated to the broader term for wisdom, sapientia. [6]

In the contemporary era, rhetorical scholars have tried to recover a robust meaning for the term. They have maintained consistency with the ancient orators, contending that prudence is an embodied persuasive resource. [7] Although sets of principles or rules can be constructed in a particular culture, scholars agree that prudence cannot be derived from a set of timeless principles. Instead, through gauging the situation and through reasoned deliberation, a speaker should determine the set of values and morals by which to base his or her actions. Furthermore, scholars suggest the capacity to take into account the particularities of the situation as vital to prudential practice. For example, as rhetorical scholar Lois Self explains, "both rhetoric and phronesis are normative processes in that they involve rational principles of choice-making; both have general applicability but always require careful analysis of particulars in determining the best response to each specific situation; both ideally take into account the wholeness of human nature; and finally, both have social utility and responsibility in that both treat matter of the public good". [8] Robert Hariman, in his examination of Malcolm X, adds that "aesthetic sensibility, imitation of a performative ideal, and improvisation upon conventions of presentation" are also components of practical reasoning. [9]

Small differences emerge between rhetorical scholars regarding definitions of the term and methods of analysis. Hans-Georg Gadamer asserted that prudence materializes through the application of principles and can be evaluated accordingly. [10] In his analysis of Andrew Cuomo's speech to the Catholic Church of Notre Dame, James Jasinski contends that prudence cannot be calculated by formal matters like consequences[ clarify ] as it is not a episteme or techne; instead, it is judged according to embodied rhetorical performance. [7] Thus, while Gadamer would judge prudence based on the execution of contingent principles, Jasinski would examine the artistry of communication in its cultural milieu between accommodation (compromise) and audacity (courage).[ clarification needed ]

In his study of Machiavelli, examining the relationship between prudence and moderation, rhetorician Eugene Garver holds that there is a middle ground between "an ethics of principles, in which those principles univocally dictate action" and "an ethics of consequences, in which the successful result is all". [11] His premise stems from Aristotle's theory of virtue as an "intermediate", in which moderation and compromise embody prudence. Yet, because valorizing moderation is not an active response, prudence entails the "transformation of moderation" into a fitting response, making it a flexible situational norm. Garver also asserts that prudential reasoning differs from "algorithmic" and "heuristic" reasoning because it is rooted in a political community, the context in which common problems regarding stability and innovation arise and call for prudential reasoning. [11]

In economics

Economists describe a consumer as "prudent" if he or she saves more when faced with riskier future income. This additional saving is called precautionary saving.

If a risk-averse consumer has a utility function over consumption x, and if is differentiable, then the consumer is not prudent unless the third derivative of utility is positive, that is, . [12]

The strength of the precautionary saving motive can be measured by absolute prudence, which is defined as . Similarly, relative prudence is defined as absolute prudence, multiplied by the level of consumption. These measures are closely related to the concepts of absolute and relative risk aversion developed by Kenneth Arrow and John W. Pratt. [13]

In accounting

In accounting, prudence was long considered one of the "fundamental accounting concepts" in its determination of the time for revenue recognition. [14] The rule of prudence meant that gains should not be anticipated unless their realisation was highly probable. However, recent developments in Generally Accepted Accounting Principles have led academic critics to accuse the international standard-setting body IASB of abandoning prudence. [15] In the British reporting standard FRS 18, prudence, along with consistency, was relegated to a "desirable" quality of financial information rather than fundamental concept. [16] Prudence was rejected for IFRS because it was seen as compromising accounts' neutrality. [17]

In a 2011 report on the financial crisis of 2007–08, the British House of Lords bemoaned the demotion of prudence as a governing principle of accounting and audit. Their comments, however, were disputed by some leading practitioners. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rhetoric</span> Art of discourse

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Aristotle defines rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" and since mastery of the art was necessary for victory in a case at law, for passage of proposals in the assembly, or for fame as a speaker in civic ceremonies, he calls it "a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics". Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. The five canons of rhetoric or phases of developing a persuasive speech were first codified in classical Rome: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wisdom</span> Ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight

Wisdom, sapience, or sagacity is the ability to contemplate and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as unbiased judgment, compassion, experiential self-knowledge, self-transcendence and non-attachment, and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virtue</span> Positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good

Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards: doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. The opposite of virtue is vice. Other examples of this notion include the concept of merit in Asian traditions as well as De. Buddhism's four brahmavihara can be regarded as virtues in the European sense.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virtue ethics</span> Normative ethical theories

Virtue ethics is an approach to ethics that treats the concept of moral virtue as central. Virtue ethics is usually contrasted with two other major approaches in ethics, consequentialism and deontology, which make the goodness of outcomes of an action (consequentialism) and the concept of moral duty (deontology) central. While virtue ethics does not necessarily deny the importance of goodness of states of affairs or moral duties to ethics, it emphasizes moral virtue, and sometimes other concepts, like eudaimonia, to an extent that other ethical dispositions do not.

