Practical Reason

Unedited Notes—ST II-II q.47 a.2 and 3 Prudence as Practical; Prudence and Knowledge of Singulars

Returning to ST II-II q.47…

Article 2: Prudence belongs to practical reason

St. Thomas’s defense of this point is rather brief.  Indeed, notice how he relies on Aristotle’s dictum regarding the prudent man’s reliance upon council.  It will be important to see, however, that counsel is more known to us but it is not the most important aspect of prudence (as has already be hinted).  Indeed, prudence’s command is incommunicable (because it is the FORM OF THE ACT ITSELF).  But in this article, Thomas is brief—counsel is about what is done toward an end; hence, it is practical because it directs the means here and now.

Ad 1: Here, Aquinas notes that prudence is wisdom for man, though not wisdom absolutely; it is wisdom about human affairs.  I think that it is important to reflect on the fact that prudence is a kind of wisdom, though lacking.  This helps to guide moral philosophy—which ultimately is subordinated to prudence (though they are formally separate affairs for a number of good reasons).  The wisdom of practice is found in HE OR SHE WHO IS GOOD.  This domain is not small either.  It pertains to all of culture, which is the order CREATED BY PRACTICAL REASON.

Ad 2: He notes here that all thought falls under prudence EXECUTIVELY but not FORMALLY; the specification of speculative reason is what is NECESSARILY TRUE; (this also helps one to understand how moral philosophy is different from prudence); One can read the first two chapters of Simon’s Practical Knowledge to great benefit on this matter

Ad 3: Notice here that he follows Nicomachean Ethics 3.3 regarding the fact that prudential matters HAVE NO FIXED WAY IN ACHIEVING THE END.  M.D. Philippe notes well how art differs in this regard (and how it is easy to confuse the two).  See L’activité artistique, vol.2.  Even when it comes to masterpieces, the desire to imitate shows that people sense the repeatability of the procedure.  (Hence, Bach discovers the art of the fugue, others follow in his wake; alas, often without the depth of perception in these matters; nonetheless, they are following a much more fixed pattern than one finds in prudential counsel)  Again, see Philippe’s excellent essay on this.

Notice how he contrasts the case of speculative reason with practical reasoning; the former gives birth to logic—a speculative art; however, there is no “speculative prudence” because there are no fixed rules;  one must not push this point the wrong way.  He is speaking of prudential command—not the moral essences involved in practical reason.  But, one understands well that one is not being speculatively prudent when one is being speculatively practical.


Article 3: Prudence Takes Awareness of Singulars

A remark before—annex a discussion of reflex concepts; an important topic under-addressed by Thomists.  See Woodbury’s notes on the matter for an introduction

The whole matter here is due to the fact that prudence is about application to action.  Thus, universal principles must be applied to singular, concrete actions.  [This is why prudence itself demands moral philosophy to strengthen its own grasp of universal principles (grasped by synderesis but differently used in each case?—see Simon’s remarks on Syndereis in his Critique of Moral Knowledge)]

Ad 1: Notice that this pertains to speculative reason primarily.  The way that reason grasps the singular for moral matters is different.  The cogitative power is involved, however, in both cases.  See, in addition to Woodbury, Daniel De Haan’s article on this.  There are two different sorts of reflex concepts involved—because they are two different sorts of knowing.

Ad 3: Indeed, here we see the very point adumbrated in my remarks to ad 1; prudence is in the intellect (practical intellect) as its principle subject; however, it extends to the cogitative power (here called “the interior sense”), which is perfected by memory (which stores intentions that are produced in the cogitative power).   On this, see Daniel De Haan, Woodbury, and Klubertanz