Unedited Notes—Prudence wrt Ends and Means, Command, Solicitude

Article 6: Prudence Does not Appoint the End to the Moral Virtues

We are coming here very close to the core of the apparatus of Thomistic Ethics.  Let us recall that virtue is an operative, elective habit following a mean appointed by reason.  Thus, moral virtue presupposes prudence to set into action the very instantiation of the act demaned by the virtue.  It gives form to the act of will by commanding it.  However, and this is very important – “Moral virtue ensures the rectitude of INTENTION of the end, while prudence ensures the rectitude of MEANS.”

One should therefore reread what is said about intention in ST I-II q.12 AND REMEMBER WHAT IS SAID HERE. 

The ends of moral virtue pre-exist in reason; that is, synderesis leads us to perceive the ends of moral virtue.  For intention of the end is born when we realize (however inchoately), “The GOOD is to be DONE and evil is to be avoided.”  However, the whole problem of the virtuous life is found in this: “How do we then attune ourselves virtuously to the human good?”  The virtues are all born with this end: Do the good that is fitting to me as a human person.  The question is, however, how will that be concretized?  Here, St. Thomas only makes brief allusions to synderesis as providing the ENDS which are PRINCIPLES IN ACTION.

However, AND THIS IS CRITICAL, in the order of intention, the rectified will is involved in helping us to direct ourselves toward a given virtuous action AS AN END; a whole moral psychology of the order of intention is needed here; I wonder how much of this is found in the literature that followed on Anscombe’s work?  (That is meant to be an open question.)  Moral data is very difficult to explain.  Indeed, I see that even Woodbury refers to the initial apprehension as being “speculative”; Garrigou calls it a judgment from the start (“this end is good”); then there is a simple, inefficacious volition for the end; then a judgment proposing the end and the intention of that end.  (Here, I would be very careful to consider how the rectified will is involved throughout; what Maritain and Garrigou say about command really is involved throughout)

This is all very important, though, when you think of prudence.  Perhaps we can say the following.  I admit that I am not wholly clear that this is the way to think of it:

-       See the purely moral virtues as providing the end to which prudence is the efficient cause

-       But, considering the formality of the act to be done, the virtue provides the matter (or that which is more potential), while prudence specifies the act, hence being more FORMAL

In ad 1: Synderesis is brought in; should reread what Simon says on this in his Critique of Moral knowledge; also, see Dewan; there was a recent dissertation—do I remember this correctly?

Ad 3: This is best summarized; the points are dense and important likely to show many consequences:

-       The end is appointed by natural reason (i.e. synderesis); it appoints it to the virtues – they give the TENDENCY to that end.  Thus, a full study of synderesis is needed to understand properly the entire apparatus of the order of intention (and more than in the first principle)

-       Prudence, in providing the means, is more excellence for mvoes the other virtues; but synderesis moves prudence (as understanding of principles moves discursive reasoning)


Article 7: Prudence finds the Mean in Moral Virtue

The virtues all have this in common—They all follow reason; this is born into them as a principle of “natural reason” i.e. of the grasping of operative principles by synderesis—“Act in accord with reason.”  So, in that regard, the virtues rectify the judgment and intention of the end, awaiting and obedient to reason.  (One wonders if Steve Long’s treatment of the per se case of human action could be even further clarified by discussion of the virtues in intending the end.)

Prudence comes in and decides upon the means for determining that end.  I think that Thomists really don’t think enough about the CONCRETE and INDIVIDUAL nature of human action enough.  Prudence has a massive job; it must hold firm to the virtuous intention and make it real by the command it issues to the will.   Thus, yes, the attainment of the mean is the END OF PRUDENCE; however, this mean IS FOUND BY THE RIGHT DISPOSITION OF THE THINGS THAT MAKE THE END REAL.  (I have reworded the point.) 

Literature, Drama,  and history play such an important role in moral philosophy.  Do we Thomists ever appreciate it?  We need many, many examples — for moral data are very opaque.

Ad 2: He proposes here an analogy:

Natural Agents put forms into matter (without making the form belong to the matter on its own); thus too prudence appoints the mean without making the search for the mean belong to that virtue.  Thus, it has a kind of FORMAL role.

