Aquinas on Good sense
I am concerned here with the virtue which Aquinas calls prudentia. But, as is almost always the case with Aquina's technical vocabulary, the nearest English word to the Latin one would be a mistranslation: prudentia does not mean what we call prudence. Prudence suggests to us a certain caution and canniness, whereas prudentia is much nearer to wisdom, practical wisdom.
Fortunately, however, we have a nearly perfect English equivalent in Jane Austen's phrase 'good sense'. I take Jane Austen to be centrallyconcerned not with presenting the ethos of the new respectable middle class but rather with the failure of the new bourgeoisie to live satisfactorylives because of the inabilityof the older 'aristocratic' tradition to transmit to them a certain outlook and wayof behaving and education that came down to the author via the remains of a Christian morality. The eighteenth-century ideal of civilized living collapsed because it involved the loss of this tradition, a tradition which (as Gilbert Ryle and others have pointed out) is, broadly speaking, Aristotelean.
Of course, no novel is a philosophical treatise, but much of Jane Austen's writing can usefullybe seen as an exploration of this tradition and in particular of the notion of prudentia. Elizabeth Bennett (in Pride and Prejudice)is shown as having and growing in good sense, in contrast both to the silliness of her younger sisters, who think of nothing beyond present pleasure, and, on the other hand, to the pedantry of her elder sister, Mary, who thinks that book-learning is enough. She also stands in contrast to her wittyand perceptive but almost purely voyeuristic father, who uses his intelligence to surveya life in which he refuses to become involved. Finally, there is a contrast with her friend Charlotte, who succumbs to worldlywisdom and marries the dreadful Mr Collins for 'prudential' reasons. All these people are presented as morally inferior (and thus ultimatelyunhappy) because they lack