Single Virtue Voting
Not being the sort of voter who decides am0ng presidential candidates based primarily on their stances on issues, I am far from ever being a single issue voter. I could justly be called a single virtue voter, however, as I prize one virtue above all others when deciding how to vote. That virtue is prudence, practical wisdom, what Aristotle called phronesis.
Defined broadly, prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern the true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; in this sense, it is concerned with both means and ends.
Defined more narrowly, prudence, or practical wisdom, guides one in navigating the grey areas between abstract principles and real world concrete situations that, in their singularity and uniqueness, evade application of those principles. Paul Ricoeur, in his major ethical work Oneself as Another, wrote, “practical wisdom consists in inventing conduct that will best satisfy the exception required by solicitude, by betraying the rule to the smallest extent possible.”
My realistically ideal president (and politician generally) will be neither dogmatic nor relativistic about moral principles, but recognize that he or she has to make choices among conflicting goods and among sets of exclusively bad options, choices that will have nation-wide and world-wide consequences. Prudence, therefore, is the chief prerequisite for earning my support.
I’ll use the positions candidates take to help me determine, as best I can, who has the virtue, who lacks practical wisdom, and ultimately who has the most “phronetic” disposition, but I’m less concerned with the current positions themselves and more interested in the practical thought processes that went into constructing those positions and the means of addressing them. A given position on an issue may end up being mostly irrelevant to that issue if the candidate, once elected, has no opportunity to do anything about it. Additionally, I may disagree with a candidate’s stance on an issue and still be able to acknowledge that the position was taken after prudent consideration.
What about you? Is there a single issue or single quality in a candidate that most guides your vote?