Ad 3: Notice too how moral virtue intends the mean more like nature (in general but it can’t specify it in all the different matters)


Article 8: Command is the Chief Act of Prudence

Here, we can refer back to what is said in ST I-II in the treatise on human acts.  However, notice a few interesting things—he emphasizes judgment’s speculative character (which is interesting when you think about it; it is speculative-practical, I would say); this helps one to see the nature of conscience (as judging what one ought to do).  I know that the (newer?) French edition (Revue des jeunes) of the treatise on prudence had some discussion of this issue.  If I remember correctly, Garrigou-Lagrange even makes right conscience to be prudential counsel and judgment.  This seems right; we just need to remember, then, that conscience describes a particular class of ACTS that can be right or wrong—“knowledge applied to an individual case” (ST I q.79 a.13).  The issue is—is it vicious or is it virtuous judgment and counsel?  One should consult the aforementioned French edition (as well as the earlier on); also, Garrigou-Lagrange’s two articles on prudence; also, Merkelbach (both his manual and the article that prompted at least one of Garrigou’s articles).  Also, there are some interesting remarks on conscience in Maritain.  Consult, also De Veritate q.17.  Also, see the treatment of continence and incontinence in Ethics 7.  Likely good to look at Ethics 6 AND the definition of virtue as well. 

I really don’t think one can underrate the fact that all other practical knowledge is relative to the command of prudence; this gives practical knowledge its unique character.  It helps to balance out perfectly the role of the will in the whole process too.

Here, the point about command is the application to action is so very practical that it must be the preeminent case of practical knowledge (and it is—see simon’s wonderful treatment in Practical Knowledge).

He contrasts this to the case of art, which I have hinted at before – art is more about judging than commanding; a great artist judges that something is horrible—but then does it!  This shows his excellence!  As a student once said, “A great artist can make a good mistake.”

Ad. 2: I think that passages like this are important to help us remember that the more speculative acts are always marked by the terminus that is fully practical.  Counsel and judgment (as well as the consent and the election following them) are marked by this.


Ad. 3: Command denotes motion together with ordering—this makes it an act of reason; This point also helps us to see the nature of LAW as a COMMAND OF REASON; I remain convinced that Léhu’s work on this should be translated.  It think it would change how we discuss the Natural Law.  While it may not totally rehabilitate Rhonheimer in some people’s eyes, it would help to make clearer what he is generally getting at on a number of points.  I think that is an important point, if one manages well the issues of practical truth and esse morale.

Looking at Woodbury’s treatment of the orders of intention and election (generally “standard fare” in scholastic presentations but with more detail than one often finds), several things should be noted for now.  For him, Simple Apprehension is a speculative judgment (e.g. “This thing is good.”)  Note too that the inefficacious volition is a velleity—but it respects the good in itself absolutely, not as obtainable. 

The judgment involved with intention is an act of intellect knowing the good that was previously apprehended but now under the character of end attainable (and even to be attained) through such means as are apt for its attainment—Thus is it proposed to the will; it is upon this that intention will have its character.

In COUNSEL, we experience TWO speculativo-practical judgments:

-       Remote speculativo-practical judgment: about determinate means that are APT for attaining the end intended

-       Proximate speculativo-practical judgment: that the means OUGHT TO BE CHOSEN.  NOTE WELL: THIS JUDGEMENT IS THE JUDGMENT OF CONSCIENCE; IT IS MADE ACCORDING TO THE EXIGENCIES OF THE END AND OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES; Interestingly, however, he claims that it proceeds from practical science (and, yes, he capitalizes SCIENCE….)  This seems a bit off to me, if we are talking about practical MORAL PHILOSOPHY.  I will need to see what he means by “science” here….  Nonetheless, the other distinction is worthwhile.

After consent (which latches down upon the final counseled means—liked as “apt or eligible” but not yet elected), we then come to the PRACTICO-PRACTICAL JUDGMENT, judging that the means HERE AND NOW BENEFITS ME; this is the prudential or imprudential judgment.

After some more discussion, he then carries on about the command, though only briefly here at least.  For now, I am not going to belabor the point.  There are, however, some more detailed discussions on the imperium in p.80ff. 


Article 9: Solicitude and Prudence

One should be shrewd and alert—take counsel carefully (whether with oneself or with another); quickly carry it out.

Ad 2 Indeed, here we see that prudence must be solicitous precisely because it is about such uncertain matters.  It is the notion of the truth of prudence that it doesn’t have the clear certainty of speculative truth.

Ad 3 But it is a fault to be oversolicitous.  (This is noted in the context of a discussion on magnanimity and its apparent lack of solicitude.)

