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Scott P. Richert

What Is a "Prudential Judgment"?

By September 16, 2011

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The tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 has reignited discussions of the morality of the war in Iraq. As the years have passed, some who initially supported the war have decided that they made a mistake in doing so. For many American Catholics who consider themselves faithful to the teaching of the Church, such such thoughts have often come as they confronted the fact that the papacy's response to the war in Iraq, under both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has been to oppose it. Others who have continued to support the war have tried to minimize the importance of this opposition by describing the decision to go to war as a "prudential judgment," left up to politicians.

The effect of this is to rob prudence, one of the four cardinal virtues, of any moral importance and to make it merely a practical matter. The popes' thoughts on the war in Iraq may be "interesting," but they're not "authoritative," like, say, their teaching on abortion or embryonic stem-cell research.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of prudence, which is, at heart, the virtue by which we recognize what is good and what is evil in any practical matter. To learn more about the virtue of prudence and to understand why a "prudential judgment" is a moral, and not simply a practical, one, see Prudence: A Cardinal Virtue.

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September 30, 2008 at 11:20 am
(1) Sheila says:

I have always been conflicted about the war. I ask myself if it is a JUST war. We went in because we believed we would need to protect ourselves from one in the ‘axis of evil’ regime. It looks like it morphed into stopping the Iraq government from continuing their rapes, tortures and mass murders and at least attempt to live in a democracy. What defines a just war? I know genocide, but isn’t mass murder/rape and steal a form of genocide? I also know that war should always be avoided. Could we have avoided this war and still prevented more of the same that was perpetrated by their own government? What is our Church’s definition?

September 16, 2011 at 8:52 am
(2) Joe says:

On page 230, in ‘Catholicism for Dummies’ there is an article on ‘The Just War Doctrine.’ Although it goes into more detail than I will enter here, in summary it addresses what needs to be present for a war to be morally permissable.

Examples are to repel an invading enemy or unjust aggressors; to rescue or assist an ally who was attacked by an unjust aggressor; restoring peace rather than seeking revenge.

It also states that if citizens are captured, property seized, land is occupied, or allies are being attacked or invaded, the Church believes that going to war is justified. Defending or protecting lives and territory is considered a just cause.

Aggression, revenge, or economic, political, or territorial gain is considered an immoral, or unjust, cause.

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