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);