Unedited Notes—Prudence as Virtue, ST I-II q.47 a.4 and 5

Article 4: Prudence is a Virtue

We can consider “good” either materially or formally (i.e. from the aspect of being good).  That material object that is “good” can be found in many things; however, to be the object of a power solely on this score is not appetitive as such.  It is less a virtue.    However, when you have a virtue regarding rectitude of appetite, that is more truly a virtue (as it respects the good as good).  Note that this is based upon the remarks in ST I-II q.55 a.3 and q.56 a.1, namely that “virtue is what makes its possessor good and his work good likewise.”

Prudence, as already stated above, applies right reason to action; this requires right appetite.  I would reflect on this point to some degree: prudence is a moral virtue because it cannot do its job without right appetite.  This will have important ramifications that will prevent moral thought from becoming too heavily intellectualistic.  So, prudence is at once an intellectual and moral virtue.

Ad 2: This fusses a bit on the distinction of prudence and art (and a dictum of Aristotle that is sometimes cryptically translated, the point of it being that the artist needs prudence to be a good man in using his art).  He stresses the independence of art from prudence (it is directed to its particular end and has its fixed means); there is a loose manner of speaking of being “prudent” in art; also, it can look like prudence insofar as there can be counsel in art.  Notice here that Aquinas’s stock examples could be amply expanded


Article 5: Is prudence a special virtue?

The maxim at work here is that of the specification of habitus and acts by objects (cf. ST I-II q.1 a.3; q.18 a.2; q.54 a.2; also, De Anima discussions very important for the proper understanding of “object” here.)  We are speaking of the formal aspect of the object (cf. ST I-II q.54 a.2 ad 1).  Difference of powers is more significant than that of habitus; thus, a difference requiring difference of powers will require a difference of objects.  (He is primarily trying to stress the difference of prudence from the other virtues; this explains something below perhaps)

What can be objects of reason’s other intellectual virtues:

-       Wisdom, science, understanding: necessary thing

-       Art / prudence: contingent things

o   Art: things made (i.e. in external matter)

o   Prudence: Things done (Having their being in the doer; see again ST I-II q.57 a.4); notice the immanence of prudence’s command in the will’s own information.  One must be careful here so as not to completely separate it from the external action.  But still, notice the fact that Aquinas stresses this point.

So, here, Aquinas differentiates its object only MATERIALLY from other intellectual virtues(which is a little interesting, when you think of it; see a.2 above, though, as he cites it; hmmm... one needs to consult the appropriate texts on this remark, for there is certainly formal distinction as well between them—many formal distinctions, actually, if one believes the principles for the division of sciences for instance, let alone the radical difference between virtues of the practical intellect and the speculative intellect).  However, he is clear that prudence is different FORMALLY from the MORAL virtues distinctive of powers insofar as it is primarily intellectual as opposed to appetitive.

Ad 1: Passages like this are very key to keep one from slipping the opposite way into a voluntarism by reacting to the intellectualistic reads of Aquinas;  notice how prudence is included in moral virtues’ definition (in the classic formula from Aristotle)

Ad 2: The example is shaky, though not without properly limited merit. 

Ad 3: Notice how prudence brings truth into moral actions (i.e. practical truth);

Unedited notes—ST II-II q.47 a.1: How Is Prudence Cognitive? (Some related texts included)

Of Prudence, Considered in Itself (ST II-II q.47) and related texts

These notes are taken from Aquinas, ST II-II q.47.  They are meant to be summaries and are based on my own current reflections.

Article 1: Prudence is in the Intellect

Basing himself on a remark by Isidore of Seville, Thomas notes that prudence gives us a way of seeing from afar, obviously speaking metaphorically.  It is a cognitive activity—“to obtain knowledge of the future from knowledge of the present or past”; it is “done by a process of comparison.”  Notice the fact that prudence enables us to see the future—indeed, as we will see, it enables us to COMMAND the future to come into existence by molding human liberty.  (Command is the primary act of prudence, as we will see.)  It is about setting human freedom in right order.  (Hence too, PRUDENCE HELPS TO BRING THE NATURAL LAW INTO EXISTENCE, for ordering pertains to law.)

