QUESTION 61: OF THE CARDINAL VIRTUES
We must now consider the cardinal virtues: under which head there are
five points of inquiry:
(1) Whether the moral virtues should be called cardinal or principal
(2) Of their number;
(3) Which are they?
(4) Whether they differ from one another?
(5) Whether they are fittingly divided into social, perfecting, perfect,
and exemplar virtues?
Article 1: Whether the moral virtues should be called cardinal or principal virtues?
Objection 1: It would seem that moral virtues should not be called cardinal or
principal virtues. For "the opposite members of a division are by nature
simultaneous" (Categor. x), so that one is not principal rather than
another. Now all the virtues are opposite members of the division of the
genus "virtue." Therefore none of them should be called principal.
Objection 2: Further, the end is principal as compared to the means. But the
theological virtues are about the end; while the moral virtues are about
the means. Therefore the theological virtues, rather than the moral
virtues, should be called principal or cardinal.
Objection 3: Further, that which is essentially so is principal in comparison
with that which is so by participation. But the intellectual virtues
belong to that which is essentially rational: whereas the moral virtues
belong to that which is rational by participation, as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore the intellectual virtues are principal, rather than
the moral virtues.
On the contrary, Ambrose in explaining the words, "Blessed are the poor
in spirit" (Lk. 6:20) says: "We know that there are four cardinal
virtues, viz. temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude." But these
are moral virtues. Therefore the moral virtues are cardinal virtues.
I answer that, When we speak of virtue simply, we are understood to
speak of human virtue. Now human virtue, as stated above (Question , Article ),
is one that answers to the perfect idea of virtue, which requires
rectitude of the appetite: for such like virtue not only confers the
faculty of doing well, but also causes the good deed done. On the other
hand, the name virtue is applied to one that answers imperfectly to the
idea of virtue, and does not require rectitude of the appetite: because
it merely confers the faculty of doing well without causing the good deed
to be done. Now it is evident that the perfect is principal as compared
to the imperfect: and so those virtues which imply rectitude of the
appetite are called principal virtues. Such are the moral virtues, and
prudence alone, of the intellectual virtues, for it is also something of
a moral virtue, as was clearly shown above (Question , Article ). Consequently,
those virtues which are called principal or cardinal are fittingly placed
among the moral virtues.
Reply to Objection 1: When a univocal genus is divided into its species, the
members of the division are on a par in the point of the generic idea;
although considered in their nature as things, one species may surpass
another in rank and perfection, as man in respect of other animals. But
when we divide an analogous term, which is applied to several things, but
to one before it is applied to another, nothing hinders one from ranking
before another, even in the point of the generic idea; as the notion of
being is applied to substance principally in relation to accident. Such
is the division of virtue into various kinds of virtue: since the good
defined by reason is not found in the same way in all things.
Reply to Objection 3: Although the intellectual virtues, except in prudence, rank
before the moral virtues, in the point of their subject, they do not rank
before them as virtues; for a virtue, as such, regards good, which is the
object of the appetite.
Article 2: Whether there are four cardinal virtues?
Objection 1: It would seem that there are not four cardinal virtues. For
prudence is the directing principle of the other moral virtues, as is
clear from what has been said above (Question , Article ). But that which directs
other things ranks before them. Therefore prudence alone is a principal
Objection 2: Further, the principal virtues are, in a way, moral virtues. Now
we are directed to moral works both by the practical reason, and by a
right appetite, as stated in Ethic. vi, 2. Therefore there are only two
Objection 3: Further, even among the other virtues one ranks higher than
another. But in order that a virtue be principal, it needs not to rank
above all the others, but above some. Therefore it seems that there are
many more principal virtues.
On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. ii): "The entire structure of
good works is built on four virtues."
I answer that, Things may be numbered either in respect of their formal
principles, or according to the subjects in which they are: and either
way we find that there are four cardinal virtues.
