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Moral Wisdom or prudence may be defined as the proper connection among the end or goal of an action, the means

to achieve it, and the judgment to act upon it, such that the result is a morally satisfying outcome.





p R U D E N C E




Wisdom is the perfection of the various aspects of moral competence

It perfects the desire to do the good by developing a robust sense of the good life, a moral vision. It perfects virtuous behavior by guiding it deliberatively towards the proper moral ends and means.
It perfects moral strength by helping to making the right decisions.

The General Characteristics of Wisdom Reasoning ability A clear, logical mind, a storehouse of information and learning, with an ability to apply these to the solution of a particular problem

Sagacity A good understanding of themselves and others.

Learning capacity They attach importance to ideas; they learn from other peoples mistakes, as well as their own; they seek out detailed information; they change their mind on the basis of experience and knowledge; they feel they can learn from others; they are not afraid to admit mistakes; they correct their mistakes, learn, and then go on; they seek the counsel of others.

Perspicacity Good intuitions, discernment and insight; they offer solutions that are on the side of right and truth. Good character They are self-honest, considerate of others, and have genuine concern for people; they are fair, and listen to all sides of an issue; they are modest.

Good judgment They are sensible, and think before they act, speak or make decisions; they are able to take the long view into consideration.

How is prudence or wisdom acquired?

1. one must have acquired a virtuous character.

2. maturity of the faculties of judgment and understanding.

3. experience in making moral deliberations and decisions. 4. an understanding of the ways of the world; a savoir-faire. 5. intellectual insight, intuition, observation and discernment.

Prudence and practical reasoning is concerned with connecting means and ends in a manner that leads to good moral outcomes. Practical reasoning is concerned, then, with:

The end of an action

The means to an end

The decision to act, to initiate those means.

In its most general sense, wisdom and practical reasoning are concerned with: Vision--the ends of action

Deliberation--or the consideration of means to ends.

Judgement--or decisions about when and what to do in light of some end or goal.

This helps to characterize the various aspects of moral wisdom: Deliberation is concerned with determining the best moral means to attain a good end. Judgement is choice concerning the best moral course of action. Moral Vision is a sense of the good life.



The person who is morally wise, then, is someone who has the proper vision of the good life, knows the best moral means for attaining it, and has the right character and strength of will to act upon what must be done.

Moral vision is one part of wisdom of wisdom or prudence.

Moral Vision is concerned with articulating a sense of the good life. JUDGMENT Deliberation is concerned with determining the DELIBERATION best moral means to attain a good end. Judgement is choice concerning the best moral course of action.

. Some characteristics of Moral Vision: .

1. According to Aristotle it is . the sense of the good life, a view of what is best in our lives, or an idea of happiness. . 2. According to Plato, without moral vision one is . direction-less, and interested in only satisfying our . lower needs. 3. Thomas Sowell calls visions maps; they are cognitive, but pre-analytic --it . is what we sense about . the world before we have constructed any systematic reasoning about it.

A Moral Vision is layered. It typically consists of a Cosmic Vision, that is, a sense of the moral order of the cosmos. It also involves a Public Vision, a sense of the common good, themoral quality of the origin, history and direction of the society one lives in. Finally, it consists in an individual sense of the good life, as set in the context of these other two aspects of moral vision.



Cosmic Vision
1. In most cultures a cosmic vision of the world is expressed primarily in terms of myths and stories. 2. A cosmic vision attempts to explain how things came to be the way they are, and how they continue to be ordered. 3. A myth is a narrative, and a narrative conveys certain moral qualities by: a. the order of events in the story. b. the outcome of the story. c. the various roles agents play in the story. d. the character of the agents relative to these roles.

Cosmic Vision
Synopsis of Genesis Creation Story

God (Yahweh) creates the world out of a formless void. First light is created , then light separated from darkness. The upper waters are separated from lower waters. Dry land is separated from water. Vegetation is created by type. Days and nights follow in ordered sequence. The sun and the stars are created. Sea, air and land creatures are created. Human beings are made last.

Cosmic Vision
A Tlingit Creation Tale: Raven goes to a place where theres some dirt and rocks. He tries to put them together, but they dont stick. That Raven, hes got a temper, so he kicked the rocks and swore because he hurt his toes. But then he had another idea. This time he mixed in some water with the rocks and dirt. He worked hard, that Raven did, and had an awful time of it. The mountains dropped off. The oceans spilled over. Sometimes he got so mad he just kicked the whole thing to pieces. Ravens world was lumpy and bumpy, and it sure didnt look like what he had in mind. But he was good and tired of working on it. So he said the hell with it. And thats the way it stayed.

