Enlightenment Quotes on Prudence

"Reputation of Prudence in the conduct of Peace or War, is Power; because to prudent men, we commit the government of our selves, more willingly than to others. ...

Eloquence is power; because it is seeming Prudence."

Thomas Hobbes
1651
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?

"And as to the faculties of the mind, setting aside the arts grounded upon words, and especially that skill of proceeding upon general and infallible rules, called science, which very few have and but in few things, as being not a native faculty born with us, nor attained, as prudence, while we look after somewhat else, I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength. For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto."

Thomas Hobbes
1651
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?

"When the thoughts of a man that has a design in hand, running over a multitude of things, observes how they conduce to that design, or what design they may conduce unto; if his observations be such as are not easy, or usual, this wit of his is called prudence, and dependeth on much experience, and memory of the like things and their consequences heretofore. In which there is not so much difference of men as there is in their fancies and judgements; because the experience of men equal in age is not much unequal as to the quantity, but lies in different occasions, every one having his private designs. To govern well a family and a kingdom are not different degrees of prudence, but different sorts of business; no more than to draw a picture in little, or as great or greater than the life, are different degrees of art. A plain husbandman is more prudent in affairs of his own house than a Privy Counsellor in the affairs of another man."

Thomas Hobbes
1651
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?

"This mental modification, or imagination of a particular thing, in so far as it is alone in the mind, is called Wonder; but if it be excited by an object of fear, it is called Consternation, because wonder at an evil keeps a man so engrossed in the simple contemplation thereof, that he has no power to think of anything else whereby he might avoid the evil. If, however, the object of wonder be a man's prudence, industry, or anything of that sort, inasmuch as the said man is thereby regarded as far surpassing ourselves, wonder is called Veneration; otherwise, if a man's anger, envy, &c., be what we wonder at, the emotion is called Horror. Again, if it be the prudence, industry, or what not, of a man we love, that we wonder at, our love will on this account be the greater (III. xii.), and when joined to wonder or veneration is called Devotion. We may in like manner conceive hatred, hope, confidence, and the other emotions, as associated with wonder; and we should thus be able to deduce more emotions than those which have obtained names in ordinary speech. Whence it is evident, that the names of the emotions have been applied in accordance rather with their ordinary manifestations than with an accurate knowledge of their nature."

Benedict de Spinoza
The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, vol. 2
1662
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?

"Virtue is the faculty of getting and preserving that which is good; and the faculty of doing many and great things well.

The kinds of it are these:

1. Justice, which is a virtue whereby every man obtains what by law is his.

2. Fortitude, which is a virtue by which a man carries himself honourably and according to the laws, in time of danger.

3. Temperance, which is a virtue whereby a man governs himself in matter of pleasure according to the law.

4. Liberality, which is a virtue by which we benefit others in matter of money.

5. Magnanimity, which is a virtue by which a man is apt to do great benefits.

6. Magnificence, which is a virtue by which a man is apt to be at great cost.

7. Prudence, which is an intellectual virtue, by which a man is able to deliberate well concerning any good leading to felicity."

Thomas Hobbes
The English Works, vol. VI
1681
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?
Library Topic: What is Fortitude?
Library Topic: What is Justice?
Library Topic: What is Temperance?
Library Topic: What is Virtue?

"If intemperance be hurtful, temperance is profitable: and if intemperance be not hurtful, neither is temperance profitable."

Thomas Hobbes
The English Works, vol. VI
1681
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?

"But prudence and good-breeding are, in all the stations and occurrences of life, necessary; and most young men suffer in the want of them; and come rawer, and more awkward, into the world, than they should, for this very reason; because these qualities, which are, of all other, the most necessary to be taught, and stand most in need of the assistance and help of a teacher, are generally neglected, and thought but a slight, or no part of a tutor’s business."

John Locke
The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, vol. 8
The Online Library of Liberty
1690
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?