For the formal principle of the virtue of which we speak now is good as
defined by reason; which good is considered in two ways. First, as
existing in the very act of reason: and thus we have one principal
virtue, called "Prudence." Secondly, according as the reason puts its
order into something else; either into operations, and then we have
"Justice"; or into passions, and then we need two virtues. For the need
of putting the order of reason into the passions is due to their
thwarting reason: and this occurs in two ways. First, by the passions
inciting to something against reason, and then the passions need a curb,
which we call "Temperance." Secondly, by the passions withdrawing us from
following the dictate of reason, e.g. through fear of danger or toil: and
then man needs to be strengthened for that which reason dictates, lest he
turn back; and to this end there is "Fortitude."
In like manner, we find the same number if we consider the subjects of
virtue. For there are four subjects of the virtue we speak of now: viz.
the power which is rational in its essence, and this is perfected by
"Prudence"; and that which is rational by participation, and is
threefold, the will, subject of "Justice," the concupiscible faculty,
subject of "Temperance," and the irascible faculty, subject of
Reply to Objection 1: Prudence is the principal of all the virtues simply. The
others are principal, each in its own genus.
Reply to Objection 2: That part of the soul which is rational by participation is
threefold, as stated above.
Reply to Objection 3: All the other virtues among which one ranks before another,
are reducible to the above four, both as to the subject and as to the
Article 3: Whether any other virtues should be called principal rather than these?
Objection 1: It would seem that other virtues should be called principal
rather than these. For, seemingly, the greatest is the principal in any
genus. Now "magnanimity has a great influence on all the virtues" (Ethic.
iv, 3). Therefore magnanimity should more than any be called a principal
Objection 2: Further, that which strengthens the other virtues should above
all be called a principal virtue. But such is humility: for Gregory says
(Hom. iv in Ev.) that "he who gathers the other virtues without humility
is as one who carries straw against the wind." Therefore humility seems
above all to be a principal virtue.
Objection 3: Further, that which is most perfect seems to be principal. But
this applies to patience, according to James 1:4: "Patience hath a
perfect work." Therefore patience should be reckoned a principal virtue.
On the contrary, Cicero reduces all other virtues to these four (De
Invent. Rhet. ii).
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), these four are reckoned as
cardinal virtues, in respect of the four formal principles of virtue as
we understand it now. These principles are found chiefly in certain acts
and passions. Thus the good which exists in the act of reason, is found
chiefly in reason's command, but not in its counsel or its judgment, as
stated above (Question , Article ). Again, good as defined by reason and put into
our operations as something right and due, is found chiefly in
commutations and distributions in respect of another person, and on a
basis of equality. The good of curbing the passions is found chiefly in
those passions which are most difficult to curb, viz. in the pleasures of
touch. The good of being firm in holding to the good defined by reason,
against the impulse of passion, is found chiefly in perils of death,
which are most difficult to withstand.
Accordingly the above four virtues may be considered in two ways. First,
in respect of their common formal principles. In this way they are called
principal, being general, as it were, in comparison with all the virtues:
so that, for instance, any virtue that causes good in reason's act of
consideration, may be called prudence; every virtue that causes the good
of right and due in operation, be called justice; every virtue that curbs
and represses the passions, be called temperance; and every virtue that
strengthens the mind against any passions whatever, be called fortitude.
Many, both holy doctors, as also philosophers, speak about these virtues
in this sense: and in this way the other virtues are contained under
them. Wherefore all the objections fail.
Secondly, they may be considered in point of their being denominated,
each one from that which is foremost in its respective matter, and thus
they are specific virtues, condivided with the others. Yet they are
called principal in comparison with the other virtues, on account of the
importance of their matter: so that prudence is the virtue which
commands; justice, the virtue which is about due actions between equals;
temperance, the virtue which suppresses desires for the pleasures of
touch; and fortitude, the virtue which strengthens against dangers of
death. Thus again do the objections fail: because the other virtues may
be principal in some other way, but these are called principal by reason
of their matter, as stated above.
