NOTES for “The Four Cardinal Virtues” Prudence: The virtue of prudence is the mold and mother of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. For Pieper the fact that people feel strange when they hear the discussion of prudence occur indicates that they are genuinely lost in terms of the relationship to Western culture. “…there is a larger significance in the fact that people today can respond to this assertion of the pre-eminence of prudence only with incomprehension and uneasiness. That they feel it as strange may well reveal a deeper-seated and more total estrangement.
It may mean that they no longer feel the binding force of the Christian Occidental view of man. ” Often people think of prudence as something which is utilitarian. “We tend to misunderstand the phrase, and take it as a tribute to undisguised utilitarianism. For we think of prudence as far more akin to the idea of mere utility…then to the ideal of nobility. ” For Pieper prudence can only occur with goodness. “Prudence is part and parcel of the definition of goodness…. All virtue is necessarily prudent. ” “Prudence is the cause of the other virtues being virtues at all.
For example, there may be kind of instinctive governance of instinctual craving; but only prudence transforms this instinctive governance into the “virtue” of temperance. Virtue is a “perfectibility” of man as a spiritual person; and Justice, fortitude, and temperance, as “abilities” of the whole man, achieve their “perfection” only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfect ability to make right decisions. ” “Prudence informs the other virtues; it confers upon them the form of their inner essence. ” “Ethical virtue is the print and seal placed by prudence upon volition and action. “The intrinsic goodness of man – and this is the same as saying his true humanness – consists in this, that “reason perfected in the cognition of truth” shall inwardly shape and imprint his volition and action. ” If you don’t know your own motives and you do not know the other’s motives and you can’t exercise prudence. “…realization of the good presupposes knowledge of reality. He alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is. ”10 Human beings have the ability to recognize the good as part of a collection of equipment that they have simply by being human. The universal principles of practical intellect are given by man through synderisis – that part of conscience which concerns the most general and fundamental naturally apprehended principles of ethical conduct, and which therefore may be designated as innate conscience, or natural conscience, or primary conscience.
”10 When one develops an ability to see the reality of situations one knows immediately what has to be done. But this is a talent which is developed through the habit of looking carefully and honestly at situations. “In the dictates of natural conscience the most generalized cognition of the essence of the good becomes imperative. That the good must be loved and made reality” – this sentence… is the message given us by natural conscience. It expresses the common goals of all human action. ” A combination of synderisis and prudence is what Pieper recognizes as our conscience. Prudence is organized around a fundamental cognition which is knowledge based, as well as an awareness of the situation. Thus the prudent person has some general understandings of what constitutes appropriate reactions and circumstances as well as the ability to detect the specifics of an individual occasion where action choices are available. Prudence looks two ways… it is cognitive and decides…. Turned toward reality,… toward action. But the cognitive aspect is prior and sets a standard…. Prudent decision rests upon the revaluation of preceding true cognitions…. Immediately directed toward concrete realization. ” 11 There are three elements involved in the exercise of prudence: “the formal mechanism of the transformation of true knowledge into prudent decisions… are: liberation, judgment, decision. ” It is this that marks the distinction between prudence and casuistry.
Casuistic reasoning, also a long tradition in Christianity, attempted to make sense of right and wrong after-the-fact through evaluation of the subtleties associated with the situation. Prudence involves the immediate exercise of the decision. It’s not the sort of thing where you try to rationalize your choice afterword – it’s an immediate sense of what must be done, which can only occur as the result of practiced engagement in virtue. There are various types of Imprudence, including thoughtlessness, irresoluteness, agitatedness, and inexperiencedness. the person who plunges head over heels into decision and action, without proper consideration, is being imprudent in the mode of thoughtlessness. … Irresoluteness…leads to deliberation and judgment tumbling uselessly into futility instead of pouring usefully into the finality of a decision…( prudence requires) the ability to be still in order to attain objective perception of reality… there is in addition the patient effort of experience which cannot be evaded or replaced. 13 In order to exercise prudence one must learn to silently contemplate one’s reality this involves three skills memoria (having a clear recollection of what actually has happened – think about those people whose memories are false: how can they be prudent? ) it is by virtue of the ability to honestly remember, such a challenge for any of us that Pieper reminds us that prudence is an arduous good a bonum arduum – he means that we have to fight for it, really to fight our very selves in order to possess. the falsification of recollection by the assent or negation of the will is memory’s worst fault; for it most directly frustrates its primary function: to be a “container” of the truth of real things…. There is no more insidious way for error to establish itself than by this falsification of the memory through slight retouches, displacements, discolorations, omissions, shifts of accent. ” 15 A second talent for docility, docilitas, which is the ability to take advice and look carefully at situations unfettered by any presuppositions of one’s own understanding. A closed minded and know-it-allness are fundamentally forms of resistance to the truth of real things; both reveal the incapacity of the subject to practice that silence which is the absolute prerequisite to all perception of reality. ”16 The third talent involves clear-headedness, solertia. Only with this can the individual look carefully at his situation and make a decision unfettered by fear and such other factors which might cause a failure to look honestly at the situation and decide forcefully.
