What are Prudence’s principle workings? Prudence assists the individual in making a decision by using counsel, judgment and command. Today we will discuss counsel in detail, and cover judgment and command in the next two reflections respectively.
As noted in the Prudence at Work reflection, three things are considered with every decision: the act itself, the intention and the circumstances. Counsel addresses the means to the end (or the intention) and the circumstances. Counsel provides the conscience with advice as to whether or not the means to the desired end is morally appropriate. Saint Thomas Aquinas refers to the use of counsel as an act of inquiry, where the conscience solicits the advice of counsel in the decision-making process.1 Saint Thomas Aquinas sees counsel as a gift from the Holy Spirit; a gift that perfects the virtue of Prudence, so that a prudent person may make the right decision without error.2
Let’s take an example: You are going out to dinner to a restaurant. For a prudent person, counsel would advise you to select from the healthier items on the menu; whereas an imprudent person may find the unhealthy items on the menu more desirable.
The circumstances come into play in the concept that to eat something healthy preserves one’s good health; whereas to eat unhealthy items on the menu places the person at risk for health problems.
Think about what is going on in your head when you opt for the bowl of ice cream or the slice of pizza over a healthier item. Your conscience is warning you, but you go ahead and ignore your conscience. Your counsel has perfected your virtue of Prudence, by warning you accordingly, but your judgment and command have failed you.
How does judgment come into play in the decision making process? We’ll discuss that in our next reflection on the virtue of Prudence. Don’t miss it!
1 Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologicae II-II q. 47. A.8
2 Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologicae II-II q. 52. A.2