Article 4: Whether the four cardinal virtues differ from one another?
Objection 1: It would seem that the above four virtues are not diverse and
distinct from one another. For Gregory says (Moral. xxii, 1): "There is
no true prudence, unless it be just, temperate and brave; no perfect
temperance, that is not brave, just and prudent; no sound fortitude, that
is not prudent, temperate and just; no real justice, without prudence,
fortitude and temperance." But this would not be so, if the above virtues
were distinct from one another: since the different species of one genus
do not qualify one another. Therefore the aforesaid virtues are not
distinct from one another.
Objection 2: Further, among things distinct from one another the function of
one is not attributed to another. But the function of temperance is
attributed to fortitude: for Ambrose says (De Offic. xxxvi): "Rightly do
we call it fortitude, when a man conquers himself, and is not weakened
and bent by any enticement." And of temperance he says (De Offic. xliii,
xlv) that it "safeguards the manner and order in all things that we
decide to do and say." Therefore it seems that these virtues are not
distinct from one another.
Objection 3: Further, the Philosopher says (Ethic. ii, 4) that the necessary
conditions of virtue are first of all "that a man should have knowledge;
secondly, that he should exercise choice for a particular end; thirdly,
that he should possess the habit and act with firmness and
steadfastness." But the first of these seems to belong to prudence which
is rectitude of reason in things to be done; the second, i.e. choice,
belongs to temperance, whereby a man, holding his passions on the curb,
acts, not from passion but from choice; the third, that a man should act
for the sake of a due end, implies a certain rectitude, which seemingly
belongs to justice; while the last, viz. firmness and steadfastness,
belongs to fortitude. Therefore each of these virtues is general in
comparison to other virtues. Therefore they are not distinct from one
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Moribus Eccl. xi) that "there are
four virtues, corresponding to the various emotions of love," and he
applies this to the four virtues mentioned above. Therefore the same four
virtues are distinct from one another.
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), these four virtues are understood
differently by various writers. For some take them as signifying certain
general conditions of the human mind, to be found in all the virtues: so
that, to wit, prudence is merely a certain rectitude of discretion in any
actions or matters whatever; justice, a certain rectitude of the mind,
whereby a man does what he ought in any matters; temperance, a
disposition of the mind, moderating any passions or operations, so as to
keep them within bounds; and fortitude, a disposition whereby the soul is
strengthened for that which is in accord with reason, against any
assaults of the passions, or the toil involved by any operations. To
distinguish these four virtues in this way does not imply that justice,
temperance and fortitude are distinct virtuous habits: because it is
fitting that every moral virtue, from the fact that it is a "habit,"
should be accompanied by a certain firmness so as not to be moved by its
contrary: and this, we have said, belongs to fortitude. Moreover,
inasmuch as it is a "virtue," it is directed to good which involves the
notion of right and due; and this, we have said, belongs to justice.
Again, owing to the fact that it is a "moral virtue" partaking of reason,
it observes the mode of reason in all things, and does not exceed its
bounds, which has been stated to belong to temperance. It is only in the
point of having discretion, which we ascribed to prudence, that there
seems to be a distinction from the other three, inasmuch as discretion
belongs essentially to reason; whereas the other three imply a certain
share of reason by way of a kind of application (of reason) to passions
or operations. According to the above explanation, then, prudence would
be distinct from the other three virtues: but these would not be distinct
from one another; for it is evident that one and the same virtue is both
habit, and virtue, and moral virtue.
Others, however, with better reason, take these four virtues, according
as they have their special determinate matter; each of its own matter, in
which special commendation is given to that general condition from which
the virtue's name is taken as stated above (Article ). In this way it is
clear that the aforesaid virtues are distinct habits, differentiated in
respect of their diverse objects.