These two stories convey different norms and values and attitudes concerning the origin of the cosmos.
The Genesis story conveys the idea that the cosmos was created purposely, perfectly and imbued with good.

The Raven story, on the other hand, suggests that the cosmos was created haphazardly, imperfectly, and not necessarily imbued with either good or evil.

Given the present imperfection and suffering in the world, the Genesis myth would suggest that it is basically our fault that the world has gotten into such a situation. The Tlingit myth would suggest that the world is already inherently flawed.
These views serve as a background to how one understands oneself as a moral agent.

Cosmic Vision
It is possible to reduce myths to four or five narrative types, based on: 1. the sort of conflict involved in the story. 2. the character of the opponents involved. 3. who makes the breach and who resolves it. 4. and how it gets resolved.

Stories typically exhibit this sort of pattern. RESOLUTION

Types of Narratives


Tragedy Satire

Comedy Irony

each of these types fill out this pattern in a somewhat different way.


A villain causes disruption in the order of things.

The hero resolves the conflict by vanquishing the villain.

The sort of conflict is one of good versus evil.

The conflict is usually resolved positively, with good over evil.


The tragic hero causes the disruption in the order of things.

The sort of conflict involved is called pathos.

The conflict is resolved with the defeat or death of the tragic hero by a certain order or force.

The conflict is caused by a blocker of high status.

The sort of of conflict involved is called anagnorisis.

The conflict is resolved by non-violence, and the opponent is often incorporated into the happy ending.


A relatively weak hero attempts to disrupt the order

The heros attempt to disrupt the order fails.

The conflict ends with the order in place.

The sort of conflict involved is called sparagmos.

A nave hero comes in conflict with an existing order.
The blocker is someone shown to be foolish or hypocritical.

The hero resolves the conflict by divorcing himself from the existing order and returning to a truer, more natural order.

In general, each of these narrative types expresses an implicit norm: For Romance or melodrama it is the good should prevail over evil, so that reward should be given to the good, and punishment to the vicious. For tragedy, the norms are that loyalty, love and cooperation should prevail within a group, and only ill consequences result from their violation.

For comedy, the same norms as tragedy are implied, except that the comedy shows these norms prevailing despite the threat of their violation. Irony, in many respects is opposed to the implicit norms of the romance, it implies that there may not be a just order to things, that people are flawed, the good may not necessarily prevail.

Thus our moral vision is conveyed by stories which visualize and concretize implicit norms for us. These norms serve as a background to our sense of ourselves as moral agents.

The Good Life

There are several different conceptions of the good life. Many people think that the good life should include things such as happiness, prosperity and success.

PROSPERITY is the achievement of a certain level of wealth and security.

SUCCESS is accomplishment within a certain practice that affords the person a certain amount of recognition and status relative to that practice.

HAPPINESS a subjective feeling of contentment or joy; sanguine temperament.

FLOURISHING the effect upon a person of genuine mastery over a number of practices thought to be essential to the good life.

There are different senses of being a success and being successful. If you accomplish any goal you set for yourself, then you might consider yourself successful relative to that goal.
However, no matter how many of these goals you accomplish, the goals themselves may not count you as being a success.

Being a successful physician, for example, may require more than accomplishing ones own personal goals.
A successful physician must also accomplish certain things as set by her colleagues, the profession and the public. It cannot be just subjectively determined.

Happiness may be considered to be more of a psychological state, having to do with mood and temperament. Consequently, it may not be correlated with external events.

Flourishing is something different than happiness.

Flourishing is a condition that results from the qualitative exercise and performance of certain practices.
Flourishing has more to do with the development of the person toward a more perfect way of life.

Success does not necessarily make one happy, nor does it necessarily lead to flourishing. There may be a certain price to success that inhibits flourishing or diminishes happiness.

There has to be a delicate balance in any worthy practice; striving for success rather than excellence may corrupt the practice.

Prosperity creates comfort, security and sometimes recognition; but, again, there may be a certain price to prosperity that inhibits flourishing or diminishes happiness.

If one aims at prosperity and success, then one looks to the extrinsic rewards of the practice, rather than any intrinsic rewards the practice or mastery of the practice might have.

The Good Life

There are various senses of the good life promoted by our culture:

the life of enjoyment.

the American dream. the life of fame and power.

the life of wealth.

The Good Life the life of enjoyment.

aims to make life an adventure to enjoy, and to maximize all those pleasures which life affords.

Some difficulties with the life of enjoyment:

1. Pleasure has thresholds which require either larger quantities or higher qualities of it in order to reach the same level of satisfaction. 2. It requires a large amount of wealth to pursue, and occupations that can afford such a lifestyle.