Pieper regards this as objectivity in unexpected situations – he even recognizes that physical or psychic illness can make it impossible to exercise this talent effectively. “a ‘perfectibility,’ by virtue of which man, when confronted with a sudden event, does not close his eyes by reflex and then blindly… take random action. Rather,… he can swiftly… decide for the good, avoiding the pitfalls of injustice, cowardice, and intemperance. 16 With prudence comes the ability to recognize the consequences of one’s actions and in that sense to predict he future. “the first prerequisite for the perfection of prudence is providentia, 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. ”18 However this ability to see the future is only partial, and so it requires certain of the other virtues, such as courage in order to engage itself effectively. “man, then, when he comes to a decision, cannot ever be sufficiently prescient nor can he wait until logic affords him absolute certainty.
If he waited for that, he would never come to a decision; he would remain in a state of inclusiveness, unless he chose to make shift with a deceptive certitude. The prudent man does not expect certainty where it does not exist, nor on the other hand does he deceive himself by false certainties. ” 18 Much later in the text Pieper will describe how a surrender to sensuality paralyzes the person – he means by this that such surrender puts us in a mindset where we can think of our bodily pleasures as if they exist on the same plane as our ethical pleasures. He refers to this sort of surrender as unchastity.
This is much like being a kid in a candy store, and we also understand it in relation to things like alcohol: effectively once we become consumed by the sensory pleasures we treat them as if they hold the same status as our ethical pleasures. This might be why a father chooses to drink on a Saturday afternoon instead of driving his son to a baseball game. If you think of the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” you see a workplace example associated with your field of study. The main character allows herself to indulge in the pleasures of fashion and loses her ability to make best choices regarding friends and lovers, for example.
The pleasures themselves have become, Pieper would say, part of the reasoning process. On page 33 he will say that you have to learn to listen faithfully to your natural conscience, and that your ability to be chaste (that is, your ability to eschew pleasures) is fundamental to your ability to listen. “we are astonished, and yet to some extent we understand, when Thomas Aquinas discovers that these imprudences of “omission” have their origin in unchastity, in that surrender to the goods of the sensual world which splits the power of decision in two. ”19 “the virtue of prudence, presumes real seeking of the goal of man….
It therefore not only presupposes the voice of the natural conscience… but also the response of the will to this imperative pronouncement: primal affirmation of the good as the aim of all one’s actions. ” 33 Both Pieper and Thomas Aquinas take a strong stance against cunning and its relation to prudence. A person who is able to speak and act in a cunning way is able to falsify the circumstances under which an ethical consideration can be made. That is to say where cunning exists the opportunity to choose genuine happiness becomes clouded. We can see this clearly in relationship to cosmetics and feminine identity, for example.
Cunning in the media causes the young woman to mistake where her greatest assets are located – to imagine that cosmetics and appearance are the foundation of her character as a woman. It is a genuine problem for professional communicators who work in the corporate and public sector to manage their professional activities with regard to prudence, eschewing cunning. “instead of serving the true end of all of human life, this (false) prudence is directed solely toward the goods of the body… cunning is the most characteristic form of false prudence….
The intriguer who has regard only for “tactics,” who can neither face things squarely nor act straightforwardly…. The meaning, or rather the folly, of cunning consists in this: that the loquacious and therefore unhearing bias of the “tactician”… obstructs the path of realization, blocks it off from the truth of real things. ” 19-20 Pieper is astonished by St. Thomas Aquinas’s recognition that these false prudences arise from covetousness and are by nature akin to it. Essentially the insight suggest that, when you are greedy for things, you lose your true prudence.
At that point, a falsification of the virtue emerges – one that people use to get jobs they will ultimately hate, partners they will not get along with, and material objects that they ultimately have no ability or time to enjoy. “covetousness here means… immoderate straining for all the possessions which man thinks are needed to assure his own importance and status… Covetousness means an anxious senility, desperate self-preservation, overriding concern for confirmation and security….
Without a youthful spirit of brave trust and, as it were, a reckless tossing away of anxious self-preservation, a relinquishment of all egoistic bias toward mere confirmation of the self; how utterly, therefore, the virtue of prudence is dependent upon the constant readiness to ignore the self, the limberness of real humility and objectivity? ”21 Pieper is telling us above that, when we seek security from others, when we worry about keeping our jobs and maintaining the status quo we render ourselves in a position from which we cannot make our best choices.