Reply to Objection 1: Gregory is speaking of these four virtues in the first
sense given above. It may also be said that these four virtues qualify
one another by a kind of overflow. For the qualities of prudence overflow
on to the other virtues in so far as they are directed by prudence. And
each of the others overflows on to the rest, for the reason that whoever
can do what is harder, can do what is less difficult. Wherefore whoever
can curb his desires for the pleasures of touch, so that they keep within
bounds, which is a very hard thing to do, for this very reason is more
able to check his daring in dangers of death, so as not to go too far,
which is much easier; and in this sense fortitude is said to be
temperate. Again, temperance is said to be brave, by reason of fortitude
overflowing into temperance: in so far, to wit, as he whose mind is
strengthened by fortitude against dangers of death, which is a matter of
very great difficulty, is more able to remain firm against the onslaught
of pleasures; for as Cicero says (De Offic. i), "it would be inconsistent
for a man to be unbroken by fear, and yet vanquished by cupidity; or that
he should be conquered by lust, after showing himself to be unconquered
From this the Reply to the Second Objection is clear. For temperance
observes the mean in all things, and fortitude keeps the mind unbent by
the enticements of pleasures, either in so far as these virtues are taken
to denote certain general conditions of virtue, or in the sense that they
overflow on to one another, as explained above.
Reply to Objection 3: These four general conditions of virtue set down by the
Philosopher, are not proper to the aforesaid virtues. They may, however,
be appropriated to them, in the way above stated.
Article 5: Whether the cardinal virtues are fittingly divided into social virtues, perfecting, perfect, and exemplar virtues?
Objection 1: It would seem that these four virtues are unfittingly divided
into exemplar virtues, perfecting virtues, perfect virtues, and social
virtues. For as Macrobius says (Super Somn. Scip. 1), the "exemplar
virtues are such as exist in the mind of God." Now the Philosopher says
(Ethic. x, 8) that "it is absurd to ascribe justice, fortitude,
temperance, and prudence to God." Therefore these virtues cannot be
Objection 2: Further, the "perfect" virtues are those which are without any
passion: for Macrobius says (Super Somn. Scip. 1) that "in a soul that is
cleansed, temperance has not to check worldly desires, for it has
forgotten all about them: fortitude knows nothing about the passions; it
does not have to conquer them." Now it was stated above (Question , Article )
that the aforesaid virtues cannot be without passions. Therefore there is
no such thing as "perfect" virtue.
Objection 3: Further, he says (Macrobius: Super Somn. Scip. 1) that the
"perfecting" virtues are those of the man "who flies from human affairs
and devotes himself exclusively to the things of God." But it seems wrong
to do this, for Cicero says (De Offic. i): "I reckon that it is not only
unworthy of praise, but wicked for a man to say that he despises what
most men admire, viz. power and office." Therefore there are no
Objection 4: Further, he says (Macrobius: Super Somn. Scip. 1) that the
"social" virtues are those "whereby good men work for the good of their
country and for the safety of the city." But it is only legal justice
that is directed to the common weal, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. v,
1). Therefore other virtues should not be called "social."
On the contrary, Macrobius says (Super Somn. Scip. 1): "Plotinus, together with Plato foremost among teachers of philosophy, says: 'The four kinds of virtue are fourfold: In the first place there are social* virtues; secondly, there are perfecting virtues [*Virtutes purgatoriae: literally meaning, cleansing virtues]; thirdly, there are perfect [*Virtutes purgati animi: literally, virtues of the clean soul] virtues; and fourthly, there are exemplar virtues.'" [*Cf. Chrysostom's fifteenth homily on St. Matthew, where he says: "The gentle, the modest, the merciful, the just man does not shut up his good deeds within himself . . . He that is clean of heart and peaceful, and suffers persecution for the sake of the truth, lives for the common weal."]
