The Virtue of Prudence

Douglas McManaman
December 2, 2023
Reproduced with Permission

Prudence is an interesting virtue; it is both an intellectual virtue and a moral virtue. Typically, the intellectual virtues can be possessed without the moral virtues. A person can have philosophical wisdom without being morally virtuous, or the virtue of science, even moral science, without being morally good - knowing the good does not guarantee that you'll do the good. One cannot have prudence, however, without being morally good. If you are prudent, you are morally good.

Prudence is the mother of virtue, or the form of the moral virtues. The form in classical philosophy is that which determines a thing to be what it is (the form of chair determines the wood to be a chair). Prudence determines the virtues, i.e., temperance, fortitude, justice, etc., to be what they are, namely virtues, that is, habits that make their possessor good.

What's interesting about this is that 1) one cannot be good without prudence, and 2) one cannot have prudence without being good. So, there's an interesting circularity here. It's an interesting problem. Is this a vicious circle? One needs the moral virtues to be prudent, but one needs prudence to be morally virtuous. How does that work?

Perhaps we can come back to this later. I think I really began to understand prudence after watching a friend of mine who was our vice principal and later, our principal at a school I taught at for many years. It was actually when she became principal that things began to click into place for me. She often encouraged me to take the principal's course in order to become an administrator (a vice - principal), but I resisted that. The reason is that I love ideas; I love learning new things and bringing them into the classroom to discuss with students. I don't believe I have a mind for administration. She would argue with me, reminding me that "You have to train your mind for that", and I'm sure she was right, but I didn't really want to train my mind for administration, to re - dispose my mind away from contemplation towards a more concrete level, which is what I think it would involve. But what really impressed me about this woman was precisely the kind of mind she had. She had very good foresight. I'd bring up an idea to implement, and she would immediately see the many possible repercussions of that idea. And of course, the word prudence is related to foresight, from the Latin prudentia, which means "a foreseeing, foresight, practical judgment." The word is a contraction of providentia from which is derived the word 'providence' (foresight). Her foresight was a result of a great deal of experience. My mind operated on a more general level, while she operated on a less abstract and more concrete level.

The virtue of prudence is a very complex virtue, because it includes both levels: the universal and the concrete. It is defined as "the intellectual virtue that rightly directs particular human acts, through rectitude of the appetite, towards a good end." And of course, here's that interesting circularity again. You need rectitude of appetite in order to have prudence, but how does one know what constitutes right appetite without prudence? In any case, the bottom line is that one may be brilliant and learned without being morally good - because one does not have a good will, or one has disordered appetites - , but it is not possible to be prudent and not morally good. The prudent man is one who does the good, as opposed to one who merely talks about virtue, perhaps writes eloquently about virtue. I know some who write brilliantly and eloquently about virtue, but I'm not entirely sure I'd say they are virtuous, at least not to the extraordinary level of their writing abilities. Can one be virtuous without humility? Not at all, and humility is a matter of appetite (the moderate love of one's own excellence). Excessive love of one's excellence is pride, which is a vice. A proud man is not a prudent man. So it is very important that we not identify being a good moral philosopher or good moral theologian with prudence. He may not be prudent, but only a good moral problem solver, that is, good at solving moral dilemmas, or good at dealing with relatively abstract moral problems, but prudence is a different thing altogether. It is far more complex, and the reason it is far more complex is that it presupposes right appetite, which means a rightly ordered will and rightly ordered sensitive appetites, from which the eleven basic emotions proceed. Hence, emotional well - being or emotional stability is a pre - condition for prudence, and of course having a good will, a just will, is a necessary condition for prudence.

Prudence is also complex in that it bears upon not merely general actions, but actions in the here and now, that is, the realm of the contingent, the concrete, the variable. This is where things become interesting. Prudence is the ability to apply universal principles to particular situations, and because it deals in both universal matters and particular, concrete, contingent matters, a number of other virtues that make up the integral parts of prudence are required, not just the general science of ethics.

