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Four Cardinal Virtues

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In our study of the four cardinal virtues we have been learning many ideas andtheories on how to live “the good life.” It was very difficult in thebeginning of this semester to define what “the good life” means. Afterstudying the virtues and their theories it became very clear to us what “thegood life” is all about. Josef Pieper, the author of the book we have beenstudying, 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 ofthe four virtues.

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The so-called four cardinal virtues that we have been studyingare prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. According to Pieper these fourvirtues are the key elements in trying to achieve the highest good. Pieperbelieves that these virtues are necessary in order for a human being to fulfillthe Christian image of man. These virtues exercise a persons moral,spiritual, emotional, and physical self. Every virtue has its own importancewith prudence being the most important, or mother of all virtues.

The order ofimportance of these virtues is as follows, from most to least important:prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. To study these virtues we beganwith the virtue of prudence and worked our way down. We began to realize thatthese virtues are very dependent on the virtues that are above in importance.

For example, fortitude depends on prudence and justice. You cannot havefortitude without first achieving prudence and justice. This distinction makesthese virtues very interesting and as a result presents a strong case as to whythey are crucial for human beings to possess. The ability to attain all of thesevirtues is something that all humans should strive for because it would be tothe best for society. In the following I will analyze each virtue separately andshow how they all tie together to form the “Christian image of man.” First Iwill start with the most important virtue of them all, prudence, and then moveon to justice, fortitude, and finally temperance. The first and most importantvirtue is the virtue of prudence. This is known as the mother of all virtuesbecause 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 goodman is good in so far as he is prudent.” This quote here is the bestexplanation that can be given to show the importance of prudence to theChristian doctrine of man. From this quote we see that prudence is necessary inorder for a human being to be just, brave, and temperate. The reason prudence isso crucial is because it is the ability to make good decisions. In order for ahuman being to be able to make good decisions he or she must be able to knowwhat is good and what is not good. There is a very special relationship betweenthe virtue of prudence and the idea of good. “Classical Christian ethicsmaintains that man can be prudent and good only simultaneously; that prudence ispart and parcel of the definition of goodness.” It is very important for oneto understand this unique relationship between prudence and the idea ofgoodness. One cannot have one without the other. Prudence is the whole idea ofone being able to recognize what is good and always be able to act in the goodway. We will see later how this relationship is also very vital to the virtue ofjustice. The virtue of prudence is the hardest to attain due to the fact that ahuman being must be able to recognize what is good. This makes it necessary forthe person to also be able to know what is good and what constitutes what goodis. This is not something that we can all be able to do overnight; the abilityto know what is good is something that can only be attained through moral andjust thinking. When a person begins to recognize the good and act in moral andjust ways, that is when he or she has attained the virtue of prudence and hasbecome a prudent human being. It has been necessary for me to use the words justand moral because one cannot talk about prudence without mentioning everythingit deals with. Although justice is the next virtue in the order and is dependenton prudence, one must still use the concept of justice when explaining prudencebecause that is what prudence is, just actions. “…there is no sort ofjustice and fortitude which runs counter to the virtue of prudence; and that theunjust man has been imprudent before and is imprudent at the moment he isunjust.” Here, Pieper makes it clear to us that an imprudent man will beunjust in his actions. To show how important prudence is to the Christian imageof man, Pieper states the following: “Prudence is the cause of the othervirtues being virtues at all.” Well, I have already explained that for aperson to fulfill the Christian image of man he or she must first attain thefour 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 thebasis of the Christian image of man, it is very important for every human beingto 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 animage that calls for human beings to be good. This is why the most crucial partof attaining the four virtues is being able to recognize and know what the goodis. “Prudence is the measure of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.”This is also very important because it shows how justice, fortitude, andtemperance are not only dependent on prudence; they are also measured byprudence. What Pieper means when he says measured is this: “..the decree ofprudence is the prototype and the pre-existing form of which all ethically goodaction 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 sayingabout the good and prudence; the relationship is that “whatever is good mustfirst have been prudent.” Since prudence calls for the person to be able torecognize the good, a person must then have knowledge about reality. Theknowledge of reality is important because one must be able to know what is goodin a situation. In order for a person to be able to do this