"Though prudence be reckoned among the cardinal virtues, yet I do not remember any professed treatise of morality, where it is treated in its full extent, and with that accuracy that it ought. For which possibly this may be a reason, that every imprudent action does not make a man culpable 'in foro conscientiæ.' The business of morality I look upon to be the avoiding of crimes; of prudence, inconveniencies, the foundation whereof lies in knowing men and manners. History teaches this best, next to experience; which is the only effectual way to get a knowledge of the world. As to the rules of prudence in the conduct of common life, though there be several that have employed their pens therein; yet those writers have their eyes so fixed on convenience, that they sometimes lose the sight of virtue; and do not take care to keep themselves always clear from the borders of dishonesty, whilst they are tracing out what they take to be, sometimes, the securest way to success; most of those that I have seen on this subject having, as it seemed to me, something of this defect."

John Locke
The Works of John Locke, vol. 9
August 25, 1703
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"In the command of those appetites of the body consists that virtue which is properly called temperance. To restrain them within those bounds, which regard to health and fortune prescribes, is the part of prudence. But to confine them within those limits, which grace, which propriety, which delicacy, and modesty require, is the office of temperance."

Adam Smith
A. Millar
1759
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"The qualities most useful to ourselves are, first of all, superior reason and understanding, by which we are capable of discerning the remote consequences of all our actions, and of foreseeing the advantage or detriment which is likely to result from them: and secondly, self-command, by which we are enabled to abstain from present pleasure or to endure present pain, in order to obtain a greater pleasure or to avoid a greater pain in some future time. In the union of those two qualities consists the virtue of prudence, of all the virtues that which is most useful to the individual."

Adam Smith
A. Millar
1759
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?

"The care of the health, of the fortune, of the rank and reputation of the individual, the objects upon which his comfort and happiness in this life are supposed principally to depend, is considered as the proper business of that virtue which is commonly called Prudence.

We suffer more, it has already been observed, when we fall from a better to a worse situation, than we ever enjoy when we rise from a worse to a better. Security, therefore, is the first and the principal object of prudence. ...

The prudent man always studies seriously and earnestly to understand whatever he professes to understand, and not merely to persuade other people that he understands it; and though his talents may not always be very brilliant, they are always perfectly genuine. He neither endeavours to impose upon you by the cunning devices of an artful impostor, nor by the arrogant airs of an assuming pedant, nor by the confident assertions of a superficial and imprudent pretender. He is not ostentatious even of the abilities which he really possesses. His conversation is simple and modest, and he is averse to all the quackish arts by which other people so frequently thrust themselves into public notice and reputation. ...

The prudent man is always sincere, and feels horror at the very thought of exposing himself to the disgrace which attends upon the detection of falsehood."

Adam Smith
A. Millar
1759
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?

"As the disputants whose accurate and logical reasonings have brought us into our present condition think it absurd that powers or members of any constitution should exist, rarely, if ever, to be exercised, I hope I shall be excused in mentioning another instance that is material. We know that the Convocation of the Clergy had formerly been called, and sat with nearly as much regularity to business as Parliament itself. It is now called for form only. It sits for the purpose of making some polite ecclesiastical compliments to the king, and, when that grace is said, retires and is heard of no more. It is, however, a part of the Constitution, and may be called out into act and energy, whenever there is occasion, and whenever those who conjure up that spirit will choose to abide the consequences. It is wise to permit its legal existence: it is much wiser to continue it a legal existence only. So truly has prudence (constituted as the god of this lower world) the entire dominion over every exercise of power committed into its hands! And yet I have lived to see prudence and conformity to circumstances wholly set at nought in our late controversies, and treated as if they were the most contemptible and irrational of all things. I have heard it an hundred times very gravely alleged, that, in order to keep power in wind, it was necessary, by preference, to exert it in those very points in which it was most likely to be resisted and the least likely to be productive of any advantage."

