Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Shortage of goods fosters prudence among the poor
by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register
(From the Sept. 11, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
How many times have we seen something happen – or maybe even done it ourselves – and thought, “That wasn’t a very smart thing to do!” Another way of putting it might have been, “That wasn’t a very prudent thing to do,” for in the words of Thomas Aquinas, prudence is “right reason in action.”
As distinguished from the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, prudence is a moral virtue. The theological virtues have God as their immediate object, and provide the foundation for the moral virtues. The moral virtues are attributes of our intellect and will. They, in turn, help guide our actions according to reason and faith as we make choices between good and evil.
From childhood we have been taught that the four cardinal (moral) virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Some philosophers include courage and self-control. Prudence is almost a prerequisite to the others because it helps us discern what is the best moral course of action to take in any given situation.
A person’s economic status is not necessarily indicative of having made prudent choices. We all know stories of tyrants who have terrorized their own citizens to amass fortunes for themselves, and corporate leaders who secure exorbitant salaries for themselves at the expense of rank and file employees.
Although economic well-being and prudence are not necessarily correlated in a positive manner, the economic status of a person may well exert some influence on the choices that the person makes. For example, a very rich person can make an imprudent decision to gamble, and lose a substantial amount of money. However, the loss may be inconsequential relative to his or her level of assets.
A poor person cannot afford to act as irresponsibly as the rich person can. He does not have resources that may be gambled away, nor can he risk his livelihood on chance or impulse purchases. He is forced to discern the best use of his limited resources in a prudent manner, with good judgment of conscience. Because of his circumstances, he has to exercise more prudence than does the rich person.
All poor people do not necessarily act more prudently than those who are wealthy. However, the imbalance of resources does seem to demand more “right reason in action” on the part of the poor person. In this sense, being poor can give one an edge in development of the virtue of prudence.
(Jerry Monks is a member of the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)
1. Define the decision question and associated variables