Four Cardinal Virtues

Topics: Virtue, Cardinal virtues, Seven virtues Pages: 8 (3260 words) Published: November 4, 2012
NOTES for “The Four Cardinal Virtues”


The virtue of prudence is the mold and mother of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. For Pieper the fact that people feel strange when they hear the discussion of prudence occur indicates that they are genuinely lost in terms of the relationship to Western culture. “…there is a larger significance in the fact that people today can respond to this assertion of the pre-eminence of prudence only with incomprehension and uneasiness. That they feel it as strange may well reveal a deeper-seated and more total estrangement. It may mean that they no longer feel the binding force of the Christian Occidental view of man.” Often people think of prudence as something which is utilitarian. “We tend to misunderstand the phrase, and take it as a tribute to undisguised utilitarianism. For we think of prudence as far more akin to the idea of mere utility…then to the ideal of nobility.” For Pieper prudence can only occur with goodness.

“Prudence is part and parcel of the definition of goodness…. All virtue is necessarily prudent.” “Prudence is the cause of the other virtues being virtues at all. For example, there may be kind of instinctive governance of instinctual craving; but only prudence transforms this instinctive governance into the “virtue” of temperance. Virtue is a “perfectibility” of man as a spiritual person; and Justice, fortitude, and temperance, as “abilities” of the whole man, achieve their “perfection” only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfect ability to make right decisions.” “Prudence informs the other virtues; it confers upon them the form of their inner essence.” “Ethical virtue is the print and seal placed by prudence upon volition and action.” “The intrinsic goodness of man – and this is the same as saying his true humanness – consists in this, that “reason perfected in the cognition of truth” shall inwardly shape and imprint his volition and action.” If you don’t know your own motives and you do not know the other’s motives and you can’t exercise prudence. “…realization of the good presupposes knowledge of reality. He alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is.”10 Human beings have the ability to recognize the good as part of a collection of equipment that they have simply by being human. “The universal principles of practical intellect are given by man through synderisis – that part of conscience which concerns the most general and fundamental naturally apprehended principles of ethical conduct, and which therefore may be designated as innate conscience, or natural conscience, or primary conscience.”10 When one develops an ability to see the reality of situations one knows immediately what has to be done. But this is a talent which is developed through the habit of looking carefully and honestly at situations. “In the dictates of natural conscience the most generalized cognition of the essence of the good becomes imperative. “That the good must be loved and made reality” – this sentence… is the message given us by natural conscience. It expresses the common goals of all human action.” A combination of synderisis and prudence is what Pieper recognizes as our conscience. Prudence is organized around a fundamental cognition which is knowledge based, as well as an awareness of the situation. Thus the prudent person has some general understandings of what constitutes appropriate reactions and circumstances as well as the ability to detect the specifics of an individual occasion where action choices are available. “Prudence looks two ways… it is cognitive and decides…. Turned toward reality,… toward action. But the cognitive aspect is prior and sets a standard…. Prudent decision rests upon the revaluation of preceding true cognitions…. Immediately directed toward concrete realization.” 11 There are three elements involved in the exercise of prudence: “the...
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