Four Cardinal Virtues


Four Cardinal Virtues Essay, Research Paper

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 person?s 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 else?s 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 have rights and

must respect each other?s rights. For example: if I am asked by another person

to do a certain job for him for a specific amount of money and we do this

through mutual agreement, then that person is obliged to pay me. There are many

other factors that play a role in this situation, however considering that I do

the job to fulfill what we agreed on, then that person owes me a certain due. It

is unjust if that person does not pay what he promised me if I gave him what I

said I would. This very simple situation brings justice in to play, and justice

is the reason that I now have something due to me. If that person is a just

person then he will pay me. Humans deal with each other in everyday life in many

situations. Usually justice is the basic element that builds trust between

individuals. If I see someone act in an unjust manner then I will not be

inclined to trust that person. In order for us to trust and respect each other

we must learn to be just with one another. Once a person develops the notion to

act justly and not try to hurt another person, then he or she has taken a big

step forward towards fulfilling the Christian image of man. Then it becomes

necessary to move on and try to develop and attain the next virtue towards

becoming a Christian human, which is fortitude. I will now move on to explain

what fortitude is and its role in the process of becoming a Christian being. I

will also show how this virtue is dependent on the previous two, prudence and

justice. This next virtue, fortitude, is the one that interested me the most in

our study of the four virtues. The reason it interested me so much is because of

what it explains in human beings? actions. The virtue of fortitude is the one

virtue that deals with suffering and injury; but deals with it in a manner where

it justifies humans? death in certain situations. This may sound very

complicated; but it is really very simple and is crucial in the process of

fulfilling the ideal Christian image of man. Fortitude is the readiness to give

up ones life, suffer injury, and be brave in the name of something that is just

and moral. ?Fortitude is basically readiness to die or, more accurately,

readiness to fall, to die, in battle.? However, the battle must be one that is

for a just and moral cause. If a human believes that there is injustice and

immorality in any sort, then he or she must fight against the injustice and

immorality no matter how much pain and suffering they face. The ultimate test of

fortitude would be death for a good cause. I have already written a short paper

on this specific issue. Death is considered to be the ultimate test of fortitude

due 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 is

an important aspect of fortitude. When a human being is suffering injury in the

name of God, he or she does not do it just for the sake of the injury. People

who withstand pain, suffering, and ultimately death do it for the idea that they

cannot live in a society where injustice is O.K. This does not mean that a

martyr perceives life as of little worth; a martyr faces an outstanding fear of

entering the unknowable for the idea that humans must not live amongst

injustice. Humans must be able to recognize any type of injustice around them

and act to change that injustice into the good. God puts us on earth so that we

may live just, moral, and good lives. This is not possible unless we all

recognize 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 the

rest of society that we must not go on with injustice as a part of life. Humans

have the power to become good men and women through just and moral thinking. If

a person gives up his or her life for a cause, then this should tell us that

something is wrong and it must be altered. When a person gives up his or her

life for something, this means that the person was not able to go on living

experiencing the immorality and injustice that was occurring. Many of the

injustices that occur in today?s society are due to humans not knowing or

understanding the need to know ourselves and be able to comprehend what is good

not only for ourselves but for the rest of society. Many times these injustices

occur due to humans not being able to control their desires, which leads to

unnecessary beliefs and actions. The final virtue of temperance is the one that

deals with the issue of desire. This next virtue tries to explain how humans

need to be in order for us to fulfill the Christian image of man. I will now

move on to briefly talk about this virtue and show its importance in the process

of becoming an ideal Christian. Temperance is a virtue that we have not studied

as closely as the other three. This virtue deals with the difficult task of

humans being able to give things for our well being. The main theme of

temperance is selfless self-preservation. What this means is that humans must be

able to act in good manner for their own good. For example, if I love to eat

chocolate and do it everyday, I must be able to control my desire for chocolate

be 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 of

something not only are they affecting their own selves, they are also affecting

the rest of society. We live in a country where food and drinks are not that

hard to find; in fact we have too much of it and waste a lot of it. While we are

wasting all this food, there are people in other parts of the world whom

sometimes go a whole day without anything healthy to eat. This is a perfect

example of the type of injustices we are living amongst. Temperance teaches

humans to know themselves and have inner knowledge of what they really

?need? and what we consume. Humans must understand that we can be selfless

or selfish. If we act selfishly then we are not caring about the rest of society

and are only looking to please ourselves only. On the other hand, a selfless

person is one who recognizes that there are other people around us and

understand that whatever we do may affect the rest of society. ?For man there

are 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.? This

piece of text shows the fact that the sole thing that can throw a person into

destruction is the self. In other words it is our self-being that controls what

happens around us. If we want to live in a just, moral, and good society then

our self-being can see that this occurs. ?Most difficult to grasp is the fact

that it is indeed the essential human self that is capable of throwing itself

into disorder to the point of self-destruction.? This is the one unique and

distinct point in the virtue of temperance. This virtue is the only virtue that

deals with the human self. ?Temperantia is distinguished from the other

cardinal virtues by the fact that it refers exclusively to the active man

himself. Prudence looks to all existent reality; justice to the fellow man; the

man of fortitude relinquishes, in self-forgetfulness, his own possessions and

his life. Temperance, on the other hand, aims at each man himself.? To sum

things up, I have tried to show how a person who attains these four cardinal

virtues can become the ideal Christian being. This does not mean you have to be

Christian in order to attain these virtues, because when we say the ideal

Christian being, we mean a good person. All humans who attain these four virtues

are people who have dedicated their self-being and life to do what God asks from

all of us. What I have tried to show is how these four virtues are distinct from

each other but yet so dependent and connected with one another. Humans must

understand that we are not living our lives so that we may enjoy pleasure and

wealth at the expense of the rest of society. We are all on earth together and

everything we do affects each other. Therefore we must try our hardest to only

involve ourselves in good action; in this way our action will affect the rest of

society in only a good manner. I have also tried to express the importance of

understanding what the good is. Humans are good in nature; sometimes it is our

surroundings that make us act immorally and in a bad fashion. This is why it is

necessary to always try and keep a good surrounding. This can be achieved if all

humans attain the four cardinal virtues. Therefore, in order to live in a

society that is full of nothing but justice, morality, and good; we must all

work towards fulfilling the Christian image of man. This can be achieved simply

by attaining the ?Four Cardinal Virtues.?

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