The Cardinal Virtue of Prudence helps a man make and carry out decisions which lead to the true good and is opposed by the vice of Imprudence. Human Prudence can be supernaturally infused by the Holy Spirit through the Gift of Counsel. To grow in Prudence, a man needs to understand the basic logic of decision-making (Survey, Judge, Command) and a number of parts which lead to prudent decisions.

The Virtue of Prudence

“Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it…[and] “right reason in action….It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation….It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience…[and a man applies] moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.” (CCC 1806). The man well-developed in the virtue of Prudence has confidence and calmness as he approaches decision-making. 

The Vice of Imprudence

In opposition to Prudence is the vice of Imprudence, which can be described as “cunning” (or false Prudence) when a man uses his reason to pursue worldly goals which are sinful and/or do not yield to God in their calculation. Imprudence can also be a fundamental lack of willingness or ability to use reason to assess and make decisions; it is unwise or foolish. The Imprudent man experiences fear, uncertainty or sorrow as he approaches decision-making.

The Gift of Counsel

To help a man grow in Prudence, the Holy Spirit gives a receptive man who remains in a state of grace the Gift of Counsel, a gift which supernaturally infuses a man’s natural human virtue of Prudence so that the man may be moved by God to see and correctly choose an act which most glorifies God and helps a man or others move towards their sanctification and salvation. 

The Parts of Prudence

The act of making a Prudent decision has three logical steps: Survey, Judge and Command. Survey (sometimes called, “Counsel”) is the first step in which various sources of input/information required to make a decision is gathered. Judge is the second step during which the input/information is analyzed and a man decides how to proceed. Command is the third step in which a decision is carried out and adjusted as necessary in the world. 

The the three logical steps of Prudence can be further broken down into sub-parts: Survey (Drawing Lessons from Experience, Docility, Comprehension), Judge (Shrewdness, Disciplined Reason), and Command (Foresight, Circumspection, Cautiousness).  

Survey

Drawing Lessons from Experience

Drawing Lessons from Experience is the good habit of a man to think deeply and reflect upon his experience of relevant situations from the past which are stored in his memory. The Prudent man is continually engaged and thoughtful about what he is experiencing and seeks to systematically learn, building a reservoir of experience to draw upon in the future. 

The opposing vice is to be Hasty/Negligent, a bad habit by which a man jumps to conclusions without diligently considering what his experience from the past might have told him. The Hasty/Negligent man often makes stupid decisions which cause him and others unnecessary suffering and doom him to return to face escalating problems which he could have avoided.  

Docility

Docility (meaning, “teachable”) is the good habit of a man which opens him up and makes him receptive to the wisdom of others so he can make better decisions. The Docile man seeks out the opinions of those who are wise as mentors and eagerly listens and questions them so as to build perspective and better grasp the problem he is trying to solve. 

The vice opposing Docility is Closed Mindedness, a habit of discounting or ignoring the advice of the wise. Closed Mindedness is often the result of the vice of Pride by which a man either thinks he is smarter than others or does not want to humbly submit to another’s influence. 

Comprehension/Understanding

Comprehension/Understanding is the good habit built up over time which helps a man step back and see the guiding principles which he can use to make better decisions. The man who seeks Comprehension/Understanding has the habit of stepping back and exerting persistent effort to see the big picture of the logic of things, including cause and effect, and how they apply in his life and the decisions he needs to routinely make. 

The vice opposing Comprehension/Understanding can be described as Ignorance, a consistent unwillingness to apply one’s intellect and reason to gain wisdom and see the broader picture in particular circumstances and to apply broader principles to his decision making. The man who lacks Understanding sentences himself to a prison of Ignorance, leaving him continually unable to make good and prudent decisions in life for he refuses to understand cause and effect and makes bad choices he could have avoided. 

Judge

Shrewdness

Shrewdness is the good habit which is built over time which allows a man to quickly and easily make good and rapid decisions about the choices he needs to make. While the Shrewd man seems to have an intuitive ability to quickly reach the right decision, he is also reaping the great effort over a long period of time of being thoughtful in decision making which has given him the ability to sometimes instantaneously know what decision will serve him best. A Shrewd man is also often blessed to have the intellectual horsepower to rapidly make decisions.

The vice opposing the growth of Shrewdness is to be Slow-witted, an unwillingness or intellectual laziness over time to be disciplined in making decisions in a thoughtful way which renders one unable to quickly make decisions when needed. The Slow-witted while often having a lack of intellectual horsepower, lack the discipline to take responsibility and put in the effort to learn and more quickly respond. 

Disciplined use of Reason

Disciplined use of Reason is the good habit of having the diligence to take the time to look at all the facts/information available, analyze the data and reach logical and practical conclusions about the best course of action to take. The man who harnesses Reason build a discipline of engaging his intellect as a guiding principle in his life, refusing to be ruled simply by impulse and emotion. 

The vice opposing the Disciplined use of Reason is to be Irrational, a bad habit by which a man fails to use reason and is impulsive, is flawed and illogical in his conclusions, or over-relies on his emotions/passions to guide his decision making. The Irrational man often causes himself and others great suffering and confusion because his thoughts and actions defy common sense and predictability and lead to bad outcomes.

Command

Foresight

Foresight is the good habit of looking ahead and anticipating the various scenarios and consequences which are likely to occur after a man takes action on a decision. The man with Foresight marshals his intellect and imagination in a disciplined way to play out likely outcomes, consider their impact, and modify his plans to have the best probability of success.

The vice opposing Foresight is to be Short-sighted, the bad habit of being unwilling due to ignorance or laziness to attempt to look ahead and anticipate predictable reactions to his decisions. The Short-sighted man often has regrets for when his plans fail to work out as he hoped, he realizes that he might have anticipated what he failed to take into account.

Circumspection

Circumspection is the good habit of staying tuned in and monitoring how a decision a man has made is playing out so he is informed and ready to adjust his plans as needed to achieve a goal. The man with Circumspection stays on top of things and is known for his ability to successfully execute his plans by quickly navigating unanticipated circumstances and modifying his approach when things change to achieve his goals. 

The vice opposing Circumspection is to Lack Followthrough, the unwillingness to remain vigilant and engaged in how a man’s decisions are playing out in the world. The man who Lacks Followthrough is often bored at the mundane work of getting things done, doesn’t like getting his hands dirty, or becomes discouraged if things don’t immediately pan out the way he’d hoped.

Cautiousness

Cautiousness is the good habit by which a man takes decisive action to avoid obstacles and dangers which arise as a man’s decisions play out in the world. The Cautious man is vigilant and decisively anticipates and makes appropriate course corrections to avoid dangers when the circumstances on the ground change and could threaten his plans. 

The vices opposing Cautiousness include the bad habit of Rashness by which a man “throws caution to the wind” and takes unnecessary or unknown risks in the face of danger, and Indecisiveness, by which a man becomes paralyzed and fails to take appropriate action because he is unable to assess the dangers and risks he might face. The man who lacks Cautiousness causes unnecessary pain and sorrow to himself and others because he fails to appropriately respond to dangers and obstacles which leads to disappointing results.