And so, in order to apply universal principles, one must have an understanding of universal moral principles, the first principles of natural law, the precepts of natural law and the more specific moral principles, like the principle of double effect, for example. And because prudence is an intellectual virtue, one must be able to reason soundly, which implies the ability to think logically. Aquinas includes conjecture as part of prudence. What we are dealing with here is inductive reasoning or plausible reasoning, which is a form of reasoning that was not very developed in the High Middle Ages. Being able to reason with plausible data is going to become a very important part of prudence. I will return to these towards the end.

Let's turn now to the parts of prudence that bear upon contingencies, concrete circumstances that vary. These are the following:


For me, it is these integral parts that make prudence so interesting. Moreover, you can't acquire these virtues in a classroom. You can't really teach them like you can mathematics or logic, or universal moral principles. You can teach ethical theory, but you can't teach foresight, caution, shrewdness, for example. These come with experience.


Memory is really experience. You have to have something to remember, and so the more experience you have, the more a good memory will be useful to you, especially in practical matters. The object of memory is past experience, and experience is information. The more you've traveled, the more information you have. The more diversified your experience, for example, the more varied your experiences in the schools, the more information you have. The more diversified your positions in the schools over the years (teacher, vice - principal, principal, superintendent), the more information you will have at your disposal.

But this is the problem with being young. Young people typically make imprudent decisions. The reason is that they lack experience. They don't have the information. Part of the vocation of those who have retired, those who have the gift of years, is to reflect upon their rich experience over the years, experience that young people just don't have. Those in their 90s, or 80s, even 70s, have a vast reservoir of experience, and because they are retired, they have the time to reflect upon that vast experience, which is why spending time in silence and reflection, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, is so important. Those who are young are acquiring experience every day that is very important, but they don't have the time to reflect upon it, and what they reflect upon is typically a very limited selection. It's sort of like reading Scripture. When you read Scripture in your 20s, you pick up certain things, but when you read it in your 30s, or 40s, or 50s, you notice things that you missed when you were 20, because you now read it in a new light, in light of two or three decades more of experience, or more information. That new information allows us to revise certain conclusions we held earlier, the result of having a larger picture, so to speak. It's very much like an adolescent who can't stand his parents and thinks they are just not too bright and have no clue about parenting, until years later he becomes a parent and is making the same decisions that he condemned years before in his adolescence. He begins to realize that they are not so dumb after all. Experience, which brings new information, allows us to see things we couldn't see earlier.

I'm reminded of my friend Major General JR Bernier. He was the former surgeon general of Canada and NATO. His special area is public health, infectious disease management, etc. During the pandemic, I would try to get him to respond to all sorts of conspiracy claims that friends of mine were making. At one point, he wrote this to me: "When I commanded a hospital, I ascribed conspiratorial motivations to many decisions and policies from Ottawa that I considered incompetent or sinister. When I later had to make those decisions myself or advise Cabinet or other authorities in their decision - making (with the benefit of knowing all the relevant factors and information), they were usually the same decisions that I had previously condemned in my ignorance."

What I also found interesting - and very relevant for a discussion on prudence - was his refusal to evaluate the decisions made by the Ford government with respect to the pandemic. The reason is that the information that experience provides and that prudence requires is very specific, and not general. He said: "I've studied and worked in infectious disease, immunology, vaccinology, epidemiology, public health, etc. most of my life, led infectious outbreak investigations and managements, led Canada's most complex public health agency, was one of the 16 national governors of health research in Canada, was chair of the health research committee of the world's largest research network, was the chief medical adviser to the alliance of western nations, led development projects all the way to licensure for vaccines and other infectious disease pharmaceuticals, and am now one of the governors of Ontario's health system. Despite that (or because of that), I know how many thousands of situation - specific medical, epidemiological, treatment capacity, economic, political, financial, etc. factors that must be considered and balanced in local/regional decision - making, hundreds of which change day to day. Not knowing the status of each of these thousands of factors for each locality, I know that I'm consequently completely unqualified (despite my background) to second - guess the region - specific decisions of those who do know this information. I would, of course, be free to confidently express dogmatic opinions with great certainty if I knew nothing about the subject."