3. Full-blown pursuit of pleasure is usually self-destructive.

4. Pursuit of pleasure does not exempt one from ordinary problems.

The Good Life

the American dream. The American Dream. This is a life in pursuit of a modicum of socialeconomic goods, including secure and safe employment, a nice home, a good marriage and family life.

Problems with the American dream: Life is not often secure; even in the more secure environments, danger and tragedy are constant threats. Often duties required to secure such a life require that one engage in risks and insecurities. Such a life can lead to an isolation from community, and a rabid form of consumerism. To insure security one may have to sacrifice relations; to insure relations one may have to sacrifice security and success.

The Good Life

the life of wealth.

This involves occupations and lifestyles that are conducive to maximizing ones wealth.

Criticisms of the life of wealth wealth is inherently instrumental, unless one is a miser, it is used for the sake of something else. the pursuit of wealth in and of itself does not differentiate between acquiring it virtuously or viciously.

Wealth can solve only certain sorts of problems, and may exacerbate others.

The Good Life the life of fame and power.

This involves the pursuit of recognition and status within ones community.

Criticisms of the Life of Fame and Power

Fame and honor depends on the recognition by others, which is often insecure and fickle.

Morally unconstrained pursuit of power or fame is notoriously corruptive, and can be inherently vicious.

Aristotle: the good life is a flourishing life, and a flourishing life is a virtuous one. Flourishing is not a state of mind, but a way of life.

Flourishing should be understood as the perfection of person.

Virtue is the perfection of ones character, and prudence is the perfection of virtue.

The virtuous life is a flourishing life.


A life is most complete and perfect, and persons can be genuinely counted as flourishing, when they can enjoy all the various sense of the good life as a person with a virtuous character.

according to Aristotle

A virtuous person will enjoy the right sort of pleasures which life can afford at the right amount and in the right way.

for Aristotle

Wealth would be pursued without greed or ruthlessness.

A virtuous person is a safe companion and neighbor. a person with virtuous character makes a good spouse, parent and friend. Those with virtuous character can be trusted with power to be fair-minded.

DELIBERATION is the second aspect of wisdom. Vision is concerned with determining the ends of action, and the best sense of the good life, but deliberation is concerned with the best moral means to achieve that end.

DELIBERATION is just not logical reasoning, but involves the whole person.

DELIBERATION is just not rational calculation but also the consideration of which plan will lead to the best moral outcome.

Calculation is simply determining the most efficient means to an end without real regard for its moral quality.

Deliberation is also not cunning. Cunning is a kind of calculation that always aims to maintain ones advantage, no matter what is needed to be done.

The Roman philosopher, Cicero, outlined an interesting model of deliberation.

For Cicero deliberation is not just calculation or cunning, but concerned with moral means to good ends.

For Cicero, deliberation is a matter of determining the proper relations among efficiency, advantage, and the honorable.
Efficiency is concerned with determining what is necessary for an action, and what are the most economical means of attaining an end, in the broad sense of the term.

Advantage is that which secures our security, and helps to maintain our position of power, or to gain more of what we already possess. The Honorable is that which is virtuous, good and decent.

For Cicero, the honorable should always outweigh the advantageous.

The exception to this are cases where advantage must be taken in order to secure the honorable at a later date.

Only within the context of what is honorable can we choose what is to our advantage.

Among those advantages, we should choose only those that can be efficiently accomplished.

Besides these general considerations for deliberation,Cicero also lays outlines three parameters in which all deliberation takes place.

Deliberation involves MEMORY, DISCERNMENT and FORESIGHT, which correspond with the three temporal dimensions of deliberation, past, present and future.





Memory is the use of past experiences, collected wisdom, cultural training, and education, and the understanding ones own life story, as a basis for making moral decisions.

Discernment is the perception of the subtleties, nuances, and particular circumstances of the present situation, the situation for which you must make a choice.

Foresight is the ability to imagine the future consequences and outcomes of a proposed decision.


Memory is the first aspect of deliberation, according to Ciceros model.

It is concerned with drawing on the past, in all its aspects, in order to make the best moral judgment concerning the present situation.




Some general characteristics of memory:

Memory is the means by which we access experience relevant to moral deliberation; remember that experience is crucial to prudence.

Experience in this regard is often narratively re-constructed by memory. Since moral vision is also narratively organized, a blending of individual experience and moral vision is possible.

Past moral decisions and dilemmas are often organized in story form.

Stories present paradigms for how to or how not to behave, and allows us to compare those paradigms with present, comparable situations.

Memory also provides an understanding of your life to date, and prepares the ground for how the present situation is going to affect or fit into that life history.

