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The role of prudent love in the practice of clinical medicine


Dr James A. Marcum, Department of Philosophy, Baylor University, One Bear Place #97273, Waco, TX 76798, USA, E-mail:


Rationale  Virtues are an important component in the practice of clinical medicine. Prudence or wisdom and charity or love are often viewed as crucial for virtuous practice. Generally, the two virtues are discussed separately, with no connection between them; however, a synergy exists between the two virtues as a compound virtue of prudent love in which the properties of the compound virtue transcend those of the individual virtues.

Aims and objectives  To examine the nature of prudent love and to discuss its role in the practice of clinical medicine.

Methods  Philosophical and conceptual analyses.

Results  Prudent love exhibits properties, which are the result of a synergistic interaction between the two individual virtues. Succinctly, prudent love synergism is an outcome of a particular structural relationship between the two virtues in which motivational love prompts the prudent clinician to acquire and utilize clinical competence, which then allows the loving clinician to take care of an individual patient's health care needs. In turn, the virtuous clinician's ability to meet those needs successfully feedbacks onto the motivation to satisfy them initially, thereby encouraging and enhancing the clinician to fulfil them even more prudently and lovingly, not only for the individual patient but also for other patients.

Conclusions  The compound virtue of prudent love provides a comprehensive approach to practising medicine that meets not only the needs of patients but also fulfils the physician's sense as healer. Although challenges face teaching virtues in the medical curriculum, strategies are available for incorporating training in virtues into the curriculum.