The development of the concept of prudentia in locke’s classifications of knowledge

The development of the concept of prudentia in locke’s classifications of knowledge 

Giuliana Di BIASE


During the seventeenth century, the concept of prudence underwent a process of radical transformation: its status as an intellectual virtue, seeking to apply right reason to the enactment of means to morally appropriate ends, had already become problematic during the Renaissance, but it is its moral significance which was brought into question in the writings of the seventeenth century theorists of ratio status. This gradual process of erosion is witnessed in some works of John Locke, especially his correspondence and some of his journal notes; however, some manuscripts of the philosopher dating back to the years 1670-1686 reveal he bestowed an important role on the virtue of Prudentia. These manuscripts contain different outlines of a classification of knowledge; the outlines are also evidence of a development in Locke’s concept of Prudentia, which leads from an original interpretation in Scholastic terms to a rereading more strictly inspired by Cicero’s notion of decorum. This paper aims at reconstructing the steps of this development; the point of departure of the analysis, and a fundamental key of interpretation, is a letter written by Locke to the Reverend Richard King in 1703, where he dwells on prudence and its proper business. The paragraphs examine the single outlines in detail and some journal notes relevant to the topic of discussion; a paragraph is devoted to a brief excursus on the history of the concept of prudence. In the last paragraph, I return to the letter to Reverend King, in order to argue that the development of the concept of prudence in Locke’s thinking leads to its exclusion from the dominion of morals.

Keywords: John Locke, Richard King, Prudentia, Politia, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Scholastic philosophy, Stoicism

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