4.8, The Cardinal Virtues as Guides

For he who goes in for production there must be a model to aim at. Aristotle calls this the practically wise (prudent) man.

From Aristotle: “Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.”

Are you looking for a model? Look for the practically wise. The Greek is phronesis. The Latin is prudentia. The reason practical is emphasized is that down here on this ole’ clod there is only relative stability and always an ingredient of volatility. The practically wise man chooses well amidst such minimal instability.

Do you not find him nearby? My suggestion? Ask and ye shall receive…seek and ye shall find…knock and the door shall be open. There is mystery here, but what the Greek philosophical tradition asserted was something that coincided with the above Jesus of Nazareth expectation: the possibility of self-development. And this required spending time with and putting attention on the model. The Greek tradition defined the human as the rational animal. We (who do I mean?), in our faux confidence supported by the unlocking of material energy and the production of material comfort and excess, have treated rational as if it were necessarily actual.

Woe to us. It never was. It is only most actual in the sense that the reality of humanity is in the achievement. What is most true is that I am more and more mere animal the less and less of the rational that I produce. It is, in my material, potential. I can take the shape of rational. It is possible. I have that potential. But the great undertone of Aristotle is the constant repetition of aim, action, training, practice. He speaks of the wrestler, the physician, the poet, the musician. And he speaks of the human. ALL of them an achievement.

In me is the possibility of the production of what is most valuable–virtue. Let us name the four foundational virtues. There are more, and I will not claim completeness. BUT, what have come to be known as the four cardinal virtues have a kind of sufficiency to direct much training for the foreseeable future.

What does a potential intellect, instantiated in body, need to produce, in order to move well through a minimally unstable and changing reality? The body is made up of parts and thus can come apart. It also is planned with sensors that indicate to it what is to be moved toward and stayed away from. At minimum then what the potential intellect instantiated in body needs is clarity of view about what it is confronted with, restraint in its pursuit of what is in its favor, stalwartness in confrontation with what threatens it, and a sense of the respect that is due to other potential intellects that it encounters such that those intellects are not ignored but treated as potential intellects instantiated in body. These are prudence, temperance, courage and justice.

Memorize the names. Develop in your imagination how the being instantiated by those ideas acts. And take a step into the training field which is today and now. The great gift is the ever-present all-pervasive opportunity for training. A word on each for some initiation of meditation.

Prudence (phronesis in Grk.) is an intellectual virtue (arete in Grk. which means excellence). The prudent man sees clearly and thus has insight into what is before him. He sees it for what it is and his seeing involves a weighing of the value of a thing such that his choice is infused by value. The prudent man is sensitive to time, place, context. This is a matter of the eye but the eye of the mind. It is best described analogically as a kind of seeing or hearing. But, it is a seeing or hearing of value and hierarchy. When the prudent man walks in the grocery store he sees the sugar isles for what they are. How he feels is another matter. But he sees the relative disvalue in excess calorie.

Temperance is a moral virtue. That a virtue is moral instead of intellectual means that it deals with feeling and acting states and not thinking states. It is a power of soul that harnesses (not as a distinct master but as an infused or mixed with harnessing) the pleasurable. The living body leans toward that which it takes to be good for it. Easy examples? Sex. Sugar. Security. So much of our activity is encompassed in these. The human animal has a way of resting in the perceived good. And here-in lies the risk. There can be too much of a bodily good thing. Temperance is not willed restraint. It is an alteration of pleasurable feeling such that one can act well around what would terminate in rest. It is a matter of feeling not willing.

The same is true for courage. It is a moral virtue. Temperance is a readiness in character for the appearance of what is perceived as good. Courage is a readiness in character for the appearance of what is perceived as bad or evil. Courage is not necessary for the distant evil. Courage is necessary for the approach to evil. Courage is not a willed state. Courage is an alteration of the feeling of fear such that it manifests differently than in would without courage. Courage is infused with the feelings associated with the confrontation of what is dangerous to bodily integrity.

Finally, justice. Justice is a virtue in Aristotle. We treat it as if it were a principle of institutional structure. But ultimately, it is giving men their due that is required for the instantiation of justice in institutions. So, at base, it is a virtue. Justice, as a virtue, enables one to weigh well action in trade and distribution of reward and punishment. What does he who has produced this deserve? What if this is a good? What if this is an evil? What is he owed? Justice is often portrayed as a scale. Equality (let us not ruin that magnificent term with our modern or post-modern demands) in giving and taking is in justice. One has to give and take well, to trade well, to interact well, to distribute well. All of this is in action. Justice is virtue not of thinking or of feeling but of action.

So, for he would wants to make progress on the road of the production of virtue without setting timetables and leaving aside expectations about when. First is to lock on a vision of what is to be produced. He who is to be produced is prudent, temperate, courageous and just. He will both endure trouble best and endure prosperity best. He will be real. He will be solid enough for others to depend on. He will be a light in darkness. He will be.

Next, a paradox. I will take the notion of production, and these specific virtues, and produce a knot that I can not untie. And I will argue for the rationality of the paradox. It is not something to balk at but to move toward. More soon.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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