I've seen a similar pattern in education over the years. When a teacher becomes a vice principal, they are suddenly opened up to a vast amount of information, the result of the new position, they are given a new perspective, and that new perspective provides a truckload of new information which they previously did not have of course. Those who are honest and reflective enough regret the arrogance of their youth.


Docility is the ability to be taught. It describes a readiness to learn. Docility requires a degree of openness, that is, a degree of humility. And of course, this above all means the ability and willingness to learn from those with more experience, who have been down a certain road before and are more familiar with the territory.

What's interesting about experience is that we can only take away from it very limited content. Let me try to explain it this way. Think of the taxonomy of the sciences, the various branches of a science that there are, i.e., branches of chemistry, such as biochemistry, organic chemistry, synthetic organic chemistry, or branches of psychology, such as cognitive psychology, environmental psychology, humanistic psychology, etc. In 1911, there were only two branches of Astronomy, and two branches of Optics. In 1970, however, that grew to 10 specialties of Optics, and 26 specialties of Astronomy. And currently, there are so many more branches of psychology than there were when I began to study: social psychology, forensic psychology, clinical neuropsychology, positive psychology, abnormal psychology, clinical psychology, evolutionary psychology, industrial psychology, and the list goes on.

How does this happen? How is it that the sciences become increasingly complex, with more and more branches and specialties? I think it all begins with the kinds of questions we are inclined to ask. The word question comes from the Latin querrere, which means to quest, or to journey. To pose a question is to position oneself for a journey, an avenue of inquiry. If I decide to go down this avenue rather than that avenue, I will discover things, houses, types of trees perhaps, whatever, that I would not have discovered had I taken a different avenue. What happens in the sciences is that an individual scientist asks a different kind of question, because he's interested in a different problem to solve, perhaps as a result of the situation he finds himself in. And posing a different question takes one down a different avenue of inquiry, and that opens up a whole new world to discover. And so, we have forensic psychology as well as positive psychology, both rooted in two different problems that two different psychologists wanted to solve: the criminal mind for one of them, the problem of happiness for the other. What we are interested in determines what it is we notice. For an everyday example of this, I think of the times my daughter and I walk through a shopping mall together. At the end of that hour or two, she will have noticed things that I had no clue about. She'll say that she saw this many people with a Louis Vuitton purse, and that lady is wearing very expensive high - end shoes, and that parishioner we met is rich, because that sweater she is wearing is high - end, etc. I've noticed nothing like that - I noticed there's a new bakery in the Mall. Interest plays a similar role in the sciences. One physicist is interested in solving certain problems, and so asks different questions, which lead to a whole new branch of that science.

That is why docility is so important. Our experience is not universal, but very circumscribed. There's more data in our experience than we are able to process; we process what is relevant for us, and what is relevant has everything to do with what you are interested in, the problems you want to solve in your life. And so, you have insights that I don't have, and so I need to learn from you. There's no doubt in my mind that there is something to Immanuel Kant's distinction between phenomena and noumena, that reality as it appears to us is, to some degree at least, determined by something in us.

Getting back to docility, if I lack it, I will make mistakes, the same mistakes that others have made in the past. I repeated them only because I was ignorant, and I was ignorant because I did not open myself to learning from others. And that too is often rooted in disordered passion - impatience, or perhaps pride, which is excessive love of one's own excellence.


As I mentioned, this was the quality that a friend of mine possessed that helped me to begin to understand prudence. Foresight is not about making predictions, like political talking heads. It's interesting to study predictions made in the past and how wrong they always are, and yet it does not stop these people from continuing to make predictions with the same level of confidence and certainty. James Fallows, the national correspondent for The Atlantic, wrote: "Donald Trump will not be the 45th president of the United States. Nor the 46th, nor any other number you might name. The chance of his winning the nomination and election is exactly zero." That's prediction, not foresight.

