What does Epicurus mean by "prudence"?

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Epicurus writes in Letter to Menoeceus:

For this reason prudence is a more precious thing even than the other virtues, for ad a life of pleasure which is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life of pleasure. For the virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.

Does Epicurus mean being cautious in general or being thrifty (in more monetary/wealth terms)?

Harel13

Posted 2020-08-05T16:00:22.107

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Aristotle on prudence (φρόνησις) – b a – 2020-08-05T16:48:20.047

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Does this answer your question? What are Epicurean Virtues?

– Mr. White – 2020-08-05T18:37:58.527

@ClydeFrog I did actually link that same question in my own question...and no it doesn't appear to give a precise definition of prudence... – Harel13 – 2020-08-05T19:00:10.067

Answers

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The answer to this question seems to be in the linked missive. Using a different source for the text — the one you linked seems to be corrupted — we find the following (quoted at length; emphasis mine):

When, therefore, we maintain that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasures of profligates and those that consist in sensuality, as is supposed by some who are either ignorant or disagree with us or do not understand, but freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind. For it is not continuous drinkings and revellings, nor the satisfaction of lusts, nor the enjoyment of fish and other luxuries of the wealthy table, which produce a pleasant life, but sober reasoning, searching out the motives for all choice and avoidance, and banishing mere opinions, to which are due the greatest disturbance of the spirit.

Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is prudence. Wherefore prudence is a more precious thing even than philosophy: for from prudence are sprung all the other virtues, and it teaches us that it is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, nor, again, to live a life of prudence, honor, and justice without living pleasantly. For the virtues are by nature bound up with the pleasant life, and the pleasant life is inseparable from them. For indeed who, think you, is a better man than he who holds reverent opinions concerning the gods, and is at all times free from fear of death, and has reasoned out the end ordained by nature? He understands that the limit of good things is easy to fulfill and easy to attain, whereas the course of ills is either short in time or slight in pain: he laughs at destiny, whom some have introduced as the mistress of all things. He thinks that with us lies the chief power in determining events, some of which happen by necessity and some by chance, and some are within our control; for while necessity cannot be called to account, he sees that chance is inconstant, but that which is in our control is subject to no master, and to it are naturally attached praise and blame. For, indeed, it were better to follow the myths about the gods than to become a slave to the destiny of the natural philosophers: for the former suggests a hope of placating the gods by worship, whereas the latter involves a necessity that knows no placation. As to chance, he does not regard it as a god as most men do (for in a god’s acts there is no disorder), nor as an uncertain cause of all things: for he does not believe that good and evil are given by chance to man for the framing of a blessed life, but that opportunities for great good and great evil are afforded by it. He therefore thinks it better to be unfortunate in reasonable action than to prosper in unreason. For it is better in a man’s actions that what is well chosen should fail, rather than that what is ill chosen should be successful owing to chance.

The idea, then, is that one should make decisions and take actions judiciously, with both self-awareness and awareness of the situation. One doesn't gamble without knowing the odds; one doesn't give in to basal urges or act out of prejudice, spite, or ego. 'Prudence' in this sense points at measured will. It's a bit like that old sports rubric that there is pleasure in playing a good, honest game whether or not one wins; while cheating, bad sportsmanship, excessive aggression, etc lower one's self-respect, one's public respect, respect for the game itself... Such excesses create those 'disturbances of the spirit' that interfere with the pleasurable life.

This is why prudence is central. Without prudence (as measured will) all of our talents and skills can run to excess, and all of our weaknesses can manifest. We can become egotistical, defensive, self-righteous, entitled, manipulative, all because we are trying to 'win' or avoid 'losing', not focusing on the act of 'playing well'. But it's in the latter that we find real, enduring pleasure.

Ted Wrigley

Posted 2020-08-05T16:00:22.107

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