My current research centers on the concept of Prudence. Long a term of political art and indeed Realist cant, Prudence has been astoundingly under-conceptualized not only by theorists of International Relations, but also Political Theorists. There is a corresponding paucity of conceptual history. The terms is generally used as if its meaning were self-evident; indeed it seems commonly to be used as a primitive term. Through a series of articles and eventually a book, I will situate and map the contours of the term's usage and evolution utilizing the tools of conceptual analysis and conceptual history.
Although Machiavelli is canonically the figure turned to in the discussion of prudence in politics, much of his understanding, of course, comes from Tacitus, and is an explicit response to the Scholastics, the Republican Humanists and ultimately Aristotle. Indeed, there is a surprising breadth of denotations of the term in the Realist canon. This suggests a fruitful line of analysis by drawing out the parallels between the manner in which Prudence is used as a term of art and Wittgenstein's notion of "knowing how to go on" (PI ¶151 & 179). Among Realists, Morgenthau also stands out; while emphasizing the Machiavellian lineage of his understanding of Prudence, he articulates an understanding of Prudence that bears remarkable similarities to Weber's Ethic of Responsibility.
Classically, prudence has been treated as an aspect of individual character, whether a skill or form of reason in Aristotle and Aquinas, a character attribute in Machiavelli and the Renaissance Humanists, a facility for means-ends calculation in Hume and Kant, etc. In each understanding, prudence was an intrinsic aspect of the character that was both relational and relative. In addition to drawing out the parallel with Wittgenstein's notion of "knowing how to go on", I argue that it is most fruitful to treat Prudence as - in part - a rule-governed practice. Pushing away from the idea of Prudence being a part of one's character, or a virtue, or an excellence, and building upon my earlier Wittgenstein-inspired claims, I follow Kant, Turner and Bourdieu in treating it as a practice.
International Relations Theory, International Law, Ethics and Politics