Foresight is certainly a kind of prediction, but it involves thinking about what's in place now, and anticipating problems, difficulties, quagmires, that are likely to occur. It is practical, not speculative, so it requires experience, and it involves effort and moral concern. And so, the lazy minded tend to lack foresight. I wanted to have a certain comedian come to our school to entertain the students, but my friend got me to consider how many Asian students we have and what the chances are that he will perform that routine in which he speaks in that Asian accent; all we need is one student to feel shame about his own cultural identity. Do we want that? Are we willing to accept that? Although he may be funnier and more popular than the other guy who is available, we can foresee potential problems.


The shrewd can size up a situation rather quickly. They are able to rapidly determine the best means to achieve their end. A shrewd person is also highly intuitive with respect to the reading of people's character. Intuition is, I am convinced, a matter of rapid inference, as a result of experience. The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is an illustration of shrewdness (Lk 16):

A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, 'What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.'
The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.'
He called in his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, 'How much do you owe my master?'He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.'
Then to another he said, 'And you, how much do you owe?' He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.'
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.

Verse 8 of this chapter is also very interesting: "The children of darkness are more shrewd than are the children of light". My spiritual director would often repeat that verse. I think he meant that we are not strategic, as are the children of darkness, who plan strategically and patiently. We're kind of reckless in our inactivity and complacency. Although we have the light, the enemies of the Church have the heat. They are prepared to wait and to act, and the result is that they've gained tremendous ground over the past 50 years. We haven't really taught goodness. It's as if we've forgotten that there's an enemy out there and that we have to make sure that young people and the faithful in general understand goodness. Forgiveness is one thing, but it seems we did not want to pursue the rigorous teaching of goodness, because we were afraid that someone was going to be offended by that. And so we fell asleep, while the enemies of the Church worked diligently and patiently, sowing darnel.

The situation today is that Catholic teachers are afraid to teach certain things, because they are afraid to offend: "What parent is going to come after me if I say this or that?" How did we get to that point? Our lack of careful assessment of the situation within these past 40 years, not to mention a lack of foresight.

Now, however, we find ourselves in a very different situation. We have to re - strategize, and a shrewd strategy will look very different than it would have 50 years ago. This is not the 1960s or 70s, so how do we achieve our goal in this situation? How do we teach morality in the schools without getting canceled? Or better yet, without having the students tune us out completely. I have friends who would adopt what I would argue is a reckless and imprudent approach: just go in and hit them over the head with a dogmatic two by four, and let the chips fall where they may. I would argue, instead, that we need to begin with a thorough discussion of divine grace. Never begin with law, the law does not save; begin with divine grace. Students need to see the entire picture, from creation, the fall of man, the covenant with Abraham, to the Incarnation and the divinization or deification that results from grace. What does it mean to be a new creation, to share in the divine nature. Without that background, Catholic morality will only leave a very bad taste in their mouths.


Circumspection involves being wary and unwilling to take unnecessary risks. It involves a careful consideration of all circumstances and possible consequences, so it includes foresight, as well as caution, which is also an integral part of prudence.

I remember walking into Costco and seeing a stack of computer printers for $60, on sale. I bought one, thinking what a deal. Until a few months later when it was time to replace the ink cartridges. They are more expensive than the printer. After 2 years, you've paid out what it would have cost you to buy a laser printer in the first place, and the ink on a laser printer does not dry out if you don't use it for a few months. This was a lack of circumspection on my part. I should have asked the right questions: "Why are these printers so cheap?" "Isn't this too good to be true?" But once again, all this comes with experience.

Conjecture (Inductive reasoning)

A very important part of prudence is the ability to reason on the basis of plausible data. What we are referring to here is the process of drawing conclusions on the basis of incomplete information. In short, inductive reasoning. The old Aristotelian deductive logic that we were brought up on is fine as far as it goes, but if any of you studied it, you remember that the premises were not that important.

All men are rational
John is a man
Therefore, John is rational.

No one argues with the premises. The point of this logic was to become familiar with the valid form of the argument.

All animals are sentient
Fido is an animal
Therefore, Fido is sentient.

