Prudence is the act of suiting words and actions according to the circumstances of things, or rules of right reason. Cicero thus defines it: "Est rerum expetendarum vel fulgiendarum scientia" — the knowledge of what is to be desired or avoided. Grove thus: "Prudence is an ability of judging what is best in the choice both of ends and means." Mason thus: "Prudence is a conformity to the rules of reason, truth, and decency, at all times and in all circumstances. It differs from wisdom only in degree; wisdom being nothing but a more consummate habit of prudence, and prudence a lower degree or weaker habit of wisdom." It is divided into,
1, Christian prudence, which directs to the pursuit of that blessedness which the Gospel discovers by the use of Gospel means;
2, moral prudence, which has for its end peace and satisfaction of mind in this world, and the greatest happiness after death;
3, civil prudence, which is the knowledge of what ought to be done in order to secure the outward happiness of life, consisting in prosperity, liberty, etc.;
4, monastic, relating to any circumstances in which a man is not charged with the care of others;
5, economical prudence, which regards the conduct of a family;
6, political, which refers to the good government of a state.
The idea of prudence, says one, includes due consultation — that is, concerning such things as demand consultation — in a right manner and for a competent time, that the resolution taken up may be neither too precipitate nor too slow; and a faculty of discerning proper means when they occur. To the perfection of prudence these three things are further required, viz. a natural sagacity; presence of mind, or a ready turn of thought; and experience. Plato styles prudence the leading virtue; and Cicero observes that "not one of the virtues can want prudence;" which is certainly most true, since, without prudence to guide them, piety would degenerate into superstition, zeal into bigotry, temperance into austerity, courage into rashness, and justice itself into folly. In a comparison of prudence and morality, the former has been called the vowel, the latter the consonant. The latter cannot be uttered (reduced to practice) but by menans of the former. See Watts, Sermons, ser. 28; Grove, Moral Philos. vol. ii, ch. ii; Mason, Christian Morals, vol. i, ser. 4; Evans, Christan Temper, ser. 38; Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, i, 13, 21 sq.