Prudence (Latin: prudentia, contracted from providentia meaning "seeing ahead, sagacity") is the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason. It is classically considered to be a virtue, and in particular one of the four Cardinal virtues. If you show good and careful judgment when handling practical matters, you can be described as prudent. Similarly, a wise and well-thought-through decision or action can be called prudent.
The word comes from a contracted form of the Latin prōvidēns from the verb "to foresee." In other words by being able to look ahead and predict the consequences of one’s actions, one can exercise a more careful approach to what one actually does. It implies one knows all about cause and effect. It is often associated with wisdom, insight, and knowledge. But of course one can only exercise prudence if one has the memory and reasoning capability to remember the chain of effects an action may result in, - the effects of an action.
If one drives around in an unsafe car, without the glasses you should be wearing, in a state of intoxication and inebria, at night without headlights, cause effect [prudence] might indicate one might be heading towards an accident [event] leading to death or disability, for example
Background and history
four Cardinal virtues derive initially from Plato in Republic Book IV, 426–435. Cicero expanded on them, and Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, and Thomas Aquinas built on the concepts. The term cardinal comes from the Latin cardo (hinge); virtues are so called because they are regarded as the basic virtues required for a virtuous life.
Prudence was considered the underlying principle upon which the other virtues are based. If one can use reason to establish the effect of one’s actions, then one can establish beforehand its effects ethically - whether it will hurt anyone or not.
In other words, prudence ‘has a directive capacity with regard to the other virtues’. It ‘lights the way and measures the arena for their exercise’. Without prudence, for example, bravery is really foolhardiness, as one may be pointlessly riding to one’s death with nothing gained.
[Right Charge of the Light Brigade (at the Battle of Balaclava) by Richard Caton Woodville]
Prudence is the ‘cause’ in the sense that the virtues, which are defined to be the "perfected ability" of man as a spiritual person, achieve their "perfection" only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfected ability to make right decisions.
In Greek and Scholastic philosophy, prudence also confers upon other virtues the specific character as a virtue. For instance, not all acts of telling the truth are considered good. What makes telling the truth a virtue is whether it is done with prudence, in other words you have worked out the consequences of doing so.
Telling your husband he is a fat impotent lump of lard might be truthful, but it would not be prudent to do so.
There is a Tarot card specifically representing Prudence, the Eight of Disks . We have provided some examples as observations. Many of the cards are perhaps not entirely correct in their depiction concentrating as they do upon the need to work hard and save and improve one's skills, rather than the much more generic virtue of forward thinking. For example the very narrow worldly explanation which follows is not at all unusual, but is not accurate:
"The Eight of Pentacles reminds you to continue working hard, honing your skills .... In this card, we see a man on a bench, carving a pentacle into a coin. Behind him, the village readies for him to begin selling his wares. His role is that of the apprentice. He is working hard to learn his craft, and this learning comes in the form of repetitive creation. Though the sky in the background of this card is grey, it is not considered a dark or depressed card. This is often called the Card of the Apprentice. "
Prudentia is an allegorical female personification of the virtue, whose attributes are a mirror and snake, and this image can often be found on the cards. But in sculpture or paintings she is frequently depicted as a pair with Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice.
One of the more interesting interpretations of prudence when applied to the planet as a whole is in the management of the earth’s resources. Without prudence there has been waste of an almost unimaginable level. Waste of resources, destruction and mismanagement, which has meant that humans – who are the ones who have exercised no prudence - are living unsustainably. It does appear that humans as a whole are not given to exercise prudence on a day to day basis. They rarely think of the consequences of their actions until it is too late – and there are no resources left.
Probably the only Tarot card that touches on this need for Prudence in terms of sustainability is Aleister Crowley's.
Cowley's tarot card for the eight of disks is a picture of the tree of life – a suite related to the earth and thus signifying that the tree goes from the earth layer and is itself related to the creation of earth based form and function. The leaves or souls are shown stylistically, but the tree also has flowers on it.
Crowley, who designed these cards states that it is a ‘Populus’. Now I suppose one could take this literally to mean that the picture is of the tree populus - a genus of 25–35 species of deciduous flowering plants in the family Salicaceae, native to most of the Northern Hemisphere. But this card is from Crowley, so I suggest that that is the last thing on his mind. It is a play on words meaning the population – people - thus the source of people.
But he is also prophesying that the big problem we will have and indeed already have is that of population growth, we are 7 billion rising to an estimated 11 billion and this is simply not sustainable, we have not been prudent.
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