Foresight looks ahead. Circumspection looks around. It is to do with how the many circumstances in one’s life may combine at this particular point in time in the effort to attain one’s end prudently. It takes cognisance of the complexity of existence.
Jack and his bookshop might be getting along fine now and he may decide to expand his business. But then he prudently decides to wait a bit because of, say, illness in the family. He doesn’t want to be preoccupied with business when the family may need him to be more available at home. Circumspection strives to evaluate how everything will or will not work together. It will try to leave room for the unexpected, for the unforeseeable. Which leads us to:
Isn’t prudence about caution? Having said so much do we really need to consider caution, too? After foresight and circumspection, aren’t we sufficiently protected from evil? Not really. Thomas says that the things with which prudence is concerned are ‘contingent matters of action.’ Put in more modern words, we cannot control everything, or see into the depths of every action. The ‘false is found with the true,’ he warns, and ‘evil is mingled with good on account of the great variety’ of life and events and personalities.
‘Good is often hindered by evil, and evil has the appearance of good. Wherefore prudence needs caution.’