Prudence - The Individual's Character, so far as it affects his own Happiness
1We naturally view an individual's character under two aspects:
- As it may affect his own happiness
- As it may affect the happiness of other people
2 Nature first recommends the body's preservation and healthful state to every individual's care
- Hunger and thirst, pleasure and pain, heat and cold, etc. are lessons delivered by the voice of Nature herself.
- Nature directs him what he should choose and avoid.
- Most of his first lessons from his parents also teaches him how to keep out of harm's way.
3 As he grows up, he soon learns that some care and foresight are necessary for:
- gratifying those natural appetites,
- procuring pleasure and avoiding pain, and
- procuring the agreeable and avoiding the disagreeable temperatures.
The art of preserving and increasing his external fortune is in the proper direction of this care and foresight.
>4 The advantages of external fortune are originally recommended to us to supply the body's necessities and conveniencies.
- But we cannot live long in the world without perceiving that our external fortune very much determines:
- the respect of our equals, and
- our credit and rank in our society.
- The strongest of all our desires is perhaps the desire of:
- becoming the proper objects of this respect, and
- deserving and obtaining this credit and rank among our equals
- Our anxiety to obtain the advantages of fortune is accordingly much more excited and irritated by this desire, than by the desire of supplying all the body's necessities and conveniencies.
- The latter are always very easily supplied.
5 Our rank and credit among our equals depend very much on:
- our character and conduct, or
- the confidence, esteem, and good-will, which these naturally excite in the people we live with
- A virtuous man would perhaps wish our rank and credit to depend entirely on these.
6 His comfort and happiness in this life are supposed principally to depend on the care of the individual's:
- rank and reputation
These objects are the proper business of Prudence.
7We suffer more when we fall from a better to a worse situation, than we ever enjoy when we rise from a worse to a better.
- Therefore, security is the first and the principal object of prudence.
- It is averse to expose our health, fortune, rank, or reputation, to any hazard.
- It is rather:
- cautious than enterprising
- anxious to preserve our existing advantages, than forward to prompt us to acquire more advantages
- It principally recommends to us the following methods to improve our fortune without exposing us to loss or hazard:
- real knowledge and skill in our trade or profession
- assiduity and industry in their exercise
- frugality and even some parsimony, in all our expences.
8 The prudent man always studies seriously to understand whatever he professes to understand.
- He does not study merely to persuade others that he understands it.
- His talents may not always be very brilliant.
- But they are always perfectly genuine.
- He does not try to impose on you by the:
- cunning devices of an artful impostor,
- arrogant airs of an assuming pedant,
- confident assertions of a superficial and imprudent pretender.
- He is not ostentatious even of his own abilities.
- His conversation is simple and modest.
- He is averse to all the quackish arts.
- Other people so frequently use such arts to thrust themselves into public notice and reputation.
- For reputation in his profession, he is naturally disposed to rely much on the solidity of his knowledge and abilities.
- He does not always think of cultivating the favour of those little clubs and cabals who:
- often erect themselves into the supreme judges of merit, in the superior arts and sciences
- make it their business to:
- celebrate the talents and virtues of one another, and
- decry whatever can come into competition with them.
- If he ever connects with any society of this kind, it is merely in self-defence.
- It is:
- not to impose on the public, and
- to hinder the public from being imposed on by that cabal's clamours, whispers, or intrigues to his disadvantage.
9 The prudent man is always sincere.
- He feels horror in falsehood.
- But though always sincere, he is not always frank and open.
- He only tells the truth.
- But he does not always think himself bound to tell the whole truth when not properly called on.
- As he is cautious in his actions, so he is reserved in his speech.
- He never rashly obtrudes his opinion.
10 The prudent man is not always distinguished by the most exquisite sensibility.
- He is always very capable of friendship.
- But his friendship is not that ardent and passionate.
- His friendship is often a transitory affection.
- It appears so delicious to the youth's generosity and inexperience.
- It is a sedate, but steady and faithful attachment to a few well-tried and well-chosen friends.
- His choice of friends is not guided:
- by the giddy admiration of shining accomplishments,
- but by the sober esteem of modesty, discretion, and good conduct.
- He is not always much disposed to general sociality.
- He rarely frequents and more rarely figures in those convivial societies with jolly and gay conversation.
- Their way of life might:
- too often interfere with his temperance's regularity,
- interrupt his industry's steadiness, or
- break in on his frugality's strictness.
11 His conversation might not always be very sprightly or diverting.
- But it is always perfectly inoffensive.
- He hates the thought of being guilty of any petulance or rudeness.
- He never assumes impertinently over anybody.
- He is commonly willing to place himself below his equals.
- He is an exact observer of decency in his conduct and conversation.
- He respects all the established decorums and ceremonials of society, with an almost religious scrupulosity.
- In this respect, he sets a much better example than those frequently done by more talented and virtuous men.
- Those men often distinguished themselves by the most improper and even insolent contempt of all of life's ordinary decorums and conversation in all ages:
- from the age of Socrates and Aristippus, down to the age of Dr. Swift and Voltaire, and
- from the age of Philip and Alexander the Great, down to the age of Peter the Great.
- Those men set the most pernicious example to those who wish to imitate them.
- The people too often merely imitate their follies without even attempting to attain their perfections.
12 The prudent man is always supported and rewarded by the entire approbation of:
- the impartial spectator and
- the representative of the impartial spectator, the man within the breast, in:
- the steadiness of his industry and frugality
- his steadily sacrificing the ease and enjoyment of the present moment for the probable expectation of more distant but greater and lasting ease and enjoyment.
- The impartial spectator does not feel himself:
- worn out by the present labour of the people whose conduct he surveys
- solicited by the importunate calls of their present appetites
- To him, their present and future situation are very nearly the same.
- He sees them nearly at the same distance.
