On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior
The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling
By Henry Fielding
I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
Today we begin Chapter One of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior. As we begin our study of classic literature and the lessons of virtue that can be gleaned from their study, it’s appropriate that we begin with Prudence.
As Karen said
Virtue requires judgment, and judgment requires prudence. Prudence is wisdom in practice. It is the habit of discerning the “true good in every circumstance” and “the right means of achieving it.” In other words, it is “applied morality.” A person possesses the virtue of prudence when “the disposition to reason well about what courses of action and emotion will best bring about our own and others’ well-being” becomes an acquired habit. Perhaps Cicero puts it most clearly and succinctly in saying, “Prudence is the knowledge of things to be sought, and those to be shunned.”
Prudence is considered the mother of the other three cardinal virtues. While temperance, fortitude, and justice are moral virtues, virtues related to doing, prudence is an intellectual virtue, a virtue related to knowing. Prudence is “at the heart of the moral character, for it shapes and directs the whole of our moral lives, and is indispensable to our becoming morally excellent human persons.” Prudence measures the other virtues and determines what “makes an action good.” It is described as the “charioteer of the virtues,” the basis and the measure of all other virtues, helping us to apply general principles to particular situations in ways that avoid evil and accomplish good.
What is the relationship between prudence and morality? Between prudence and immorality?