Edmund Burke
The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, Vol. 2
April 3, 1777
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"If we had seen this done by any others, we should have concluded them far gone in madness. It is melancholy, as well as ridiculous, to observe the kind of reasoning with which the public has been amused, in order to divert our minds from the common sense of our American policy. There are people who have split and anatomized the doctrine of free government, as if it were an abstract question concerning metaphysical liberty and necessity, and not a matter of moral prudence and natural feeling. They have disputed whether liberty be a positive or a negative idea; whether it does not consist in being governed by laws, without considering what are the laws, or who are the makers; whether man has any rights by Nature; and whether all the property he enjoys be not the alms of his government, and his life itself their favor and indulgence. Others, corrupting religion as these have perverted philosophy, contend that Christians are redeemed into captivity, and the blood of the Saviour of mankind has been shed to make them the slaves of a few proud and insolent sinners. These shocking extremes provoking to extremes of another kind, speculations are let loose as destructive to all authority as the former are to all freedom; and every government is called tyranny and usurpation which is not formed on their fancies. In this manner the stirrers-up of this contention, not satisfied with distracting our dependencies and filling them with blood and slaughter, are corrupting our understandings: they are endeavoring to tear up, along with practical liberty, all the foundations of human society, all equity and justice, religion and order."

Edmund Burke
The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, Vol. 2
April 3, 1777
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"Civil freedom, Gentlemen, is not, as many have endeavored to persuade you, a thing that lies hid in the depth of abstruse science. It is a blessing and a benefit, not an abstract speculation; and all the just reasoning that can be upon it is of so coarse a texture as perfectly to suit the ordinary capacities of those who are to enjoy, and of those who are to defend it. Far from any resemblance to those propositions in geometry and metaphysics which admit no medium, but must be true or false in all their latitude, social and civil freedom, like all other things in common life, are variously mixed and modified, enjoyed in very different degrees, and shaped into an infinite diversity of forms, according to the temper and circumstances of every community. The extreme of liberty (which is its abstract perfection, but its real fault) obtains nowhere, nor ought to obtain anywhere; because extremes, as we all know, in every point which relates either to our duties or satisfactions in life, are destructive both to virtue and enjoyment. Liberty, too, must be limited in order to be possessed. The degree of restraint it is impossible in any case to settle precisely. But it ought to be the constant aim of every wise public counsel to find out by cautious experiments, and rational, cool endeavors, with how little, not how much, of this restraint the community can subsist: for liberty is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened. It is not only a private blessing of the first order, but the vital spring and energy of the state itself, which has just so much life and vigor as there is liberty in it. But whether liberty be advantageous or not, (for I know it is a fashion to decry the very principle,) none will dispute that peace is a blessing; and peace must, in the course of human affairs, be frequently bought by some indulgence and toleration at least to liberty: for, as the Sabbath (though of divine institution) was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, government, which can claim no higher origin or authority, in its exercise at least, ought to conform to the exigencies of the time, and the temper and character of the people with whom it is concerned, and not always to attempt violently to bend the people to their theories of subjection. The bulk of mankind, on their part, are not excessively curious concerning any theories whilst they are really happy; and one sure symptom of an ill-conducted state is the propensity of the people to resort to them."

Edmund Burke
The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, Vol. 2
April 3, 1777
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Library Topic: What is Prudence?
Library Topic: What is Virtue?

"Now skill in the choice of means to his own greatest well-being may be called prudence,* in the narrowest sense. And thus the imperative which refers to the choice of means to one's own happiness, i.e., the precept of prudence, is still always hypothetical; the action is not commanded absolutely, but only as means to another purpose. *The word prudence is taken in two senses: in the one it may bear the name of knowledge of the world, in the other that of private prudence. The former is a man's ability to influence others so as to use them for his own purposes. The latter is the sagacity to combine all these purposes for his own lasting benefit. This latter is properly that to which the value even of the former is reduced, and when a man is prudent in the former sense, but not in the latter, we might better say of him that he is clever and cunning, but, on the whole, imprudent."

