Four Cardinal Virtues In our study of the four cardinal virtues we have been learning many ideas and theories on how to live “the good life.” It was very difficult in the beginning of this semester to define what “the good life” means. After studying the virtues and their theories it became very clear to us what “the good life” is all about. Josef Pieper, the author of the book we have been studying, has made it very simple to understand how to be a good human being. Christian thinking and morality has played a major role in the understanding of the four virtues. The so-called four cardinal virtues that we have been studying are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. According to Pieper these four virtues are the key elements in trying to achieve the highest good.
Pieper believes that these virtues are necessary in order for a human being to fulfill the Christian image of man. These virtues exercise a persons moral, spiritual, emotional, and physical self. Every virtue has its own importance with prudence being the most important, or mother of all virtues. The order of importance of these virtues is as follows, from most to least important: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. To study these virtues we began with the virtue of prudence and worked our way down.
We began to realize that these virtues are very dependent on the virtues that are above in importance. For example, fortitude depends on prudence and justice. You cannot have fortitude without first achieving prudence and justice. This distinction makes these virtues very interesting and as a result presents a strong case as to why they are crucial for human beings to possess. The ability to attain all of these virtues is something that all humans should strive for because it would be to the best for society.
In the following I will analyze each virtue separately and show how they all tie together to form the “Christian image of man.” First I will start with the most important virtue of them all, prudence, and then move on to justice, fortitude, and finally temperance. The first and most important virtue is the virtue of prudence. This is known as the mother of all virtues because it is the first step towards working to become a good human being. “..none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.” This quote here is the best explanation that can be given to show the importance of prudence to the Christian doctrine of man. From this quote we see that prudence is necessary in order for a human being to be just, brave, and temperate.
The reason prudence is so crucial is because it is the ability to make good decisions. In order for a human being to be able to make good decisions he or she must be able to know what is good and what is not good. There is a very special relationship between the virtue of prudence and the idea of good. “Classical Christian ethics maintains that man can be prudent and good only simultaneously; that prudence is part and parcel of the definition of goodness.” It is very important for one to understand this unique relationship between prudence and the idea of goodness. One cannot have one without the other.
Prudence is the whole idea of one being able to recognize what is good and always be able to act in the good way. We will see later how this relationship is also very vital to the virtue of justice. The virtue of prudence is the hardest to attain due to the fact that a human being must be able to recognize what is good. This makes it necessary for the person to also be able to know what is good and what constitutes what good is. This is not something that we can all be able to do overnight; the ability to know what is good is something that can only be attained through moral and just thinking.
When a person begins to recognize the good and act in moral and just ways, that is when he or she has attained the virtue of prudence and has become a prudent human being. It has been necessary for me to use the words just and moral because one cannot talk about prudence without mentioning everything it deals with. Although justice is the next virtue in the order and is dependent on prudence, one must still use the concept of justice when explaining prudence because that is what prudence is, just actions. “..there is no sort of justice and fortitude which runs counter to the virtue of prudence; and that the unjust man has been imprudent before and is imprudent at the moment he is unjust.” Here, Pieper makes it clear to us that an imprudent man will be unjust in his actions. To show how important prudence is to the Christian image of man, Pieper states the following: “Prudence is the cause of the other virtues being virtues at all.” Well, I have already explained that for a person to fulfill the Christian image of man he or she must first attain the four cardinal virtues.
And if prudence is the cause of the other three virtues, then it must be the basis of the Christian image of man. If prudence is the basis of the Christian image of man, it is very important for every human being to try to become prudent so that he or she can become a person of goodness. After saying all that, it becomes clear that the Christian image of man is an image that calls for human beings to be good. This is why the most crucial part of attaining the four virtues is being able to recognize and know what the good is. “Prudence is the measure of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.” This is also very important because it shows how justice, fortitude, and temperance are not only dependent on prudence; they are also measured by prudence. What Pieper means when he says measured is this: “.the decree of prudence is the prototype and the pre-existing form of which all ethically good action is the transcript.” In other words a good action becomes just, brave, and temperate due to the decree of prudence.
This goes back to what I was saying about the good and prudence; the relationship is that “whatever is good must first have been prudent.” Since prudence calls for the person to be able to recognize the good, a person must then have knowledge about reality. The knowledge of reality is important because one must be able to know what is good in a situation. In order for a person to be able to do this he or she must understand the principles of reason and the singulars with which ethical action is concerned. I believe that all of these actions and realizations are there so that a person may be able to find the just action. This will then lead me to the next virtue in order, which is the virtue of justice. The virtue of justice is the next virtue in line of importance.
This virtue is very dependent on the virtue of prudence for many obvious reasons. The virtue of justice is one which calls for persons to give other persons what is due to them. An unjust person is one who takes or withholds something that belongs to someone else. “All just order in the world is based on this: that man give man what is his due.” Above we saw how justice was closely tied to prudence. I also explained how prudence is a virtue, which teaches humans to know the good.
“Justice is something that comes second: right comes before justice.” This piece of text explains the concept of right comes before justice. As we have seen justice is a virtue, which depends on prudence, and prudence is the ability to recognize what is right. Once a person understands this, it becomes evident as to why prudence precedes justice. Justice asks the human person to act rightly; before a person can do that he or she must know what is right. Prudence is what teaches us what the right and good are and then a person can become just. This is very unique amongst all of the virtues, the fact that one aspect of a virtue affects the next virtue in line.
This very unique relationship shows the importance of humans being fully moral. A person cannot act justly while imprudent; this is impossible. Once a person becomes prudent then he or she can move on to act justly. Justice states that man must receive what is his due. This claim has caused much controversy on how do we know, as humans, what is our due.
One of the answers that Pieper gives is based on the fact that man is given certain rights through creation. “It is through creation that the created being first comes to have his rights.” This does not mean that God owes us certain rights for being created; God does not owe us anything, it is the fellow humans who must give each other what it rightfully theirs. All humans, as a community, must recognize what is ours and must not infringe on anybody elses property. This is where justice plays its most important role in society. Justice is there so that we do not hurt each other by not treating each other fairly.
Justice, in its basic form, keeps all humans aware of the fact that we all …