In real life, however, the premises that we have to manage are rarely quite as certain and easy to agree on. It is evident to everyone that a dog is an animal, but what about the claim that Tiger Woods is the all - time greatest golfer (many would say Jack Nicholas), or Bobby Orr is the all - time greatest hockey player (some would say Wayne Gretzky). Or Mark Furman planted evidence to convict OJ Simpson - how plausible is that, given his background in the LAPD?. These claims have a degree of plausibility, either minimally plausible, somewhat plausible, moderately plausible, or highly plausible. The information or data that we have to support our claims are incomplete. How then do we draw out the maximally consistent and most plausible conclusion on the basis of plausible and incomplete data? That's what plausible reasoning is about (See my Introduction to Plausible Reasoning).

Now, what often happens is that when young people become more familiar with the process of plausible reasoning, they tend to become a bit more cautious in terms of their conclusions. In other words, they are more tentative and less certain, that is, less dogmatic. When we study the history of science, for example, we see plausible reasoning in action. On the basis of the information we have, we draw the most plausible conclusion on the basis of the most consistent set of data we have in our possession at the time, but with more information, that conclusion is typically revised. What can often happen is that a conclusion that was earlier based on a set of data that had much less plausibility is suddenly raised to the level of maximum plausibility, and what was held to be the most plausible conclusion on the basis of the information we had at the time is now relegated to a very low position of plausibility.

We see this when we follow an investigation of a crime, such as a murder. Sometimes all the evidence points to a particular suspect, and we are convinced of his guilt. But as new information comes forth, that person is removed from the pool of suspects, and a new person comes to the fore.

Years ago, I saw an interview with Prosecutor Sam Millsap Jr., former Bexar County district attorney who charged Ruben Cantu with capital murder, who was eventually executed by lethal injection for a crime he did not commit. Journalist Lisa Olson years later confronted Millsap with the evidence, fully expecting Millsap to defend himself at all costs. But he did not. He readily acknowledged his mistake. He said: "I was always proud of the fact that I was a district attorney when I was 35 years old, but the thing that I realized was that there was value to experience. I didn't know enough to realize that you shouldn't place the kind of weight that we placed on the testimony of a single eye - witness."

When we become familiar with plausible reasoning, it soon becomes evident how much of our day - to - day reasoning is a matter of reasoning on the basis of plausible data, and the more we become familiar with that, the less dogmatic we become. One of my favorite lines about epistemic overconfidence is from Bertrand Russell: "The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt". It is very important to teach our students the importance of epistemic humility - and of course we do that by example. The arrogance of youth is almost impossible to uproot; only time and hope will achieve that, but we need to at least remind them that in the end, we really know very little. When I was in my early 50s, I would often tell my students that I have 53 years of experience in being wrong, while you have only 17 years, and in those 17 years, you have not paid too much attention to those times you were wrong; it feels much better to discover you are right than discovering that you were wrong. And the only reason I started paying close attention to my mistaken inferences is that I would use them as examples in my theory of knowledge course.

There's so much to do in this area, and so much has been written on this. Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow is a classic. Moreover, becoming familiar with basic induction biases goes a long way, such as the availability heuristic bias, confirmation bias, belief perseverance, base rate neglect, the narrative fallacy, etc.

Understanding Universal Moral Principles

Universal moral principles can be taught, unlike circumspection, caution, docility, or memory - all we can do is hope that a person eventually acquires the latter. But teaching moral principles is the easy part in all of this; it is easy because it is more general, that is, we are operating on a higher level of abstraction, and on this level, it is much easier to achieve certainty. It is like estimating the height of a tree; the broader the estimate, the more certainty we enjoy. I can say that oak tree outside is between a foot and a mile high; we can all be quite certain that this is the case, but the more precise - and more useful - the estimate, the more vulnerable it is to error: "The tree outside is 38 ft high". It's likely wrong, for it could be 37 ft, or 40 ft. Mathematics has greater certainty than does history, for example, because mathematics operates on a high level of abstraction. The more we descend to the level of the contingent, the more uncertainty there is.

