Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cardinal Virtues

It has been a crazy-busy week! In my intro course am currently teaching medieval accounts of goodness, virtue, law, and happiness (mostly focusing on Aquinas), before moving on to early modern philosophy, so I've been thinking a lot recently of the cardinal virtues. They're found in Plato, they're found in Aristotle, and they're also found here, a source that's often forgotten, but that has been an important influence on accounts of them for centuries:

NAB: If riches are desirable in life, what is richer than Wisdom, who produces all things? And if prudence is at work, who in the world is a better artisan than she? Or if one loves righteousness, whose works are virtues, She teaches moderation and prudence, righteousness and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful than these.

KJV: If riches be a possession to be desired in this life; what is richer than wisdom, that worketh all things? And if prudence work; who of all that are is a more cunning workman than she? And if a man love righteousness her labours are virtues: for she teacheth temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude: which are such things, as men can have nothing more profitable in their life.


  1. Brandon, I was about mention that you forgot the citation (Wis 8:5-7) but then I noticed what you said about the "forgotten source."

    Indeed, the virtues are also on my mind a lot these days. I'm currently writing an article using Aristotle's virtue theory to build a toy model of the virtues similar to your Care Bears example. With my modest knowledge of video editing, perhaps I could even make a video useful as a teaching aid.

    Recently, two virtues in particular I've been interested in exploring are "kindness" and "playfulness."

    I was puzzled when I couldn't find a mention of kindness, helping others in need, in Aristotle's description of the virtues in the "Nicomachean Ethics." Later on, I noticed I overlooked Aristotle's passing mention of kindness in book II of the "Rhetoric." Aquinas doesn't specifically deal with "kindness," but I'd imagine that the virtue of beneficence, which he groups under the theological virtue of "charity," is similar.

    My concern with playfulness (eutrapalia) is mainly its broadness, whether in addition to humor and games it includes festivity (parties, celebrations).

  2. branemrys11:35 AM

    Glad to hear that we'll get some more along these lines!

    Translation is always the hardest part of virtue ethics: we are always negotiating Greek and Latin as well as English. Eunoia, which I think is the word Aristotle uses, is usually translated into Latin as benevolentia; but this seems somewhat weaker (cp. ST 2-2.27.2)than what we usually mean. So I suspect that you are right that beneficence is closer -- it's like benevolence, but actually involves doing something. Perhaps we can see them as the difference between kindness as 'regarding people kindly' vs. kindness as 'doing kind things for people'.

    Eutrapelia essentially involves doing the pleasant simply in order to have relaxation from studious attention, so to the extent that celebration, parties and the like do this, they would fall under the scope of eutrapelia, I think.


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