- He is affected by them very nearly in the same manner.
- However, he knows that to the persons principally concerned, the present and the future:
- are very far from being the same
- naturally affect them in a very different manner
- He therefore must approve, and even applaud, that proper exertion of self-command.
- This self-command enables them to act as if their present and future situation affected them in the same way they affect him.
13 The man who lives within his income is naturally contented with his own situation.
- It grows better and better everyday by continual, though small accumulations.
- He is enabled gradually to relax in the:
- rigour of his parsimony
- severity of his application
- He feels doubly satisfied with this gradual increase of ease and enjoyment from having previously felt the hardship of lack.
- He has no anxiety to change so comfortable a situation.
- He does not seek out new enterprises and adventures.
- These might endanger but not increase his current secure tranquillity.
- If he enters into any new projects or enterprises, they are likely to be well concerted and well prepared.
- He can never be hurried or driven into them by any necessity.
- He always has time and leisure to deliberate soberly and coolly what their likely consequences will be.
14 The prudent man is not willing to subject himself to any responsibility which his duty does not impose on him.
- He is not a:
- bustler in business where he has no concern,
- meddler in other people's affairs,
- professed counsellor or adviser who obtrudes his advice where nobody is asking for it.
- He confines himself to his own affairs as much as his duty will permit.
- He has no taste for that foolish importance.
- Many people wish to get this importance from appearing to have some influence in managing other people's affairs.
- He is averse to enter into any party disputes.
- He is not always very forward to listen to the voice even of noble and great ambition.
- When distinctly called on, he will not decline to be of service to his country.
- But he will not cabal to force himself into it.
- He would be more pleased that the public business were well managed by some other person, than himself having the trouble or responsibility of managing it.
- In the bottom of his heart, he would prefer the undisturbed enjoyment of secure tranquillity to:
- all the vain splendour of successful ambition, and
- the real glory of performing the greatest actions.
15 In short, prudence is regarded as a most respectable, and even amiable and agreeable quality, when it is directed merely to the care of the individual's health, fortune, rank and reputation.
- But it is never considered as the most endearing or most ennobling of the virtues.
- It commands a certain cold esteem.
- But it seems not entitled to any very ardent love or admiration.
16 Wise and judicious conduct is properly called prudence when it directed to greater and nobler purposes than the care of the individual's health, fortune, rank and reputation.
- We talk of the prudence of the great general, statesman, and legislator.
- In all these cases, prudence is combined with many greater and more splendid virtues such as:
- extensive and strong benevolence
- a sacred regard to the rules of justice
- a proper degree of self-command, which supports all these virtues
- When perfected, this superior prudence necessarily supposes the art, talent, and habit or disposition of acting with the most perfect propriety in every situation.
- It necessarily supposes the perfection of all the intellectual and moral virtues.
- It is the best head joined to the best heart.
- It is the most perfect wisdom combined with the most perfect virtue.
- It constitutes very nearly the character of the Academical or Peripatetic sage, as the inferior prudence does that of the Epicurean.
17 Mere imprudence is the mere lack of the capacity to take care of oneself.
- It is the object of compassion of the people who:
- are generous and humane, and
- less delicate sentiments,
- neglect, and
- contempt, at worst.
- But it is never the object of hatred or indignation.
However, mere imprudence aggravates most its infamy and disgrace when combined with other vices.
- The artful knave has skill to exempt himself from infamy but not from strong suspicions.
- He is too often received in the world with an indulgence which he does not deserve.
- The awkward and foolish one who is convicted because of lack of skill, is the object of universal hatred, contempt, and derision.
In countries where great crimes frequently pass unpunished, the most atrocious actions become almost familiar.
- They cease to impress the people with that horror which is universally felt in countries where justice is exactly administered.
- The injustice is the same in both countries.
- But the imprudence is often very different.
- In the latter, great crimes are evidently great follies.
- In the former, they are not always considered as such.
In Italy, during most of the 16th century, assassinations, murders, and even murders under trust, were almost familiar among the superior ranks of people.
- Caesar Borgia invited four of the little princes in his neighbourhood to a friendly conference at Senigaglia.
- They all had little sovereignties and little armies of their own.
- As soon as they arrived, he had them all killed.
- This infamous action was certainly not approved of even in that age of crimes.
- It seems to have contributed:
- very little to his discredit, and
- not in the least to his ruin.
- That ruin happened a few years after from causes disconnected with this crime.
Machiavelli did not have the nicest morality even for his own times.
- When this crime was committed, he was resident at Caesar Borgia's court, as minister from the republic of Florence.
- He gives a very particular account of it in that pure, elegant, and simple language which distinguishes all his writings.
- He talks of it very coolly.
- He is pleased with how Caesar Borgia conducted it.
- He has much contempt for the dupery and the sufferers' weakness.
- But he has:
- no compassion for their miserable and untimely death, and
- no indignation at their murderers' cruelty and falsehood.
The violence and injustice of great conquerors are often regarded with foolish wonder and admiration.
- Those of petty thieves, robbers, and murderers are always regarded with contempt, hatred, and even horror.
- Great conquerors are 100 times more mischievous and destructive.
- Yet when successful, they often pass for deeds of the most heroic magnanimity.
- Their injustice is certainly, at least, as great as that of petty thieves.
- But their folly and imprudence are not nearly so great.
- Petty thieves and murderers are always viewed with hatred and aversion, as mankind's follies and crimes are viewed as the lowest and most worthless.
- A wicked and worthless man of parts often goes through the world with much more credit than he deserves.
- A wicked and worthless fool always appears the most hateful and most contemptible of all mortals.
- Prudence combined with other virtues, constitutes the noblest characters.
- Imprudence combined with other vices, constitutes the vilest of all characters.
Next: Chapter 1: Family