The seven virtues are the opposite of the seven deadly sins. The cardinal values are prudence, justice, temperance and courage, while the three theological virtues are faith, hope and charity. Over the next few posts, let’s discuss these virtues to see how to develop good habits in your own life.
Prudence has come to mean cautiousness, but its origins refer to wisdom, insight and knowledge. Ancient Greeks consider prudence to be the “mother of all virtues.” Prudence is necessary for memory, reason, caution and intelligence. Without prudence, you may reject good advice or make decisions rashly. Thomas Aquinas defined prudence as “wisdom concerning human affairs.” It’s not just looking at a list of morals to determine what to do in a particular circumstance. It’s knowing that many situations are complex and need to be assessed to find the pertinent information.
Scholastic philosophy, which is a way of teaching critical thought in the Middle Ages, says that these elements are part of prudence:
- An accurate memory and an ability to learn from experience
- Open-mindedness in seeking the experience of others
- An understanding of logic
- The ability to be quick-witted
- The ability to compare situations and reason through the alternatives
- Thinking ahead as to whether your actions can help you reach your goals
- Considering all circumstances when making decisions
- Using caution to reduce risk
Living With Prudence
Although prudence sounds complex, it’s what helps you make good financial investments or helps you raise your children. It’s the ability to do the right thing at the right time and place. Without prudence, you might feel like you’re in a carriage without a driver. The horse may have a lot of energy and speed, but it’s probably not going to get you where you want to be.
When you buy a car, it’s prudent to test drive a few different models, maybe even check a couple of dealerships. You need to look at your budget and what kind of car you need. A lot of people want a sports car, but either can’t afford one or really need a family vehicle. The prudent person takes the moral high ground and buys within his or her means and needs.
Prudence is more than common sense. Aquinas refers to three weaknesses that cause a person to abandon prudence. The first is impulse. Probably everyone is guilty of making an impulsive purchase at one time or another. You don’t think about the long-term consequences of your actions and just go with your initial decision. Impulsiveness isn’t always bad, but if you find yourself constantly in debt or not having enough time, you may want to consider applying some prudence.
Aquinas says that many people make rushed decisions out of passion. You just get carried away by your emotions. If you’ve ever said something in the heat of the moment that you’ve regretted, you’re guilty of passion without prudence. Passion isn’t a bad thing, but don’t lose sight of the big picture.
The third reason people make made decisions is stubbornness. People make the joke about men not liking to ask for directions and getting lost. Many people are like that in their life, refusing to ask for advice and letting their own information steer their life. Stubbornness can keep you from seeking help. Maybe you don’t want to let others know you don’t know what you’re doing. With prudence, you humbly seek out counsel to make good decisions.
Prudence also acts on decisions. There is a certain amount of caution with prudence. But you still have to be decisive and do things at the right time. Maybe you received good counsel about buying a stock. Prudence dictates that you take the opportunity if it’s possible.
Don’t think you can develop prudence or any of the other seven virtues overnight. Give yourself time to change your habits and think prudently when you have a decision to make.