Command of Prudence

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.)