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"The maxim of self-love (prudence) only advises; the law of morality commands. Now there is a great difference between that which we are advised to do and that to which we are obliged."

Immanuel Kant
Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works on the Theory of Ethics
1785
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"All reasoning must be grounded on first principles. This holds in moral reasoning, as in all other kinds. There must be, therefore, in morals, as in all other sciences, first or self-evident principles, on which all moral reasoning is grounded, and on which it ultimately rests. From such self-evident principles, conclusions may be drawn synthetically with regard to the moral conduct of life; and particular duties or virtues may be traced back to such principles, analytically. But, without such principles, we can no more establish any conclusion in morals, than we can build a castle in the air, without any foundation."

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"The only conceivable government for men who are capable of possessing rights, even if the ruler is benevolent, is not a paternal but a patriotic government. A patriotic attitude is one where everyone in the state, not excepting its head, regards the commonwealth as a maternal womb, or the land as the paternal ground from which he himself sprang and which he must leave to his descendants as a treasured pledge. Each regards himself as authorized to protect the rights of the commonwealth by laws of the general will, but not to submit it to his personal use at his own absolute pleasure. This right of freedom belongs to each member of the commonwealth as a human being, in so far as each is a being capable of possessing rights."

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"The only conceivable government for men who are capable of possessing rights, even if the ruler is benevolent, is not a paternal but a patriotic government. A patriotic attitude is one where everyone in the state, not excepting its head, regards the commonwealth as a maternal womb, or the land as the paternal ground from which he himself sprang and which he must leave to his descendants as a treasured pledge. Each regards himself as authorized to protect the rights of the commonwealth by laws of the general will, but not to submit it to his personal use at his own absolute pleasure. This right of freedom belongs to each member of the commonwealth as a human being, in so far as each is a being capable of possessing rights."

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"It appears also, that the fundamental maxim of prudence, and of all good morals—That the passions ought, in all cases, to be under the dominion of reason—is not only self-evident, when rightly understood, but is expressed according to the common use and propriety of language."

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In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle dissects the arenas in which man acts and explores the vices (either a deficiency or an excess) and virtues of each normal human action or feeling (i.e. "Fear and Confidence," "Pleasure and Pain," etc.). This chart presents Aristotle's conclusions in a compact manner.

Analysis Report White Paper

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The ethical and legal thought of Thomas Aquinas and F. A. Hayek emerged out of distinct philosophical traditions. Aquinas, following the Aristotelian tradition, emphasized the inexact character of ethics and hence the mutability of law due to the contingency of particular circumstances.

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Situated historically at the beginning of the medieval period, Augustine’s thought expresses itself as one of the most influential metaphysical systems of the entire history of philosophy. Such a privileged status has often served to occlude some of the more radical implications of Augustinian thought.

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John Kilcullen's description of medieval political philosophy. His encyclopedic entry tracks medieval political philosophy's growth and progression from the Bible through Francisco Suárez.

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[Prudence] is defined as the intellectual virtue which rightly directs particular human acts, through rectitude of the appetite, toward a good end. Emotional well-being, we will argue, comes about through a certain structuring of the entire network of human emotions, one that results from a proper disposing of the emotions by the virtues.

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Video/Podcast/Media

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Primary Document

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Niccolò Machiavelli's defense of republican principles. He argues for governments of the people because they are better than those of princes. His arguments have had great influence across the centuries and deeply influenced the American Founders.

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Proverb 8 urges a life of prudence and righteousness.

"WHAT right have I to write on Prudence, where of I have little, and that of the negative sort? My prudence consists in avoiding and going without, not in the inventing of means and methods, not in adroit steering, not in gentle repairing. I have no skill to make money spend well, no genius in my economy, and whoever sees my garden discovers that I must have some other garden. Yet I love facts...

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"The fabric of the human mind is curious and wonderful, as well as that of the human body. The faculties of the one are with no less wisdom adapted to their several ends than the organs of the other. Nay, it is reasonable to think, that, as the mind is a nobler work and of a higher order than the body, even more of the wisdom and skill of the divine Architect hath been employed in its...

