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Prudence is practical wisdom about choosing the right good in particular circumstances.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.
St. Teresa of Avila, while dining with gusto on some partridge
"There is a time for penance and a time for partridge."

It is by the virtue of prudence that we decide what time it is.

Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues.

It is by means of the virtue of prudence that we apply general maxims to concrete cases.

Most of our lives are made up of decisions that are not determined by the Ten Commandments, the laws of the Church, or the law of the land. Wisdom is the gift that gives all other gifts. The wise person knows how to deal rightly with people, places, and things.

In prudential judgments we make up our own minds about what seems best. The issue in such cases is not a choice between good and evil, but between one good thing and another. Prudential judgments are decisions about which reasonable people of good faith may reasonably and faithfully disagree with each other. If there were a clear law that decided the question, there would be no room for a prudential judgment: we would simply have to obey the law.


CCC #1806
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; "the prudent man looks where he is going."[1] "Keep sane and sober for your prayers."[2] Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.[3] It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

Love, and do what you will

Where there is no law, there is freedom. In those cases, it is right to "let your conscience be your guide," because there are no objective rules to guide our choice. If the action in question is not intrinsically evil or ruled out by some precept of the Church, we are free to choose one course of action or another as we please.

"Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good" (St. Augustine).

Acting in "good conscience"

It is possible "to err in good conscience." Our ethical reasoning is not infallible. We can make mistakes that lead to wrong conclusions — and sometimes, the mistakes are through no moral fault of our own.

If the decision bears good fruit, it suggests that it was a good decision. If not, then we can learn from our mistakes and do better in the future.

St. Philip Neri, "Maxims," November 28.
In order to acquire prudence, and to make a good judgment, we must have lived long and been intimate with many people.
Will Rogers
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

Examples of prudential judgments


  • What school should I attend?
  • What should I choose as a major?
  • Should I try to enter the priesthood or religious life?
  • Should I marry?
    • If so, whom? How? When?
  • Where should I live and work?

Temporal Needs

  • How should I take care of my bodily health?
    • What should I eat?
    • What should I refrain from eating?
    • How much should I exercise?
    • What kind of exercise is best for me?
  • What kind of clothing should I wear?
    • How much money should I spend on clothing?
  • What kind of car should I drive?
    • How much money should I spend on my car?
    • What kind of insurance should I obtain for my car?
    • How fast should I drive under these conditions?
  • Should I buy a house or rent?
    • If I'm inclined to buy a house, which house should I buy?
    • How much should I spend on renovations?
  • How much money should I save?
  • How should I invest the wealth I have at my disposal?
  • Should I work for someone else or start my own business?

Spiritual needs

  • What parish should I attend?
  • How should I pray?
    • What sacrifices should I make during Lent?
    • How much should I fast?
  • How should I study the Bible?
  • Should I make a retreat?
    • What kind of retreat should I make?
  • Should I seek a spiritual director?
  • Should I attend the wedding of families or friends who are lapsed Catholics or who are anti-Catholic?
  • Should I confront others about their wrongdoing?
  • Should I persist in trying to prove atheists wrong?
  • How should I recreate?
  • What should I do to help end the evil of abortion in our nation?
Questions that answer themselves


  1. Prov 14:15: "The naive believe everything, but the shrewd watch their steps."
  2. 1 Pet 4:7: "The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober [σωφρονήσατε] for prayers."
  3. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,47,2.