Moral reasoning is the study of how people think about right and wrong and how they acquire and apply moral rules. It is a subdiscipline of moral psychology that overlaps with moral philosophy, and is the foundation of descriptive ethics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Temperance (virtue)</span> Cardinal virtue of control over excess

Temperance in its modern use is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint. It is typically described in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing. This includes restraint from revenge by practicing non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance by practicing humility and modesty, restraint from excesses such as extravagant luxury or splurging, and restraint from rage or craving by practicing calmness and self-control.

Rhetorical criticism analyzes the symbolic artifacts of discourse—the words, phrases, images, gestures, performances, texts, films, etc. that people use to communicate. Rhetorical analysis shows how the artifacts work, how well they work, and how the artifacts, as discourse, inform and instruct, entertain and arouse, and convince and persuade the audience; as such, discourse includes the possibility of morally improving the reader, the viewer, and the listener. Rhetorical criticism studies and analyzes the purpose of the words, sights, and sounds that are the symbolic artifacts used for communications among people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethos</span> Greek word meaning "character"

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Phronesis, translated into English by terms such as prudence, practical virtue and practical wisdom, or, colloquially, sense is an ancient Greek word for a type of wisdom or intelligence relevant to practical action. It implies both good judgment and excellence of character and habits, and was a common topic of discussion in ancient Greek philosophy, in ways that are still influential today.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cardinal virtues</span> Virtues of mind and character

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Intellectual virtues are qualities of mind and character that promote intellectual flourishing, critical thinking, and the pursuit of truth. They include: intellectual responsibility, perseverance, open-mindedness, empathy, integrity, intellectual courage, confidence in reason, love of truth, intellectual humility, imaginativeness, curiosity, fair-mindedness, and autonomy. So-called virtue responsibilists conceive of intellectual virtues primarily as acquired character traits, such as intellectual conscientiousness and love of knowledge. Virtue reliabilists, by contrast, think of intellectual virtues more in terms of well-functioning mental faculties such as perception, memory, and intuition. Intellectual virtues are studied extensively in both critical thinking and virtue epistemology.

<i>Rhetoric</i> (Aristotle) Work of literature by Aristotle

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aristotelian ethics</span> Attempt to offer a rational response to the question of how humans should best live

Aristotle first used the term ethics to name a field of study developed by his predecessors Socrates and Plato. In philosophy, ethics is the attempt to offer a rational response to the question of how humans should best live. Aristotle regarded ethics and politics as two related but separate fields of study, since ethics examines the good of the individual, while politics examines the good of the City-State, which he considered to be the best type of community.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chaïm Perelman</span> Polish-born philosopher (1912–1984)

Chaïm Perelman was a Polish-born philosopher of law, who studied, taught, and lived most of his life in Brussels. He was among the most important argumentation theorists of the twentieth century. His chief work is the Traité de l'argumentation – la nouvelle rhétorique (1958), with Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, translated into English as The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, by John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver (1969).

Owing to its origin in ancient Greece and Rome, English rhetorical theory frequently employs Greek and Latin words as terms of art. This page explains commonly used rhetorical terms in alphabetical order. The brief definitions here are intended to serve as a quick reference rather than an in-depth discussion. For more information, click the terms.

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References

  1. Prudence - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-webster.com (31 August 2012). Retrieved on 2013-07-19.
  2. 1 2 "Delany, Joseph. "Prudence." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 2 May 2014".
  3. 1 2 3 "McManaman, Douglas. "The Virtue of Prudence", Catholic Education Resource Center".
  4. David Summers (1987), The Judgment of Sense: Renaissance Naturalism and the Rise of Aesthetics, Cambridge University Press ( ISBN   978-0-521-32675-9).
  5. "What is a Prudential Judgment?". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  6. Hariman, Robert (2003). Prudence: classical virtue, postmodern practice. The Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 37.
  7. 1 2 Jasinski, James (2001). Sourcebook on Rhetoric. Sage Publications. p. 463.
  8. Self, Lois (1979). "Rhetoric and Phronesis: The Aristotelian Ideal". Philosophy and Rhetoric. Penn State University Press. p. 14.
  9. Hariman, Robert (1991). Theory without Modernity. p. 28.
  10. Gadamer, Hans-George (1982). "Truth and Method". Crossroad: 7.
  11. 1 2 Garver, Eugene (1987). Machiavelli and the History of Prudence. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN   0-299-11080-X.
  12. Sandmo, A. (1970). "The Effect of Uncertainty on Saving Decisions". Review of Economic Studies . 37 (3): 353–360. JSTOR   2296725.
  13. Kimball, M. (1990). "Precautionary Saving in the Small and in the Large" (PDF). Econometrica . 58 (1): 53–73. JSTOR   2938334.
  14. Tax and accountancy: 'fundamental accounting concepts', HMRC, UK. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
  15. IASB has abandoned prudence, professor warns, Accountancy Age , 24 August 2010.
  16. Tax and accountancy: development of accountancy concepts and new objectives: FRS18, HMRC. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
  17. 1 2 Rose Orlik, Lords took a leap on international standards, Accountancy Age , 4 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-12..