By Josef Pieper. This e-Book was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor. Readers who notice any formatting, textual, or readability issues are encouraged to contact the publisher at ebooks nd. An avant-garde intellectual who, incidentally, is the host at that famous banquet, Agathon offers no special reasons for this approach.

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By Josef Pieper. This e-Book was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor. Readers who notice any formatting, textual, or readability issues are encouraged to contact the publisher at ebooks nd. An avant-garde intellectual who, incidentally, is the host at that famous banquet, Agathon offers no special reasons for this approach. That is, the contemporaries of Socrates already took for granted these traditional categories sprung from the earliest speculative thinking.

They took for granted not only the idea of virtue, which signifies human rightness, but also the attempt to define it in that fourfold spectrum. It has become a basic component of the European consciousness, as the result of centuries of persistent intellectual endeavor by all the creative elements of the emerging West, both the Greeks Plato, Aristotle and the Romans Cicero, Seneca , both Judaism Philo and Christianity Clement of Alexandria, St.

It is true that the classic origins of the doctrine of virtue later made Christian critics suspicious of it. They warily regarded it as too philosophical and not Scriptural enough.

Thus, they preferred to talk about commandments and duties rather than about virtues. To define the obligations of man is certainly a legitimate, even estimable, and no doubt necessary undertaking. With a doctrine of commandments or duties, however, there is always the danger of arbitrarily drawing up a list of requirements and losing sight of the human person who ought to do this or that.

The doctrine of virtue, on the other hand, has things to say about this human person; it speaks both of the kind of being which is his when he enters the world, as a consequence of his createdness, and the kind of being he ought to strive toward and attain to—by being prudent, just, brave, and temperate.

The doctrine of virtue, that is, is one form of the doctrine of obligation; but one by nature free of regimentation and restriction. On the contrary, its aim is to clear a trail, to open a way. But this is not the place to launch a disputation on the various possible modes of ethical statement. Rather, what I wish to do is to describe just one of those modes, and to reveal, as far as possible, its full reach: that team of four, the basic virtues, which, as a fine classical phrase put it, can enable man to attain the furthest potentialities of his nature.

In this realm, originality of thought and diction is of small importance—should, in fact, be distrusted. It can hardly be expected that there will be entirely new insights on such a subject. We may well turn to the wisdom of the ancients in our human quest to understand reality, for that wisdom contains a truly inexhaustible contemporaneity.

The intention of this book is to reveal some of that contemporaneity. Some readers may wonder why, in my effort to revive a classical heritage, I so often cite a certain medieval writer, Thomas Aquinas. I do so not from a more or less accidental historical interest, but because I believe that the testimony of the universal teacher of a still undivided Western Christianity has a special value.

This lies not so much in his personal genius as in the truly creative selflessness with which he expressed the vast, contrapuntal range of possible statements about the cosmos—even as he recognized and called upon his readers to go beyond the limitations of his own vision. Marked though this thought is by an altogether extraordinary grasp and the most disciplined, dynamic, and penetrating independent thinking, there yet speaks through it less the individual writer, Thomas Aquinas, than the voice of the great tradition of human wisdom itself.

The interpreter, in these latter days, invokes this tradition in the hope of seeming less ridiculous as he boldly drafts a moral standard for humanity which he, in his own daily life, is utterly unable to meet.

In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent. Our uneasiness and alienation would be only the greater if we were to take the proposition as seriously as it is meant.

But we have grown accustomed to disregarding such hierarchic rankings among spiritual and ethical qualities. This is especially true for the virtues.

We assume that they are allegories, and that there is really no need to assign them an order of rank. We tend to think that it does not matter at all which of the four cardinal virtues may have drawn first prize in the lottery arranged by scholastic theologians.

Yet the fact is that nothing less than the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man rests upon the pre-eminence of prudence over the other virtues. The structural framework of Occidental Christian metaphysics as a whole stands revealed, perhaps more plainly than in any other single ethical dictum, in the proposition that prudence is the foremost of the virtues. That structure is built thus: that Being precedes Truth, and that Truth precedes the Good. Since this is so, 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. It may denote the beginning of an incomprehension of the fundamentals of Christian teaching in regard to the nature of reality. To the contemporary mind, prudence seems less a prerequisite to goodness than an evasion of it.

The statement that it is prudence which makes an action good strikes us as well-nigh ridiculous. Should we hear it said, 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, the bonum utile , than to the ideal of nobility, the bonum honestum.

In colloquial use, prudence always carries the connotation of timorous, small-minded self-preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself. Neither of these traits is compatible with nobility; both are unworthy of the noble man. It is therefore difficult for us to understand that the second cardinal virtue, justice, and all that is included in the word, can be said to derive from prudence. Certainly the common mind regards prudence and fortitude as virtually contradictory ideas. A prudent man is thought to be one who avoids the embarrassing situation of having to be brave.