Effectively he is saying you have to be willing to let it all go in order to always be ready to make the right choices. This is a little reminiscent of those movie scenes in which a person is compelled to make a decision, and their failure to make a decision because they don’t want to take a risk causes them to lose everything. Prudence is not however associated with following specific rules. If the rules were all you needed than prudence would not be necessary all you would need would be obedience. “we do not achieve the good by slavishly and literally following certain prescriptions which have been blindly and arbitrarily set forth. 24 bottom Pieper wants to make a radical distinction between prudence and casuistry. Casuistry is the historical method for the interpretation of the relative conditions that apply in determining the appropriateness of action, in terms of its sinfulness within Christianity and in terms of its ethical character otherwise. Prudence, on the other hand is always expressed spontaneously, never reflectively after the fact – which is when casuistry usually occurs; within Catholicism in relation to the confessional in particular.
The difference is an important one because contemporary ethical reason has placed significant authority in casuistry. In particular, contemporary ethical reason argues for such things as situation based judgment of action. This form of judgment is also after-the-fact and presumes the authority of an independent agent to authorize the action taken. For example, within the church the priest or the bishop was the casuist. This implied that they held some authority over the rightness or wrongness (sinfulness) of a church member’s actions.
In the same way, the use of casuistry in a contemporary context, privileges the authority of other people in judging the actions of the individual. The ethicist, for example, becomes the person in a professional context who can decide which actions are ethical for the employees. While this is a perspective for the ethical, it is radically distinct from virtue ethics – because in virtue ethics the individual is committed to this decision-making irrespective of any interpretations of other people. “The imperative of prudence is always and in essence a decision regarding and actions to be performed in the “here and now. By their very nature such decisions can be made only by the person confronted with decision. No one can be deputized to make them. No one else can make them instead. Certainly, no one can be deputized to take the responsibility which is the inseparable companion of decision. No one else can assume this burden. ” 27 bottom According to Pieper, the only circumstance under which another person can assist in making an ethical decision is under the sign of friendship. According to Pieper if you are a friend then your love for your friend makes their problem your problem.
But Pieper goes on to remind us that this has nothing to do with sentimental intimacy – you do not have the ability to counsel somebody else just because you are emotionally bonded to them. Instead the friendship is both genuine and loving in a specific sense: the sense he refers to as amor amicitae, a friend’s love. Sometimes this is referred to in a contemporary context as tough love, because it includes that sense of friendship which wants the best for the other and which knows that that best can only occur through the exercise of prudence in the situation. There is no way of grasping the concreteness of a man’s ethical decisions from outside. But no, there is a certain way, a single way: that is through the love of friendship. A friend and a prudent friend, can help to shape a friend’s decision. He does so by virtue of that love which makes the friend’s problem his own, the friends ego his own (so that after all it is not entirely “from outside”). For by virtue of that oneness which love can establish he is all able to visualize the concrete situation calling for decision, visualize it from, as it were, the actual center of responsibility.
Therefore it is possible for a friend – only for a friend and only for prudent friend – to help with counsel and direction to shape a friend’s decision or, somewhat in the manner of a judge, help to reshape it. ” When Pieper discusses charity as a theological virtue, he renders our own access to it problematic (because we are not looking at these issues from the perspective of the Church). At the same time it is possible to grasp the significance of this, as he calls it, “theological virtue” in terms of its relationship to the classical Greek notion of eudaimon, understood as “a life that is self-sufficient, lacking in nothing. To be within the experience of eudaimon is not merely to experience the psychic happiness associated with one’s individual life. It is rather to sense the completeness of all existence. We are all familiar with this at one level or another. For example, we might have a Thanksgiving dinner and pause as we enjoy family friends and food to think about those people who do not have such blessings. At that moment we cannot say that our lives are self-sufficient and lacking in nothing. We see that as we obtain more of what we need, so do we need to fulfill the needs of others.
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are public examples of this phenomena currently. Both of them have contributed tremendous time resources and financial resources to the suffering of others. Jimmy Carter is another example. “man may become one with God to such an extent that he receives, so to speak, the capacity and the right to see created things from God’s point of view and to “relativize” them and see them as nought from God’s point of view, without at the same time repudiating them or doing injustice to their nature. Growth in love is the legitimate avenue and the one and only justification for “contempt for the world. Unlike this contempt which arises out of growth in love, all contempt for the world which springs from man’s own judgment and opinions, not from the supernatural love of God, is simple arrogance, hostile to the nature of being; it is a form of pride in that it refuses to recognize the ordinary obligations which are made visible to man in created things. ” Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, page 39 Above Pieper is saying that there is a difference between the lazy person who refuses to work and lives in his mother’s basement and the person who moves into a monastery to contemplate.
This is particularly important for those of us who will get involved in a profession. To some extent or other one’s relationship to eudaimon could cause one to have some level of “contempt for the world”. This does not mean that you would refuse to work, for example, in most cases. Rather it means that there are some jobs that you just wouldn’t take, even though they paid more money, because you were able to see a bigger picture than the picture of happiness that says all you need to do is get rich.