Friday, December 26, 2014

Good Counsel

Prudence is an interesting virtue in that it is inherently communicable: significant aspects of human life would not even be possible if we were not able to participate, at least in principle, in the prudence of others. The obvious example of this is parenting, since parenting is nothing other than sharing one's prudence (or as close to it as one happens to have) with one's children, who are, of course, still in the process of developing their own. Good parenting, of course, is when one genuinely shares the genuine virtue of prudence; to the extent that parenting falls away from that ideal, it is either because the parent doesn't actually have the virtue of prudence (although, children being rather more durable than some people seem to think, one can usually make do as long as one is not actually foolish, i.e., anti-prudent) or because something goes wrong with the sharing. The most general form of prudence-sharing, though, is not parenting but advising, prudence being the virtue not just of good decision but also of good advice.

Aquinas identifies a number of quasi-integral parts of prudence -- these are sub-virtues that together yield prudence, and when you develop prudence it is by developing these quasi-integral parts. Because prudence is also the virtue of good advice or counsel, however, all the quasi-integral parts of prudence are relevant to good advice, and we can see in the quasi-integral parts of prudence a basic template for assessing the quality of advice, which might roughly go something like this, at first approximation:

Integral Part of Prudence  Relevant Feature of Good Advice
memory based on experience
understanding consistent with fundamental principles
teachableness (docilitas) consistent with other probably good advice
eustochia connects ideas in a plausible way (internal consistency and plausibility)
reasoning (three parts)
(1) circumspection
(2) caution
(3) foresight

(1) takes into account actual circumstances
(2) seriously considers good and bad
(3) takes into account possible ramifications

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