Friday, May 23, 2008


I just can't help putting these on here. ... from this summary of Aquinas's treatise on prudence. I love little lists like this and remember, prudence or phronesis is supposed to be my meditation for the year ;-)

Question 49: The quasi-integral parts of prudence
  • 49,1: Memory: memory is the essential aspect of experience, and there are various ways, noted in the reply to obj. 2, in which we can perfect and improve our memory. They include the use of sensible mnemonic devices, ordering of things to be remembered, taking positive steps not to forget important things, and constant reflection on what needs to be remembered. Pieper points out how easy it is for us, through wilful misremembering, to corrupt our deliberation.

  • 49,2: Understanding of first principles: Prudence presupposes the cognition of practical first principles, known as synderesis. Further--and this is what is especially relevant here--it involves the sort of insight into particular ends that delivers up possible singular premises for pieces of practical reasoning with respect to a particular end.

  • 49,3: Docility: Docility is our openness to the advice and teaching of others, especially regarding the demonstrated and undemonstrated assertions and opinions of the wise regarding both the universal and the particular principles of practical reasoning.

  • 49,4: Shrewdness (solertia): If docility involves our willingness to listen to others, shrewdness involves the ability to size up a situation quickly on one's own and to see which of the possibly relevant practical syllogisms is the most appropriate. Aristotle identifies shrewdness (eustochia) as the ability to identify quickly the most appropriate middle term. Once again, this trait presupposes a good dose of moral rectitude to begin with if it is to operate accurately.

  • 49,5: Discursive reasoning: This is the ability to research and compare alternative possibilities and to reason well from premises to conclusions in practical matters.

  • 49,6: Foresight: Prudence is forward-looking and so essentially involves the ability to order means to ends that are to be realized in the future--which is foresight. Pieper calls this a capacity to estimate whether a particular action will lead to the realization of our goal. Hence, foresight is the principal integral part of prudence, to which the others are ordered and in the context of which they play their role.

  • 49,7: Circumspection: This is the ability to take all relevant circumstances into account, since otherwise what seem to be a good end and a good means can be vitiated by factors that have not been considered. Note St. Thomas's example: In a certain set of circumstances, showing signs of affection in order to better one's relation with another can produce the opposite effect of what one intends, not because of any defect in the end or means themselves, but because of circumstances that affect the way in which the signs of affection are taken by the other. So to be circumspect is to be on the lookout for ways in which a contemplated means to an end might turn out not to be a means to that end at all.

  • 49,8: Caution: Prudence requires that that we take care, when choosing good means to a good end, to avoid or to mitigate or at least to anticipate those evils that will likely result from a good act that we contemplate doing. So it is by caution that we take steps, if necessary, to avoid such evils. So to be cautious is to be on the lookout especially for the bad consequences of a contemplated action.

Hey, I really need to ponder all this. Even one alone looks like a good day for me. All together....? Maybe I'll try to ponder one at a time.

Here's another article on Prudence.

Here's something on Memory

  1. The first of these thing is that he should find certain things [or mental images] that match the things he wants to remember, but this should not be at all usual: because we marvel more at things which are unusual, and the soul is held by such things more and with greater force; whence it happens that we remember more those things that we see in childhood. Therefore the devising of such likenesses and images is necessary, because simple and spiritual intentions fall out of the soul very easily if they are not linked to some physical likenesses: because human cognition is more powerful with regard to sensible things.
  2. Second, it is necessary that a man should arrange in an orderly way the things that he wishes to hold by memory under his consideration, so that from one remembered thing he may progress easily to another.
  3. Third, a man should apply interest and emotional energy to the things he wants to remember: because the more deeply something is impressed upon the soul, the less does it drop out of the soul.
  4. Hence Tullius also says, in his Rhetoric (book 3, ch. 19), that meditations keep memory: because, as it says in the same book: custom or habit is like nature: hence the things that we understand many times we also recall quickly, as if moving from one thing to another in some sort of natural order.
In turn this reminds me of a book in my closet called Memorize the Faith!
It uses the #1 in the list above, in combination with a method of loci -- arranging the things to be memorized around an imagined physical location. My visual/spatial sense seems to work a bit differently. When I used the images suggested in the book I had to spend way too much mental effort remembering what images match up with what words and what place in the "mansion" they were in. I think for me the unconnectedness of it short-circuited my desire to have the "big picture" in mind.

I think for me it might work better to have the words written in a unique way in my mind -- Envy could be written in green with a snake winding its tail around for the "Y" -- etc. I can see it now. And I like the way Aquinas talks about arranging things in an orderly way so the mind walks from one to another -- you can do it visually/spatially as with the loci method, but you can also do it by train of thought, it seems. I really like #3 and #4.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I really need to think about this, too. I can see exactly which aspects of prudence escape me on a regular basis.

(It's usually shrewdness or discursive reasoning. And sometimes other aspects as well.)

I'm saving this and sharing it with my oldest. Thanks.

(It's Katie over at CM, Children and Lots of Grace. Blogger is giving me a hard time about my password today.)