Monday, October 29, 2012

Prudential Judgement

One of the phrases that gets thrown about in the Catholic blogsphere with reckless abandon is "prudential judgement."  This phrase when used properly distinguishes that which Catholics can legitimately disagree about.  But often times it is used as a short hand for "I can believe whatever I want."

Prudential judgement comes from the virtue of Prudence, which is used when making decisions about everyday life in conformance with the Church's teachings.  It is more than that however.  It is also the virtue of determining the good and evil in things, and knowing what one ought to do and what one should avoid.

When used properly prudential judgement is a key virtue in living our lives.  It allows us to live by the Faith in everyday actions and informs the decisions we make in order to derive the most good out of a given situation.  It also allows us to discern what is good and what is bad, allowing us to make sense of situations where the good is hidden or evil that lies in wait.

What it does not mean is that decisions that are of prudential judgement cannot be either right or wrong.  It means that unlike things that go against the Faith directly matters of prudential judgement require reason and discipline to find the good and avoid the evil.  There is still good to be had and evil to avoid.

Prudential matters involve questions such as "what is a just wage?" and "how can we best improve the lot of the poor?"  These questions are difficult and require understanding of the particular circumstances as well as the moral principles of social justice.  As a result people of good faith can disagree about the answers to such questions.

What it does not mean is that there is not a right or wrong answer.  There is such a thing as a just wage for our current circumstances.  There is a right and proper way to help the poor.  While these things are the subject of much debate, there are correct answers to them.

What all of this means is that while matters may require prudential judgement, it does not mean that matters of prudential judgement are places where relativism resides.  We do not have the luxury of simply pretending that what we want to be true is true.  Matters of prudential judgement still have a right and wrong answer.  And it is our moral duty to discern the correct answers to such questions for our time.

It is one of the strange ironies that relativism has rendered discussions about prudential judgement as hostile as they are today.  Relativism promises that there is no real truth.  So we should not get so worked up over disagreements.  Yet our political discourse is hotter than ever.  This is because of two reasons.  One is our pride and we hate to be wrong.  The other is that deep down we know that these things matter even if we've forgotten why.

Prudence however is a virtue that reminds us of the importance of truth in our everyday lives.  It calls us to use our reason and to discern the good in all decisions.  We owe to to God, our fellow man, and ourselves to discern and work for the good that exists in all of our decisions.

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