In the eyes of John Locke, the education of a child includes more than books and schooling. Indeed, Locke’s thoughts on education cover the whole physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional being of the...

Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. Although unfinished, it provided a foundation for many religious and secular institutions and proved very influential throughout the Middle Ages.

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Kirk examines ten general principles of conservatism expressed in America today. The first of these is that “there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.”

“This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or...

The Analects are a collection of sayings and actions attributed to Confucius and his disciples.

"The Apology is one of the founding documents of Western philosophy, portraying the work of the philosopher, the 'lover of knowledge or wisdom,' as the use of human reason to seach for the truth. Imagine a courtroom scene in which Socrates rises to the witness stand to make his defense, no holds barred. Imagine the shouts from the audience, and even the assembled judges, as Socrates explains...

"Although these pieces may appear fully to express their own real intrinsic value, as bearing the image and inscription of that great man Mr. Hobbes; yet since common usage has rendered a preface to a book as necessary as a porch to a church, and that in all things some ceremonies cannot be avoided, mode and custom in this point is dutifully to be obeyed.

That they are genuine, credible...

"'The Classical Moralists' is a companion volume in the field of ethics, to the author's 'Modern Classical Philosophers' in the domain of philosophy. The book is virtually a history of ethics, based not upon the ordinary description of systems, but upon selections from the original sources and upon translations of the authors themselves. It is sought, so far as is practicable, to present by...

The Confessions are St. Augustine's 13 book account of his conversion to the Christian faith. Augustine reckons with what should constitute right Christian actions. His work provides scholars a mirror into the early Church and a Christian reflection in the late Roman Empire.

"The book called 'The Consolation of Philosophy' was throughout the Middle Ages, and down to the beginnings of the modern epoch in the sixteenth century, the scholar's familiar companion. Few books have exercised a wider influence in their time. It has been translated into every European tongue, and into English nearly a dozen times, from King Alfred's paraphrase to the translations of Lord...

In this classic work of ancient Chinese philosophy, Confucius describes the values of moderation, rectitude, objectivity, sincerity, honesty and propriety.

"I. BY that which is self-caused, I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent.

II. A thing is called finite after its kind, when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature; for instance, a body is called finite because we always conceive another greater body. So, also, a thought is limited...

"The 15th century treatise Of the Imitation of Christ is one of the most popular Christian books of all time. Although its authorship was disputed for a long time, it is generally now regarded as the product of Thomas a Kempis. The work is a manual of devotion assisting the soul in its pursuit of holiness and communion with God. Written as it was for the monastic life, it presents a high...

Homer's famous work details the aftermath of the Trojan War and war hero Odysseus' journey home to his wife and son.

Niccolò Machiavelli's famous work discussing the proper role of a ruler within society. He presents purely practical solutions to maintaining power and control without limiting himself to morality.

This volume, written in dialogue format, is the original work of political idealism by one of the best-known Western philosophers.

"Smith expresses his general system of morals, exploring the propriety of action, reward and punishment, sense of duty, and the effect of numerous factors on moral sentiment.

In so doing, Smith devised innovative theories on virtues, conscience, and moral judgment that are still relevant and accessible today. Though somewhat surprising to find a philosopher of Smith's abilities...

"The writer says that his object is to impress upon those whom he has ordained the lessons which he had previously taught them. Like Cicero, he treats of that which is right, becoming, or honourable [decorum], and what is expedient [utile]; but with reference not to this life but to that which is to come, teaching in the first book that which is becoming or honourable; in the second, what is...

"Reason and prudence naturally dictate to every man of common sense the thing that is right; and you might have rested assured, that so fast as I could make remittances without distressing myself too much, my inclinations would have prompted me to it: because, in the first place, it is but an irksome thing to a free mind to be any ways hampered in debt; and in the next place I think I have...

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