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Acquire the Virtue of Prudence

Updated on January 25, 2011
The Virtue of Prudence
The Virtue of Prudence

The Virtue of Prudence

Prudence has been called the mother of all virtues. It means practical wisdom. Prudence can be considered the "street smarts" of human moral behavior. The virtue of prudence has an extremely important role to play in developing our character and guiding our behavior.

Prudence is the Habit of Choosing Correctly

The virtue of prudence is the habit of choosing the best course of action when there are multiple choices. Prudence is therefore a blend of learning and experience. That's why the young rarely possess this virtue: they haven't had sufficient experience yet. It's about deciding which means is in the best interest of our character and most capable of achieving some virtuous good.

Prudence Avoids Rash Actions

The virtue of prudence helps us avoid rash decisions. Confronted with an entrenched machine gun emplacement, the prudent soldier might decide to work his way around behind it to attack it from its blind side. The imprudent soldier might choose a frontal assault. The latter could win a Medal of Honor, but it would be posthumous.

Prudence Can Help Us in Daily Life

How does the virtue of prudence help us in our daily lives? It helps us by steering us, in a given situation, to the best means of acting justly, or temperately, or courageously. It helps us avoid rash or unwise behaviors that incur more risk than is necessary. It helps us deliberate well and better calculate the consequences of our actions. It helps us reach success in any circumstances that involve utilizing moral virtues.

Developing the Virtue of Prudence

How does one develop the virtue of prudence? Learning plays a role. History and literature provide us with many examples of tragedies resulting from imprudent actions. Our own experiences, if we reflect on and learn from them, tell us when and how we handled situations well or poorly. Choosing to think about the choices we have in pursuing some good end or in acting virtuously, should become a habit. That habit will include searching for appropriate means to reach the desired end, judging the soundness of the alternative means and only then compelling choice and action.

Examples of the Virtue of Prudence

An example of prudent behavior includes choosing the appropriate time, place and manner of acting in a given situation. Another use of prudence would be deciding the best means of getting home safely when you have been drinking at a party. (Hint: don't drive!) (Further hint: be temperate; drink moderately if at all.) Another example of prudence would be deliberating on how best to approach and compensate an upset neighbor whose property has been damaged by a member of one’s family. Finally, prudence could help us to decide how best to show gratitude to helpful colleagues without encouraging inappropriate behavior on their part.

Cultivate the Virtue of Prudence

The virtue of prudence is one of the four “cardinal virtues” and it helps us to select the best means for acting justly, courageously, and temperately. Like these other cardinal virtues prudence needs to be deliberately cultivated to help us become successful in our quest to lead and have a good life.

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