You will see, however, that there are VERY important ways that the will is involved in prudence

ad 1: Love moves to the act of prudence; indeed, we will see that the causality of will and intellect are related in important ways (causae sunt invicem causae); see Garrigou-Lagrange in Dieu; also, Maritain in Existence and the Existent

ad 2: Here, he discusses the relation between counsel and choice; one should go back to ST I-II to read at length what is said there in the general treatment of the acts of the practical intellect

ad 3: Prudence is not related to thought only but to action; he differentiates this from art, though we need to be careful here, for art is still in an operative habitus; however, it is more about judging than about commanding, hence it is not directly about the actual effectuation of activity.  To this end, we need to visit ST I-II q.57 a.3-6


(Aside: ST I-II q.57 a.3: Art is an intellectual virtue)

Art = “the right reason about certain works to be made”; it is important to note that it is practical—it is directive of something NEW TO BE FORMED AND SHAPED IN THE WORLD

It is different from prudence because it depends upon the WORK TO BE MADE—it is the GOOD OF THE WORK that is the GOOD OF ART; hence, as Maritain well notes, there is a battle often between art and prudence; Art requires the artist to bring his or her will into line not with the fitting good of human life but the fitting good of the art in question—YET, NONETHELESS, the artist must be a GOOD MAN in addition to being a GOOD ARTIST; there are some profound things in Art and Scholasticism on this topic.

Notice, though, again: IT IS AN OPERATIVE HABIT

It is akin to SPECULATIVE HABITS in that it is primarily QUALITATIVE in nature, giving the artist an APTNESS TO WORK WELL but not RECTITUDE IN APPETITE.  (Hence, a great artist can even sin against his artwork, to show his or her excellence; likewise, a great artist can bring forth great beauty and not sin against art but, nonetheless, sin against being a man.)  Simon treats this well; they are also treated in ad 1 and 2, though regarding ad 1 (and the unfailingness of art as such), see Maritain in Art and Scholasticism (I believe)


Ad 3 Has some interesting points regarding liberal arts—but one must be VERY careful in these matters.  Rational order is not the same as technical order.  Likewise, one needs to make careful precisions regarding the mathematical disciplines.  To be honest, the liberal arts are sometimes studied in an “art-ish” way and sometimes in a speculative way (i.e. by resolution to principles); this likely specifies two different formal objects.  (The treatment of logica docens vs. logica utens only partially addresses this distinction; Aquinas develops on the point, but one really should consult the later Thomists to get better clarity.  Notes are available to those interested.)  One needs to consult numerous texts on this and also note that Aquinas just may not have given us more than a lot of little droplets on these topics.  (Cf. Tedesco’s work on this in Italian and English.)  Also, note Aquinas’s words: “On the other hand, those sciences which are not ordained to any such like work, are called sciences simply, and not arts. Nor, if the liberal arts be more excellent, does it follow that the notion of art is more applicable to them.”


(Aside: ST I-II q.57 a.4: The distinction of prudence and art)

This is very important.  M-D Philippe, in L’Activité Artistique, vol. 2 has some excellent remarks that supplement some of the more standard accounts.


Notice—Qualitative aptness and aptness for use (Simon: Existential readiness)

Art only provides the first one; it doesn’t perfect the will.

He bases the reason on the definitions of art and prudence: The reason for this difference is that art is the "right reason of things to be made"; whereas prudence is the "right reason of things to be done."  Prudence is immanent in a way that art is not—art passes out into the thing that is made.  (This is important in discussions of esse morale, which is first executively in the will so directed, then derivatively in the external reality enveloped in the various acts, though prior in apprehension—causae sunt invicem causae; one must parse these matters very carefully.  One should see ST I-II q.19 and 20; Ripperger’s treatment; Sokolowsk’s reflections are helpful in Moral Action; Woodbury’s notes deserve to be published—YET AGAIN; Lehu summarizes)


BECAUSE THE THING ITSELF TO BE MADE is the measure of art, the will need not be rectified.  Hence, the standard example of sinning against art willingly.

Ad 1 is interesting and potentially problematic; it must be referring to art IN GENERAL; however, it should be read as leaving room for specific kinds of art.  There are MANY, MANY formal objects…

Ad 2 According to subject and matter, they are like.  Indeed, they are “about things that may be otherwise than they are.”  (Indeed, the inventiveness of man shines in art and prudence.)  However, AS VIRTUES, art is more speculative.  (This has some profound implications, as Maritain has shown.)