he or she mustunderstand the principles of reason and the singulars with which ethical actionis concerned. I believe that all of these actions and realizations are there sothat a person may be able to find the just action. This will then lead me to thenext virtue in order, which is the virtue of justice. The virtue of justice isthe next virtue in line of importance. This virtue is very dependent on thevirtue of prudence for many obvious reasons. The virtue of justice is one whichcalls for persons to give other persons what is due to them. An unjust person isone who takes or withholds something that belongs to someone else. “All justorder in the world is based on this: that man give man what is his due.” Abovewe saw how justice was closely tied to prudence. I also explained how prudenceis a virtue, which teaches humans to know the good. “Justice is something thatcomes second: right comes before justice.” This piece of text explains theconcept 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 isright. Once a person understands this, it becomes evident as to why prudenceprecedes justice. Justice asks the human person to act rightly; before a personcan do that he or she must know what is right. Prudence is what teaches us whatthe right and good are and then a person can become just. This is very uniqueamongst all of the virtues, the fact that one aspect of a virtue affects thenext virtue in line. This very unique relationship shows the importance ofhumans being fully moral. A person cannot act justly while imprudent; this isimpossible. Once a person becomes prudent then he or she can move on to actjustly. Justice states that man must receive what is his due. This claim hascaused much controversy on how do we know, as humans, what is our due. One ofthe answers that Pieper gives is based on the fact that man is given certainrights through creation. “It is through creation that the created being firstcomes to have his rights.” This does not mean that God owes us certain rightsfor being created; God does not owe us anything, it is the fellow humans whomust give each other what it rightfully theirs. All humans, as a community, mustrecognize what is ours and must not infringe on anybody elses property. Thisis where justice plays its most important role in society. Justice is there sothat we do not hurt each other by not treating each other fairly. Justice, inits basic form, keeps all humans aware of the fact that we all have rights andmust respect each others rights. For example: if I am asked by another personto do a certain job for him for a specific amount of money and we do thisthrough mutual agreement, then that person is obliged to pay me. There are manyother factors that play a role in this situation, however considering that I dothe job to fulfill what we agreed on, then that person owes me a certain due. Itis unjust if that person does not pay what he promised me if I gave him what Isaid I would. This very simple situation brings justice in to play, and justiceis the reason that I now have something due to me. If that person is a justperson then he will pay me. Humans deal with each other in everyday life in manysituations. Usually justice is the basic element that builds trust betweenindividuals. If I see someone act in an unjust manner then I will not beinclined to trust that person. In order for us to trust and respect each otherwe must learn to be just with one another. Once a person develops the notion toact justly and not try to hurt another person, then he or she has taken a bigstep forward towards fulfilling the Christian image of man. Then it becomesnecessary to move on and try to develop and attain the next virtue towardsbecoming a Christian human, which is fortitude. I will now move on to explainwhat fortitude is and its role in the process of becoming a Christian being. Iwill also show how this virtue is dependent on the previous two, prudence andjustice. This next virtue, fortitude, is the one that interested me the most inour study of the four virtues. The reason it interested me so much is because ofwhat it explains in human beings actions. The virtue of fortitude is the onevirtue that deals with suffering and injury; but deals with it in a manner whereit justifies humans death in certain situations. This may sound verycomplicated; but it is really very simple and is crucial in the process offulfilling the ideal Christian image of man. Fortitude is the readiness to giveup ones life, suffer injury, and be brave in the name of something that is justand moral. “Fortitude is basically readiness to die or, more accurately,readiness to fall, to die, in battle.” However, the battle must be one that isfor a just and moral cause. If a human believes that there is injustice andimmorality in any sort, then he or she must fight against the injustice andimmorality no matter how much pain and suffering they face. The ultimate test offortitude would be death for a good cause. I have already written a short paperon this specific issue. Death is considered to be the ultimate test of fortitudedue to the fact that a human faces the biggest fear in life, which is death.

Pieper explains to us that fear is not perceived as a bad thing, in fact it isan important aspect of fortitude. When a human being is suffering injury in thename of God, he or she does not do it just for the sake of the injury. Peoplewho withstand pain, suffering, and ultimately death do it for the idea that theycannot live in a society where injustice is O.K. This does not mean that amartyr perceives life as of little worth; a martyr faces an outstanding fear ofentering the unknowable for the idea that humans must not live amongstinjustice. Humans must be able to recognize any type of injustice around themand act to change that injustice into the good. God puts us on earth so that wemay live just, moral, and good lives. This is not possible unless we allrecognize the good and devote ourselves to eliminating injustice and immorality.