So very general moral principles are easy to agree on and they are easy to teach. And this is why it is very imprudent to get into moral issues at the start of a course. Always begin with the general, always begin with universal principles. It is much easier to come to an agreement on these. But if we begin with moral issues, students will certainly get excited and jump right into the discussion, and that's fun, but they will lack the principles, and so they will take a position on issues that are relatively unprincipled, and once that happens and they make their views public, they will often just dig in their heels all the more so afterwards when their position is challenged. General principles must be laid down first, and from that foundation we should carefully construct the edifice. For example:

Of course, not all precepts are absolute. Consider some very specific precept, such as: One ought to keep one's promises. This is a precept based on the more general precept of fairness: One ought not to treat others with a preference, unless that preference is required by basic human goods. If I am an unfair person, I treat myself with a preference. My will has primacy. If I am a just person, then I will see that I do not like it when others fail to keep their promises to me, so I will to keep my promises to them, because I refuse to treat myself with a preference. However, sometimes preferences are required by basic human goods, such as human life or health. Should I keep my promise to my friend to come over and watch the baseball game next Friday night? I have come down with the flu. I decide to break my promise, but I do so on the basis of the more fundamental precept of justice: the golden rule: I would not want my friend, who has the flu, to come over and give me the flu.

Breaking my promise does not constitute a violation of the more general precept that I ought not to act with a preference, unless the preference is required by basic human goods (in this case the human good being my own health and well - being, as well as my friend's health and wellbeing). Aborting a child, however, or actively euthanizing a patient, does involve the violation of a basic precept. I am willingly destroying a basic human good, for the sake of some other state of affairs.

Consider the more specific moral principle of double effect. There are situations in which performing a certain action will result in an undesirable side effect. The principle of double effect is a more specific principle that allows us to navigate through these situations in order to determine whether or not the act is permissible. The important point about this principle is that a true double effect scenario allows us to perform a certain action without positively willing evil.

And so, there are indeed intrinsically evil actions that are never permitted, but sometimes there are situations that change the nature of the action. Willingly destroying a developing fetus cannot be justified, because it involves the violation of a basic precept of natural law: One ought not to willingly destroy a basic intelligible human good for the sake of some other state of affairs or some other human good. But performing a genuinely medical action that results in the death of the fetus may possibly be justified, depending on how the conditions attached to the principle of double effect fare in this regard. One of the conditions is that one may not will or intend the evil effect, only permit it. The surgeon removed the fallopian tube to prevent hemorrhage, but he did not will or intend the death of the embryo, he merely permitted it. And the fourth condition is that the good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the evil effect.

Active euthanasia is intrinsically evil. One may not adopt a proposal that includes the death of the patient. To do so involves me in willing the death of the patient. Of course, I can reject a seriously burdensome treatment and accept my death, but this is morally different from willing my death, or intending it.

All this can be taught. However, there is a danger in teaching morality from an exclusively natural law point of view that focuses on moral issues and problems. Early on in my teaching career I had spent a great deal of time teaching the fundamentals of natural law, universal moral principles, and applying them to specific moral issues. At the end of a semester, a student asked: "Is there anything we are allowed to do?"

I was very frustrated with that question. I became angry, in part I think because I knew his question revealed a deficiency in my approach. The study of Ethics should be a study in the good life, that is, how to achieve the good life. That's what Aristotle's ethics is primarily about. It is really the study of what we ought to be doing, not just avoiding. Knowing what to avoid - what not to do - is very important, however. But we have to know the destination. I'm going to Florida, and I have my directions, and I'm looking forward to getting there. But part of my instructions should include: Do not turn off at this exit, and stay on 75 when you are in this or that area, it is easy to find yourself on the wrong highway heading west, etc. But these negative directions only make sense when you know where you are going. Our destiny is heaven. Our fundamental purpose is to know God, love God, and serve God. Our fundamental obligation is to grow in divine grace, to grow in supernatural charity. We have to discern our vocation and discover the charisms that God has given us for the sake of that vocation. As a teacher, God is calling me to cultivate patience, justice, compassion for my students, and prudence in the life of a teacher is going to be a matter of knowing the best means to fulfill the obligations of a teacher - how to draw the best out of my students, how to speak to them, how to look at them, how to relate to my colleagues and to administration, how to become a better teacher for the sake of my students. So, the moral life is primarily about "what to do" in the context of my vocation as a teacher.

