By amusing coincidence, yesterday I was teaching my juniors about the Mother of the Virtues, Prudence (from Pieper’s awesome book, Four Cardinal Virtues), while a blizzard loomed over our region. It occurred to me that I could illustrate practical reasoning in general, and the parts of prudence in particular, through the simple act of preparing for a winter storm. The “I” below is hypothetical, not historical!
Without further ado, the eight parts of prudence in Aquinas (II-II Q49):
Memoria (Memory): Last year I forgot to buy a snow shovel in time for the first storm. I raced out the night before to get one but they were all sold out. I eventually had to borrow my neighbor’s shovel to dig us out a day later than everyone else. My homeowner’s association fined me for not clearing the snow in a timely fashion.
Prudent Action: I buy a snow shovel on Labor Day and tuck it safely away for future storms.
Intellectum (Understanding): Failing to shovel your sidewalk endangers neighbors, children walking to daycare or school, and your own family trying to get out. Endangering your neighbor is wrong.
Prudent Action: I should buy a snow shovel and clear my sidewalk to prevent these evils.
Docilitas (Teachability): My father told me to buy a snow shovel when I moved out of the house. My father reminds me of the importance every time he sees me or calls me. My neighbor passive-aggressively comments on how his kids fell trying to get to daycare last winter because some people didn’t shovel, and shoveling is a civic responsibility.
Prudent Action: I make sure I have a snow shovel because Dad is wise and my neighbor has a good point despite being irritating about it.
Solertia (Strike-while-the-iron-is-hot-ness): Night has fallen and it has started snowing. When should I start digging? If I wait until all is said and done a day or two from now, the sun-melt and night’s refreeze will make digging a bear. But if I go out there now, I will only clear an inch or two and it then go to bed. It’s crazy to set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night. Too soon, too late…hmm…
Prudent Action: wake up at my usual time and get to work right away. Don’t wait for breakfast or feeling like it. He who hesitates is lost!
Ratio (Being Logical): I can’t think of a funny way to put this into a narrative form that isn’t already present in all the others. This is the connections-making version of Intellectum–the ability to properly connect premises and get logical conclusions. This is what someone is bad at when we say they are acting irrationally–they know X, they know Y, but somehow they can’t see to put them together into a conclusion (in this case, an action).
Prudent Action: Someone puts a good (funny!) example of this in the comments section, they get a cookie and/or extra credit in my class. I’m all tapped out.
Providentia (Foresight): Based on my experience living here, I foresee there will be at least one winter storm that will require shoveling each year. I foresee that my snow shovel wears out every two or three years from standard wear and tear, depending on ice. I foresee that I will hurt my back if I try to dig all at once too quickly.
Prudent Action: I check my old shovel for worth, then buy a new one. If ice is a consistent problem, I buy one of those fancy ones with a reinforced or metal blade. I dig in a few sessions to lighten the load.
Circumspectio (Circumspection): I look around and see that my neighbors mostly shovel their sidewalks and parking spaces. I see that the ones who do not are generally looked down upon. I see that I will be ill-regarded by my neighbors if I do not take care of my property.
Prudent Action: I shovel my sidewalk and my parking spaces along with everyone else (except for those slackers we all roll our eyes at).
Cautio (Caution): It doesn’t snow often here…but it does happen. Most people can walk through snow without falling…but it does happen. If I buy a shovel it could be a waste of money if it doesn’t snow…but it’s better to err on the side of caution. My municipality doesn’t usually get around to fining people for failing to clear their sidewalks…but it can happen. I am in good health and don’t think I’ll have a heart attack from overdoing it…but I am getting older and it does happen. If I leave my snow shovel outside for a second round of digging, someone might steal it.
Prudent Action: Just buy the stupid snow shovel and stop stealing mine. I’m keeping mine inside just to be safe.