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Book: Four Cardinal Virtues
Author: Josef Pieper
Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York, pp.206

Excerpt from Preface:

When Agathon in Plato's Symposium take his turn at making a speech in praise of Love, he organizes his ideas around the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. 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. This particular intellectual framework, the formula which is called the "doctrine of virtue," was one of the great discoveries in the history of man's self-understanding, and it has continued to be part and parcel of the European mind. 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. Augustine)

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 not doubt necessary undertaking.

With a doctrine of commandments or duties, however, there is always the danger of arbitrarily drawing up a list of requirements an losing sight of the human person wh "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. . . .

Excerpt from Book:

Clear Sightedness (a quality of prudence) is a perfected ability, by virtue of which man, when confronted with a sudden event, does not close his eyes by reflex and then blindly, though perhaps boisterously, take random action. Rather, with the aid of clear sightedness he can swiftly, but with open eyes and clear-sighted vision, decide for the good, avoiding the pitfalls of injustice, cowardice, and intemperance. Without this virtue of "objectivity in unexpected situations" perfect prudence is not possible.

. . . . The prudent man who issues imperatives makes resolutions and decisions however, fixes his attention precisely upon what has "not yet" been realized, what is still to be realized. The first prerequisite for the perfection of "prudence as imperative" is, therefore, foresight. By this is meant the capacity to estimate, with sure instinct for the future, whether a particular action will lead to the realization of the goal.

Table of Contents:


1. The first of the cardinal virtues
2. Knowledge of reality and the realization of the good
3. Delimitations and contrasts
4. Prudence and charity


1. On rights
2. Duty in relation to "the other"
3. The rank of justice
4. The three basic forms of justice
5. Recompense and restitution
6. Distributive justice
7. The limits of justice


1. Readiness to fall in battle
2. Fortitude must not trust itself
3. Endurance and attack
4. Vital, moral, mystic fortitude


1. Temperance and moderation
2, Selfless self-preservation
3. Chastity and unchastity
4. Virginity
5. On fasting
6. The sense of touch
7. Humility
8. The power of wrath
9. Disciplining the eyes
10. The fruits of temperance