It is possible to be so focused on moral issues, moral problems, on what not to do - why we should not fornicate, or contracept, or abort, or artificially inseminate - and pay little attention to what we ought to do every day at school and how we ought to relate to others.

Concluding Thoughts

So, prudence is not a matter of simple calculation. One has to grow in prudence, and one cannot do so alone. Prudence is communal and historical. Some moral decisions are easy, while some are more difficult to determine. This is not to suggest that truth in prudential matters is relative or purely subjective. Knowledge of the moral truth in these cases is a real possibility because truth is real, but it is more often than not difficult to achieve and requires input from others with experience, docility, listening, openness, caution and learning from experience (time), and a profound understanding of moral principles.

But how does one resolve the apparent circular nature of our claims about prudence? My best response is the following. The first choices that we make in our lives are the more general or universal choices (just as the first truths we apprehend are the most universal or general), and it is in the context of these universal choices that we make more particular choices, as a novelist conceives the whole novel very generally, and only later begins to fill in the particular parts, chapters, paragraphs, and sentences, that give expression to the original idea. The writer knows where he is going from the start. In other words, the whole is prior to its parts. Now the more universal the decision, the less motivated it is by sensible goods, and thus the more free and self - determined it is. But particular decisions motivated by strong passion can mitigate personal responsibility. For example, place a Hershey bar and a carrot in front of a young boy with a sweet tooth and ask him to make a choice. It is more likely than not that he will choose the Hershey bar. But the more universal an idea is, the more abstracted it is from matter. So too, the more universal the choice, the more it exceeds the influence of matter.

Now, at some point or within a certain period of time in our lives, we make a very general choice about ourselves. We choose to be a certain kind of person. This choice does not take place in a vacuum, but within an environment containing many different kinds of people. Very early on we choose to be like him, or like her, or not like this person or that person. The actions that we choose constitute that certain way of being. For example, a child might want to be a person who is always kind, who cares for people, seniors for example, tends to their needs, etc. It is on the basis of this more general decision that other alternatives become more appealing, that is, in accordance with the kind of character that I originally chose for myself. Conversely, certain alternatives drop out of consideration because they are inconsistent with the kind of character I have chosen for myself (I do not choose this action, because I don't want to be that kind of person). It is possible for a person to choose to always look out for himself first, to make himself the very center around which his life will revolve; in other words, my own well - being is more important to me than the well - being and rights of others. In this case, I accept that this is the kind of person I have become, that is, one with a less noble identity than that of a person who has made a more generous choice. There are certain choices that are consistent with that general decision of mine, and there are choices that are inconsistent with it, and these latter tend to lose their appeal, such as doing volunteer work or giving generously to charitable causes, or watching certain kinds of shows or applying for certain courses of study, etc.

It is not necessarily possible for us to determine exactly when this very general choice was made by a particular person, but some of us remember moments in our own childhood when we became conscious of having made a simple and general decision to be "like this person" or to strive to be "like that person", or to be "a good person", or "a more powerful person than all others". There is no need to attempt to search for the cause of this decision. The choice is self - determined, or self - caused. The power to choose freely is really the power to "make oneself". And what is made is more intimately yours than anything else that you might own. You are the kind of person that you are because you willed that to be.

So, a certain kind of appetite, referring to the will or the rational appetite, is established, and thus a person who has a right appetite can grow in prudence, in moral wisdom. He or she has the beginnings of a connatural knowledge of what is right and wrong, as a musically talented child will quickly learn how to play the piano or some other musical instrument. A person who has not established a very general appetite in the right direction will not grow in a knowledge of what is morally good, but instead a knowledge of how best to achieve his ends, which are ultimately ordered to himself.