When a man is ready to give up his life for a good cause, this should tell therest of society that we must not go on with injustice as a part of life. Humanshave the power to become good men and women through just and moral thinking. Ifa person gives up his or her life for a cause, then this should tell us thatsomething is wrong and it must be altered. When a person gives up his or herlife for something, this means that the person was not able to go on livingexperiencing the immorality and injustice that was occurring. Many of theinjustices that occur in todays society are due to humans not knowing orunderstanding the need to know ourselves and be able to comprehend what is goodnot only for ourselves but for the rest of society. Many times these injusticesoccur due to humans not being able to control their desires, which leads tounnecessary beliefs and actions. The final virtue of temperance is the one thatdeals with the issue of desire. This next virtue tries to explain how humansneed to be in order for us to fulfill the Christian image of man. I will nowmove on to briefly talk about this virtue and show its importance in the processof becoming an ideal Christian. Temperance is a virtue that we have not studiedas closely as the other three. This virtue deals with the difficult task ofhumans being able to give things for our well being. The main theme oftemperance is selfless self-preservation. What this means is that humans must beable to act in good manner for their own good. For example, if I love to eatchocolate and do it everyday, I must be able to control my desire for chocolatebe knowing that it is for my own benefit as well as to the benefit of society.

It may sound strange that me not eating too much chocolate will benefit society,however this is a very basic example. Whenever humans consume too much ofsomething not only are they affecting their own selves, they are also affectingthe rest of society. We live in a country where food and drinks are not thathard to find; in fact we have too much of it and waste a lot of it. While we arewasting all this food, there are people in other parts of the world whomsometimes go a whole day without anything healthy to eat. This is a perfectexample of the type of injustices we are living amongst. Temperance teacheshumans to know themselves and have inner knowledge of what they really”need” and what we consume. Humans must understand that we can be selflessor selfish. If we act selfishly then we are not caring about the rest of societyand are only looking to please ourselves only. On the other hand, a selflessperson is one who recognizes that there are other people around us andunderstand that whatever we do may affect the rest of society. “For man thereare two modes of this turning toward the self: a selfless and a selfish one.

Only the former makes for self-preservation; the latter is destructive.” Thispiece of text shows the fact that the sole thing that can throw a person intodestruction is the self. In other words it is our self-being that controls whathappens around us. If we want to live in a just, moral, and good society thenour self-being can see that this occurs. “Most difficult to grasp is the factthat it is indeed the essential human self that is capable of throwing itselfinto disorder to the point of self-destruction.” This is the one unique anddistinct point in the virtue of temperance. This virtue is the only virtue thatdeals with the human self. “Temperantia is distinguished from the othercardinal virtues by the fact that it refers exclusively to the active manhimself. Prudence looks to all existent reality; justice to the fellow man; theman of fortitude relinquishes, in self-forgetfulness, his own possessions andhis life. Temperance, on the other hand, aims at each man himself.” To sumthings up, I have tried to show how a person who attains these four cardinalvirtues can become the ideal Christian being. This does not mean you have to beChristian in order to attain these virtues, because when we say the idealChristian being, we mean a good person. All humans who attain these four virtuesare people who have dedicated their self-being and life to do what God asks fromall of us. What I have tried to show is how these four virtues are distinct fromeach other but yet so dependent and connected with one another. Humans mustunderstand that we are not living our lives so that we may enjoy pleasure andwealth at the expense of the rest of society. We are all on earth together andeverything we do affects each other. Therefore we must try our hardest to onlyinvolve ourselves in good action; in this way our action will affect the rest ofsociety in only a good manner. I have also tried to express the importance ofunderstanding what the good is. Humans are good in nature; sometimes it is oursurroundings that make us act immorally and in a bad fashion. This is why it isnecessary to always try and keep a good surrounding. This can be achieved if allhumans attain the four cardinal virtues. Therefore, in order to live in asociety that is full of nothing but justice, morality, and good; we must allwork towards fulfilling the Christian image of man. This can be achieved simplyby attaining the “Four Cardinal Virtues.”

Cite this Four Cardinal Virtues

Four Cardinal Virtues. (2019, May 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/four-cardinal-virtues-2/

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