The term “virtue” is from Latin and originally meant “strength” or “power”. It is based on the word vir – man.. The ancient Greeks, starting with Homer, praised virtue. Despite the research and time, it is difficult to say precisely where virtue lies. The right measure is very difficult to achieve, and it is often different for different individuals. The idea of “The Golden Mean” is that in our actions we must seek the right measure and proportion. Excess or defect is a departure from virtue.
For these reasons, the Four Cardinal Virtues exist. The four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance are interconnected. This means that if you do not possess one of them, all the others are spoiled, and so you do not possess virtue at all. Prudence is the most important of the four cardinal virtues. The most important part of prudence is knowledge. Thomas Aquinas lists many different components of prudence, but three main ideas exist.
Memory is the order to know the meaning of the present.
Docility states the willingness to remain open to reality and to learn as situations change. Clear Headed decisiveness notes that prudence is not merely knowing what to do, but also in a timely way. Justice is the virtue whereby we give to each person what is due to him, and we do this consistently, promptly and pleasurably. It concerns right relations with others in society. Divisions of justice can be broken down into legal justice, commutative justice, and distributive justice. Each member of society needs to remember to pay back what is owed.
Fortitude is synonymous with courage and bravery. It must be based on justice. The purpose of fortitude is to remove obstacles to justice. In its extreme form, it is the willingness and readiness to risk one’s life for the sake of that which is just. Perserverance or standing firm is the most necessary part of fortitude, and the most common. The person who indulges in pleasure and always avoids discomfort will be unwilling to put up with the sadness he must experience if he is to stand firm in difficulty.
The virtue of temperance governs our appetites for pleasure. By nature we desire the pleasure that is suitable to us. Since man by definition is rational, the pleasures that are in accord with reason are suitable to man. Temperance does not restrain us from the pleasures that are reasonable, but from those that are contrary to our reason. Temperance does not act against our natural human inclinations, but works with them. Temperance is opposed to the inclinations of nature when they are like a beast that is not ruled by reason.