When one puts the problem in the abstract, saying something such as “Are wisdom and prudence the same thing,” one does the problem a massive injustice. It is a very real problem, and it exists in everyday life.
There’s no doubt in my mind that some of my professors are genuinely wise, as they’ve given me insights that make me see the world differently, and see others for who they truly are. I can’t just say “all this crap is book learning,” because book learning goes very, very far, even in terms of practical issues. It was deGaulle’s book on tank warfare that made the German war machine so feared during the Second World War – and remember, “war” in a deep way is the enemy of thought. Emerson and Thoreau, for all their hippie nonsense, are onto something deep. Peace ought to be had through thought, since conversation between those who are like-minded but willing to challenge each other and themselves results in a “conflict” where there is no hostility but rather understanding when all is said and done.
But are my professors prudent? Aristotle says prudence and wisdom can diverge, despite the fact that prudence stems from proper perception, guided by first principles. Such a proper perception, an “intellection,” is one of the intellectual virtues that concerns the unchangeable things. But prudence itself concerns the changeable. The divergence becomes even sharper when one brings about the notion of wisdom, that of comprehensive knowledge of the whole.
Look, in our own lives, when we give good advice, advice we consider wise, we lay out a number of possibilities and discuss which ones are more realistic and which ones not. We prepare for every situation in theory. This is wisdom more than prudence, perhaps – all of us know that we go through this routine, and barely get it right half the time. There’s something about prudence which involves action, and not fully thinking through a problem, maybe.
As I write this, I’m realizing that half-assed theorizing we do might be prudence. After all, drawing up an effective play for a football offense isn’t about prudence as much as it is about cleverness; similarly, imposing one’s will on a battlefield is just about that, imposing one’s will. But the danger still lies in making thoughtful statesmen, no? If one asks them to be prudent, they will be slower to act in a world where action has already slowed to a crawl.
Hmm. Your thoughts are welcome.