Ad 3—Read this in conjunction with discussions of imperfect prudence; in particular, notice how he moves back and forth between art and “prudence” when considering these kinds of non-ultimate ends; the ambiguity is important though


(Aside: ST I-II q.57 a.5: Prudence is a most necessary virtue for human life)

He focuses here on choice; command is most important.  Here, though note this—two things needed for choice’s rectitude:

1.     Due end

2.     Something ordered to that end

Virtue provides the first—This is why it is a TRAVESTY that Thomists don’t just play out this dynamic carefully.  We’ll see the same point when we get to ST II-II q.47 a.6-7.  The interplay of LOVE OF THE FITTING GOOD and the DIRECTION TO THAT GOOD is very profound.  Here is the heart of Thomas’s treatment of the moral life if rightly treated.

Ad 1: Notice again the focus on the fact that the good of art is found IN THE WORK MADE.  We have such deep respect for the man who sacrifices himself for art, even if that respect is not moral.

Notice the immanent activity of prudence; some other things in here that are standard but good reiterations on the distinction between art and prudence

ad 2 Remarks about receiving counsel from others; One should write an entire study just on the psychology of counsel and judgment in moral learning / development


Ad 3: This is an utterly important locus for the discussion for PRACTICAL TRUTH AND SPECULATIVE TRUTH.  Indeed, one could make related remarks regarding PRACTICAL SIGNS and SPECULATIVE SIGNS.  Note, that the TRUTH OF DIRECTING is different also for ART and PRUDENCE.

Speculative truth: Conformity between intellect and thing (read Simon / Maritain / esp. Woodbury if you want to understand this correctly)

(Because of contingent matters involved in practical intellection…; few ever felt this point as did Maritain, Simon, and also, Garrigou-Lagrange; cf. Cajetan, also, various commentaries on this point in Cajetan, who felt these problems deeply against Scotist pressures)

Practical truth = Conformity with right appetite

And it is primarily DIRECTIVE; only then do we quasi-reflectively explain it in signified act.  A full phenomenology of this would help to eliminate many problems experienced by Thomists regarding practical knowledge and moral science.

            More could be said regarding the relationship between artistic-truth and moral-truth; As always, see Simon in particular


(Aside: ST I-II q.57 a.6: Euboulia, synesis, and gnome)

Here, we have an important inkling regarding the role of command in prudence; indeed it is command that gives the fullest character to the nature of prudence.  To understand prudence, you must understand that it is always undertaking an inquiry into a command.  Notice how St. Thomas makes counsel and judgment matters of the speculative intellect (since counsel is a kind of inquiry); however, command is “proper to the practical intellect, insofar as this is ordained to operation”—an interesting point; yet, nonetheless, counsel and judgment ARE concerned with things to be commanded, so the rectitude of will involved in the latter flows over the first two acts.   Perhaps, we could say: counsel and judgment / choice pertain to practical INTELLECT whereas command pertains to PRACTICAL intellect

But that is me interpreting this interesting passage. 

Eubolia: Perfecting counsel; deliberating well

Synesis: Judges on a common law (akin to how dialectics—cf. Topics—inquires into all matters)

Gnome: Bases its judgment on Natural Law (as proper principles)—We will revisit this in ST II-II q.51 a.4; it will have some VERY important implications regarding our KNOWLEDGE OF THE NATURAL LAW, a topic with which Maritian struggled valiantly though only coming to the edges of the full solution, I think.

The treatment of Synesis and Gnome is taken from ad 3

Ad 2: As regards my interpretation of the relation of the various acts (and being careful about the “speculative” component), this complete response should be read: “Judgment about what is to be done is directed to something further: for it may happen in some matter of action that a man's judgment is sound, while his execution [i.e. command] is wrong. The matter does not attain to its final complement until the reason has commanded aright in the point of what has to be done.”

Introduction to the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas

John of St. Thomas (aka John Poinsot), Introduction to the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, trans. Ralph McInerny (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press 2014).

From one perspective this little gem is nothing special.  From another, it is quite special.  St. Thomas's famous Summa theologiae is known for many, many things.  However, few pay attention to his masterful grasp of the ordering of topics that must be treated if one wants to speak in a systematic way about theological matters.  His great follower, John of St. Thomas takes the reader for a trip through this careful order.  Let us always remember too—it is the office of the wise person to order things.  St. Thomas is indeed wise.

Some Quotes and Thoughts

"That is why the chief and most efficacious way of entering into and grasping the mind of the Angelic Doctor in this wonderful edifice of theology is first diligently seeking the order he followed in the disposition and treatment of his Summa, proceeding from one question to the next, from one matter to another, as if joined by golden links."

(How many people take truly seriously the fact that this is a work of theological science?  Do we pray enough when we enter into this and other works that speak of God?)