Gracy Olmstead writes on three virtues, and in particular on prudence:

Prudence might be the most underrated and misunderstood virtue. We’ve lost a full understanding of the word. Being called a “prude” is usually an insult, targeting a person’s attitude toward sexual mores only.

But prudence is derived from the Greek word phronesis and describes the most central and vital of the virtues. According to Aristotle, virtues come with two corresponding vices: one of excess and one of defect. The virtue of courage, for instance, avoids the vice of cowardice on the one hand, and the vice of brazenness or foolishness on the other. It lies within two extremes.

The virtuous person must know how to navigate and avoid these vices of extremity. Thus we need prudence: a person with phronesis is “someone who knows how to exercise judgment in particular cases. Phronesis is an intellectual virtue; but it is that intellectual virtue without which none of the virtues of character can be exercised.”

Jane Austen’s Anne Elliott, the star of Persuasion, is perhaps one of the first literary protagonists who comes to mind when I think of prudence. She knows what to do in unexpected, uncertain circumstances—and usually serves as the sustaining backbone in every community or company she finds herself in. After her nephew dislocates his collar bone following a fall, for instance, Anne is the first to act: “It was an afternoon of distress,” writes Austen, “and Anne had every thing to do at once; the apothecary to send for, the father to have pursued and informed, the mother to support and keep from hysterics, the servants to control, the youngest child to banish, and the poor suffering one to attend and soothe.”

Throughout Persuasion, characters look to Anne for leadership, wisdom, and cool thinking. She helps guide important actions throughout the narrative, via both her own personal action and her advice, thus serving to prevent harm and encourage good.

In this sense, too, Anne demonstrates the important particularity of virtue: she exercises her prudence within community, for the good and happiness of that community’s members. Hers isn’t (and couldn’t be) a displaced or isolated virtue. It’s contingent upon her place and the actions that happen within that place.

Gracy’s reflection on prudence reminds me of some of the reasons I value Karen Laub-Novak’s “The Archer,” which I wrote about last year. Gratitude and mindfulness are Gracy’s two other highlighted virtues.