The Virtue of Prudence
Jean M. Bartunek Jordi Trullen
n this chapter, we focus on practical wisdom, a characteristic proper to individuals. Practical wisdom is also called phronesis (Aristotle’s term) or prudence (the term introduced by Thomas Aquinas that is in most use by those focusing on virtue). We do so from social science, philosophical, and theological perspectives on virtue. Practical wisdom or prudence lies in the interstices of intellectual and moral virtues—of the theoretical and the practical domains. Hence, it is very important for both management theory and management practice. Social science findings are often of limited use when dealing with real-life problems (Flyvbjerg, 2001), and many human decisions deal with moral dilemmas. Prudence is directly pertinent to such problems and dilemmas (Statler & Roos, 2006) and responds to ambiguities in a way that traditional management science often cannot. We begin by describing the concept of virtue and introducing some types of virtues. We situate wisdom and then practical wisdom/prudence within this discussion. We then consider examples of prudence and make some recommendations about how it may be developed.
___________________________ Virtues and Practical Wisdom
There is growing attention to virtue on the part of social scientists, especially those concerned with positive psychology or positive organizational science. AUTHORS’ NOTE: We are grateful to James Bailey, James Keenan, and Eric Kessler for their helpful suggestions. 91
For example, Peterson and Seligman (2003) recently authored a handbook of character strengths and virtues. There was also a special issue on virtuousness in the journal American Behavioral Scientist (Fowers & Tjeltveit, 2003). In the introduction to that issue, Fowers and Tjeltveit (2003) suggested that although virtue is a relatively timeless topic, having been taken up in many forms during various historical eras, it is particularly timely during a period that has been convulsed by widespread corporate fraud, terrorism, and war. Virtue ethics, an intimately related topic, has also received considerable attention recently (e.g., Fowers, 2003; McCloskey, 2006; Meara & Day, 2003; Richardson, 2003). Scholars who emphasize the importance of virtue ethics argue that, contrary to the utilitarian and Kantian approaches that have informed much modern ethical thought and that focus primarily on reason and decision making in particular situations, it is the overall quality— the overall virtuousness—of the person making ethical decisions that is most important. Thus, developing virtue in a person over the long run is particularly important for fostering ethical decisions in particular circumstances.
The Meaning of Virtue and Virtuousness
Cameron and his colleagues (Cameron, 2003; Cameron, Bright, & Caza, 2004) treated the topic of virtue from a positive organizational scholarship perspective. They associated virtuousness with what individuals and organizations strive to be when they are at their very best. They suggested that virtuous organizations enable and support virtuous activities—transcendent elevating behavior—on the part of their members. Virtuousness is associated with moral goodness, with humans’ individual flourishing and moral character, and with social betterment beyond mere self-interested benefit. In fact, concern for others is a basic characteristic of prudence. Prudence includes “the ability of an agent to comprehend the distinctive nature of the other and adjust her conduct by potentially breaking the rule to satisfy the exception” (Durand & Calori, 2006, p. 99). Cameron and his colleagues’ discussion did not focus on the meanings of the particular virtues, although it alluded to them, and their depiction of virtue as transcendent elevating behavior was...