The prudent man is the clever tactician who contrives to escape personal commitment. Those who shun danger are wont to account for their attitude by appealing to the necessity for prudence.

To the modern way of thinking, there seems to be a more obvious connection between prudence and the fourth cardinal virtue, that of temperance. But here too we will discover, if we dig deeper, that both these virtues are being beheld in quite a different light from the original great conception of them. For temperance, the disciplining of the instinctive craving for pleasure, was never meant to be exercised to induce a quietistic, philistine dullness.

Yet this is what is implied in common phrases about prudent moderation. That implication comes to the surface when people sneer at the noble daring of a celibate life, or the rigors of real fasting.

They will speak scornfully of such practices as imprudent exaggerations. In similar wise, they will condemn the forthright wrath of fortitude as aggressiveness. To the contemporary mind, then, the concept of the good rather excludes than includes prudence. Modern man cannot conceive of a good act which might not be imprudent, nor of a bad act which might not be prudent.

He will often call lies and cowardice prudent, truthfulness and courageous sacrifice imprudent. Omnis virtus moralis debet esse prudens —All virtue is necessarily prudent. The general ethical attitudes of our era, as revealed in the conventions of everyday language, are shared by systematic moral theology—it is difficult to say which takes the lead, which is the follower. Perhaps both express a deeper process of spiritual change.

At any rate, there is no doubt about the result: modern religious teachings have little or nothing to say about the place of prudence in life or in the hierarchy of virtues. Even the modern moral theologian who claims, or aspires, to be a follower of classical theology, displays this same uneasiness about prudence.

Classical theology has been forced to resort to an immense variety of concepts and images in order to systematize the place of prudence and define its meaning with some degree of clarity. The very laboriousness of the definitions indicates that the classical theologians were here dealing with an essential problem of meaning and hierarchy, that the ordering of the virtues was not accidental.

Prudence is needed if man is to carry through his impulses and instincts for right acting, if he is to purify his naturally good predispositions and make them into real virtue, that is, into the truly human mode of perfected ability. Prudence is the " measure " of justice, of fortitude, of temperance. The work of art is true and real by its correspondence with the pattern of its prototype in the mind of the artist.

In similar fashion, the free activity of man is good by its correspondence with the pattern of prudence. What is prudent and what is good are substantially one and the same; they differ only in their place in the logical succession of realization.

For whatever is good must first have been prudent. Prudence " informs the other virtues; it confers upon them the form of their inner essence. This dictum expresses the same idea in different manner. The immanent essential form" of goodness, however, is in its very essence formed after that prototype, patterned after that pre-form. And so prudence imprints the inward seal of goodness upon all free activity of man.

Ethical virtue is the print and seal placed by prudence upon volition and action. Here is a statement that has become virtually incomprehensible to people of today. And every sin is opposed to prudence. Injustice, cowardice, intemperance are in direct opposition to the virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance; ultimately, however, through all these virtues, they run counter to prudence.

Thus prudence is cause, root, mother, measure, precept, guide, and prototype of all ethical virtues; it acts in all of them, perfecting them to their true nature; all participate in it, and by virtue of this participation they are virtues. The intrinsic goodness of man—and that 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.

The same idea is expressed in the liturgy of the Church in the following manner, in the words of prayer: Deus, qui errantibus, ut in viam possint redire justitiae, veritatis tuae lumen ostendis —God, Thou showest the erring the light of Thy truth, that they may return to the way of justice. Whoever rejects truth, whether natural or supernatural, is really wicked and beyond conversion. Reason means to him nothing other than regard for and openness to reality, and acceptance of reality.

And truth is to him nothing other than the unveiling and revelation of reality, of both natural and supernatural reality. Reason perfected in the cognition of truth is therefore the receptivity of the human spirit, to which the revelation of reality, both natural and supernatural reality, has given substance. And therefore the pre-eminence of prudence signifies first of all the direction of volition and action toward truth; but finally it signifies the directing of volition and action toward objective reality.

The good is prudent beforehand; but that is prudent which is in keeping with reality. He alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is. The pre-eminence of prudence means that so-called good intention and so-called meaning well by no means suffice. The prudent decisions, which, when realized, shape our free action, are fed from two sources: It is necessary for the prudent man to know both the universal principles of reason and the singulars with which ethical action is concerned.

The universal principles of practical intellect are given man through synderesis. In the dictates of natural conscience the most generalized cognition of the essence of the good becomes an imperative. That the good must be loved and made reality —this sentence with what follows directly from it is the message given us by natural conscience. It expresses the common goals of all human action. Prudence, however, is not concerned directly with the ultimate—natural and supernatural—ends of human life, but with the means to these ends.

The special nature of prudence is its concern with the realm of ways and means and down-to-earth realities.


Four Cardinal Virtues, The

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Four Cardinal Virtues

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