How do you know if the decision you are making is a prudent one? What signs or signals do you receive to know that you are going down the right path?
We draw upon our practical reason to make decisions. We determine our end goal and we look at the steps (or means) necessary to reach that end goal. We employ prudence to evaluate both the means and the end. Will the end goal achieve a good intention? Will the means to achieve that end be morally appropriate as well? If the answer to both questions is yes, conscience arrives at what is deemed a prudent action. If the answer is no to either or both questions, then the conscience arrives at what is deemed an imprudent action.
Let’s take an example: You work for a company that you know for a fact lies, cheats and disseminates false information to its customers. In your decision making process, you decide to continue to work for this company because you need the paycheck, and you do not bring the illegal actions to the appropriate authority’s attention, for fear that you may be fired for doing so. Although the end goal to provide financial support for your family is noble, the means by which you do so makes you complicit to an illegal act and therefore the action is imprudent.
With each decision, there are three components of prudence to consider when determining if the decision that you are making is a prudent one: 1) the act itself, 2) the intention, and 3) the circumstances. In our example above, the act itself is remaining in your job; the intention is to keep the paycheck. In this instance, it is the circumstances that trip you up – the complicity of an illegal act, where the means cannot justify the end.
How does prudence guide our actions? We’ll discuss that question in our next reflection on the virtue of Prudence. Don’t miss it!