Prudence requires that we recognize the reality of times other than the present, specifically, future times.
Altruism requires that we recognize the reality of people other than ourselves.
Prudence allows us to delay gratification for our own future benefit. We budget, we plan ahead, we save for a rainy day.
Altruism allows us to do things unselfishly, for the good of others. If you accept Thomas Nagel’s structuralist case for altruism, you recognize that there is rational justification for doing good for others that is not dependent on ulterior motives. We are able to help others, even if it doesn’t make us feel good or benefit us in any way. Altruism runs the gamut from small things like holding a door open for someone or large ones, like risking our lives to save another from danger.
If we combine these two characteristics, we will find ourselves able to delay immediate personal gratification or even make sacrifices for the benefit of future people, perhaps even those who have not yet been born.
Prudence and altruism are required to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children (Malachi 4:6), but in this case, we are in the role of the fathers.
The sins of the fathers are visited upon future generations, not out of God’s malice, but as a natural consequence of the choices the fathers make (Number 14:18).
What sins are we bequeathing to the future? What curse do we give them for a birthright? If the earth is to be smitten with a curse, which our actions will call it down?
Are we selfishly taking advantage of all the resources available to those in our socio-economic status? If we can, are we eating, drinking and making merry, ungratefully consuming meat in abundance, and leaving mountains of plastic bottles in our wake as we seek to entertain ourselves with one expensively contrived diversion after another?
Are we being prudent, even for the foreseeable future span of our own lives? Are we being altruistic, giving any thought to the others who live now and our children who will inherit the future we are shaping for them?
How can we possibly make restitution to those who have not yet been harmed by our actions, but long after we die, will suffer the consequences of our choices? How can we repent when it is difficult to see, or when we refuse to see what the consequences of our sins will be? How can we ask forgiveness of our children who have not yet been born? I would to God that we consider them and act with more prudence and more altruism.