I answer that, As Augustine says (De Moribus Eccl. vi), "the soul needs
to follow something in order to give birth to virtue: this something is
God: if we follow Him we shall live aright." Consequently the exemplar of
human virtue must needs pre-exist in God, just as in Him pre-exist the
types of all things. Accordingly virtue may be considered as existing
originally in God, and thus we speak of "exemplar" virtues: so that in
God the Divine Mind itself may be called prudence; while temperance is
the turning of God's gaze on Himself, even as in us it is that which
conforms the appetite to reason. God's fortitude is His unchangeableness;
His justice is the observance of the Eternal Law in His works, as
Plotinus states (Cf. Macrobius, Super Somn. Scip. 1).
Again, since man by his nature is a social [*See above note on
Chrysostom] animal, these virtues, in so far as they are in him according
to the condition of his nature, are called "social" virtues; since it is
by reason of them that man behaves himself well in the conduct of human
affairs. It is in this sense that we have been speaking of these virtues
But since it behooves a man to do his utmost to strive onward even to
Divine things, as even the Philosopher declares in Ethic. x, 7, and as
Scripture often admonishes us---for instance: "Be ye . . . perfect, as
your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48), we must needs place some
virtues between the social or human virtues, and the exemplar virtues
which are Divine. Now these virtues differ by reason of a difference of
movement and term: so that some are virtues of men who are on their way
and tending towards the Divine similitude; and these are called
"perfecting" virtues. Thus prudence, by contemplating the things of God,
counts as nothing all things of the world, and directs all the thoughts
of the soul to God alone: temperance, so far as nature allows, neglects
the needs of the body; fortitude prevents the soul from being afraid of
neglecting the body and rising to heavenly things; and justice consists
in the soul giving a whole-hearted consent to follow the way thus
proposed. Besides these there are the virtues of those who have already
attained to the Divine similitude: these are called the "perfect
virtues." Thus prudence sees nought else but the things of God;
temperance knows no earthly desires; fortitude has no knowledge of
passion; and justice, by imitating the Divine Mind, is united thereto by
an everlasting covenant. Such as the virtues attributed to the Blessed,
or, in this life, to some who are at the summit of perfection.
Reply to Objection 1: The Philosopher is speaking of these virtues according as
they relate to human affairs; for instance, justice, about buying and
selling; fortitude, about fear; temperance, about desires; for in this
sense it is absurd to attribute them to God.
Reply to Objection 2: Human virtues, that is to say, virtues of men living
together in this world, are about the passions. But the virtues of those
who have attained to perfect bliss are without passions. Hence Plotinus
says (Cf. Macrobius, Super Somn. Scip. 1) that "the social virtues check
the passions," i.e. they bring them to the relative mean; "the second
kind," viz. the perfecting virtues, "uproot them"; "the third kind," viz.
the perfect virtues, "forget them; while it is impious to mention them in
connection with virtues of the fourth kind," viz. the exemplar virtues.
It may also be said that here he is speaking of passions as denoting
Reply to Objection 3: To neglect human affairs when necessity forbids is wicked;
otherwise it is virtuous. Hence Cicero says a little earlier: "Perhaps
one should make allowances for those who by reason of their exceptional
talents have devoted themselves to learning; as also to those who have
retired from public life on account of failing health, or for some other
yet weightier motive; when such men yielded to others the power and
renown of authority." This agrees with what Augustine says (De Civ. Dei
xix, 19): "The love of truth demands a hollowed leisure; charity
necessitates good works. If no one lays this burden on us we may devote
ourselves to the study and contemplation of truth; but if the burden is
laid on us it is to be taken up under the pressure of charity."
Reply to Objection 4: Legal justice alone regards the common weal directly: but
by commanding the other virtues it draws them all into the service of the
common weal, as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. v, 1). For we must take
note that it concerns the human virtues, as we understand them here, to
do well not only towards the community, but also towards the parts of the
community, viz. towards the household, or even towards one individual.