Memory provides us with a certain sense of ourselves as a moral actor;

it allows us to see how one decision rather than another will affect the continuity of ourselves as having a certain moral quality of life. A decision may therefore negatively or positively affect this continuity.



discernment is the perception of the nuances, parameters and peculiarities of a situation; it is a kind of discrimination that is concerned with apprehending distinctions and relations among concrete particulars.

Discernment is concerned with the comparison of the particulars in a concrete case with any generalities involved in a deliberated plan. If memory supplies us with the insight and wisdom of the past, then discernment helps us to recognize that certain situations are or are not cases to which these can be appropriately applied.

discernment is also concerned with the discovery of something novel in a situation.

discernment is also concerned with the valuative and affective assessment of a situation;discernment determines what is salient to a situation for the purposes of deliberation.

In general, discernment allows what is deliberated to be addressed to this situation; discernment allows us to apply wisdom to the shape of the situation.

Whereas memory is concerned with the general information we gain from our experience and our moral vision, discernment is concerned with the present, particular situation. The relation of memory to discernment, then, is a connection of the general to the particular case. Casuistry is an illustration of such a process.

Casuistry was a technique of moral reasoning developed by 16th century theologians.

Casuistry is concerned with the case; a case is a confluence of persons and actions in a time and a place. A case is concrete as distinguished from the abstract, because it represents the confluence of many circumstances. Each case is unique in its circumstances, yet each case is similar in type to other cases; for that reason it can be compared and contrasted to others.

Casuistic reasoning 1. Using memory, one first determines the place of the case, that is, its type. What is the moral issue that might be involved: e.g., love vs. duty, loyalty vs. honor, immediate pleasures vs. long-term rewards. one then recalls the various arguments of the moral type.

Casuistic reasoning 2. Using discernment, one determines the particulars of the case --the who, what, why and when of the case. who are the particular persons in this case,their life-story, character, etc. one then qualifies the arguments in (1) so they address the particular circumstances of the case.

Casuistic reasoning 3. The final step in the process is the comparison of cases. one looks for precedents that resemble the current case which have been resolved satisfactorily. These then serve as paradigms by which to measure the various resolutions to this particular case.


FORESIGHT is one of three aspects of deliberation according to Ciceros model.

These include memory, which concerns that which we can draw on from our past experiences, and the wisdom of others and, discernment, which concerns the perception of the nuances and complexities of the present situation.

FORESIGHT FORESIGHT is like being an author of a book. Given ones situation, the characters involved and proposed plans, what are the likely consequences; how will people react; what are the probable outcomes.

just as an author tries to follow out the consequences of certain decisions and actions his or her characters make, so in foresight you attempt to follow the train of consequences of certain actions, given an understanding of the characters involved, and a decent understanding of how the world works.


Judgment is the last aspect of prudence; it concerns the execution of a plan or a goal. It typically follows upon deliberation.


Once plans and alternatives have been deliberated, then a decision must be made about which will yield the best moral outcome.

Judgments usually occurs when there is some indecision about the various deliberations. If it is clear what to do, there is no need for judgment.
Indecisions or quandaries can be classified into three basic types:

Three Types of Judgement Moral Temptations Right vs. Wrong Moral Dilemmas Right vs. Right

Tragic Choices Wrong vs Wrong Lesser of Two Evils

In moral temptations, one must choose between what you believe is right and what you believe is wrong.

In the abstract this is an easy judgmentyou should choose the right thingbut in practice one often engages in self-deception and rationalization in such a way as to justify the wrong choice to yourself.

Tragic choices are the most difficult decisions of all.

This requires a choice between two or more alternatives, all of which are morally unpalatable.

If possible, then, you must choose between the lesser of two evils.

Moral dilemmas are also difficult judgments to make, since they require you to choose between two things you could consider the right thing to do.

Common types of Moral dilemmas Individual vs. Community

Truth vs. Loyalty Short-term vs. Long-term Justice vs. Mercy

Individual vs. Community In this sort of dilemma, one must choose between the good of a single individual, or the good of the group or community.

Such decisions may require the sacrifice of the individuals good, for the good of the whole.

Truth vs. Loyalty In this sort of dilemma, one is often called upon to choose between remaining loyal to a friend, for example, or being honest to others about that friend.

Short-term vs. Long-term

In this dilemma, one must choose between short-term goals and long-term ones, both of which may be valuable to you.

Justice vs. Mercy

In this sort of dilemma, one must choose between acting fairly and consistently or, on the other hand, to take into consideration the special circumstances of the case that would require leniency or mercy.

Bad judgement occurs when:

1. someone chooses to do something without any deliberation; one acts on impulse even though there is adequate time for deliberation.

2. someone chooses to do something before alternative plans have been fully deliberated

3. someone chooses to do something despite the fact that foresight has shown it to have undesirable consequences.

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