©Deirdre Nansen McCloskey | COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

About Prudentia

by Deirdre McCloskey, April 2006
Filed under editorials

Prudentia is one of the four cardinal and pagan virtues, the others being Temperantia, Justitia, and Fortitudo. Prudence traditionally holds a mirror indicating historical perspective and deals with a snake as with difficulties. Christians added Faith, Hope, and Love: these three abide, but the greatest is Love. And so by the time of St. Thomas Aquinas the standard analysis of the virtues, which persisted through Adam Smith and was revived by virtue ethicists among philosophers in the 1970s, designated the resulting seven as primary colors: prudence, temperance, justice, courage, faith, hope, and love. Prudence is a virtue, not merely an anti-virtue of self interest, as it tends to be seen in modern times. Modern economics, especially in its Max U, Samuelsonian-Beckerian form, is the science of Prudence-Only, setting the other virtues aside. In Aristotle Prudence is phrónesis, in modern English "practical wisdom, know how" and in French "savoir faire." The Germanic languages, except our Frenchified English, have no word that fits exactly to Latin-derived Prudence. Representations of the seven virtues were common architectural ornaments into the 18th century. Thus female figures of Prudence, Temperance, Courage, with Love, and with Justice pre-eminent, adorn the Ducal Palace in Venice. The city hall of Amsterdam, now the Royal Palace on the Dam, was provided with statues inside and out of Justice, Temperance, Vigilance (for Courage), and Foresight (in place of Prudence, since the prudent Dutch have no word for it).