Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Virtue of Prudence and Gasoline Consumption

The virtue of prudence, according to the glossary in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, is "The virtue which disposes a person to discern the good and choose the correct means to accomplish it. One of the cardinal moral virtues that dispose the Christian to live according to the law of Christ, prudence provides the proximate guidance for the judgment of conscience." Following up, paragraph 1806 offers these thoughts:

Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it;.... Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule andmeasure. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

Prudence then contains two acts rather than one: the first act is of discernment of goods, the second of choosing a proper means to get there. Since the Catechism uses the idea of a charioteer, let me update this with a modern example. Going from Alva to virtually anywhere else in the state requires about two and a half hours on the road. If I am going to Oklahoma City, I can go by about 3 routes and they all take the same amount of time. Also, each path is about the same length, the variance being a negligible 10 miles or so. In this case, then, the path doesn't matter. Each one allows me to achieve the same goal, getting to Oklahoma City. When prudence is working, the same thing happens. First, the virtue equips the intellect to sift through a pile of good ends for which someone might strive in their willing. Then the virtue allows the intellect to weigh out the best means for the good in question. It should be clearer why this virtue is so closely connected with conscience. Conscience is the last best judgment of the intellect concerning the good one ought to choose. All that remains after the action of conscience is the employing of the will.

As I went to the Wal-Mart to pick up my meds, I glanced at the gas station signs and was unsurprised by the price of regular, basic gasoline. Unsurprised, but dismayed, nonetheless. Two stations in town were up to $3.00. The Love's was thronged with people as their gas was only $2.79. If you think this is bad, well, Europe has had it worse for years and it is just getting started. Depending on the action President Bush takes to release oil from the strategic reserve, the price will continue to rise. Quite frankly, I would expect the rise even if the President released all the oil reserve. Your car doesn't run on oil; it runs on gasoline. With so many refineries in the Gulf damaged or destroyed, you can have lots of oil and still end up with an gasoline shortage. The only silver lining I can see is Ponca City's fortunes got a little better. Their refinery has been reducing personnel and output gradually for years now. I suspect that in all wisdom (and dare I hope prudence) the folks at Conoco Philips would rather retool an old place than try to build a new refinery.

Watching the news can certainly help us to be sympathetic to plight of the Gulf region as they wade through the miles of destruction. But what if we could put this sympathy to a real, concrete positive action? I would invite everyone reading to begin now by reducing your gasoline consumption to only essential travel. First, this will lower the burden on demand by reducing how much we need. Second, by reducing demand, we can free up resources for those who need the fuel more than we do. Third, with the money we don't use to fill the tank, we could make a contribution to Catholic Charities, FEMA, or Red Cross to help with relief efforts. Also, your parish or St. Vincent de Paul society is going to be put to the test this winter when gas bills start rolling in. Many people come to the parish charitible organizations when they can't pay their bills, not to mention that heating a parish church on Sunday is free. Think of it as insurance against having to wear your coat during Mass. Fourth, by staying put and not racing around so much it will permit a greater degree of recollectedness and also some better planning. We could even get to know our neighbors by taking one car and running a bunch of errands together, not to mention carpooling to work.

Prudence would suggest that when things get bad, we have to strive all the more for the best decision amongst a field of goods. Practically speaking for me, it probably means curtailing my trips to Oklahoma City unless someone is dead or dying. It takes about $50.00 to fill my tank and a round trip is one tank of gas, so you do the math. Not only is the money an issue but also the properness of one guy using up 18 gallons of gas that someone else probably needs more than I. Or phrased more positively, I could use that gas for something other than my day off.

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