I Wonder Why Prudence is no Longer Considered a Virtue

No one would say prudence is bad. But it doesn’t seem to have the status of the other Christian virtues that it once did.

A loving person with very bad judgement and a pattern of rushing into bad business or personal arrangements is not usually considered lacking virtue. People would say, “He’s a really good guy, he’s just a bit rash sometimes.”

But the opposite does not seem to be true. A person who struggles to be loving, but has excellent judgement and control over their faculties, decision-making, and impulses is not usually considered a good person. People would say, “He’s cold, unfeeling, and kind of a jerk.”

Maybe that’s a bad example, because love has a place above all other virtues. But I think it holds if you replaced it with faith, kindness, charity, or any other of the traditional virtues.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising then that prudence is one of the most lacking virtues in our time. If it’s treated as of lesser importance, and the concomitant social rewards are lesser, we should expect less of it. People respond to incentives even when it comes to being virtuous.

The costs of a low-prudence society are immense. The rate of divorce, levels of debt, constant online flame wars, the existence of crypto memecoins and meme stocks, the complex webs of commitments and contradictions in people’s beliefs and associations can all be seen at least in part as a result of insufficient prudence.

Perhaps prudence has fallen out of favor because it is a poor match for a society that places a high value on speed. Accelerating technology, which has made our lives more comfortable and prosperous, has conditioned an overall sense that acceleration in itself is a good, and anything that slows it down is in the very least uncool. A boring stick in the mud.

But look around at people in great emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical distress. Most would’ve avoided the worst had they a bit more prudence. Slow down. Take time to step back and consider. Don’t jump into that relationship, or extramarital affair, or divorce, and your finances won’t get wrecked. Don’t rashly join a new movement or cause and throw your whole identity into it, and your reputation and friendships won’t get destroyed when it collapses or cannibalizes itself.

On the positive side, I think prudence is coming back into fashion. When all forms of overnight “gainz” have evaporated, people are left looking back at the boring but relentlessly reliable path of making good, deliberate choices and sticking to them, thinking beyond the zeitgeist, and putting the cool wisdom of a clear conscience and calm pace of life above the hottest impulses and trends.

Two cheers for prudence! Or maybe rather one reasonable cheer in good sense and not too exaggerated.