CARDINAL (cardo, a hinge).—The Cardinal Virtues of Ancient Philosophy are
Wisdom, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice (Plato's Republic, bk. IV. pp.
428-443; Jowett's Plato, 1st ed., II. 255). These four virtues were so named
because they were the hinges on which other virtues turned. Each one of them was
a fons et principium, from which other virtues took their rise.
The division of the virtues is as old as moral philosophy. It is found in the
teaching of Socrates as recorded by Xenophon, with this difference, that
εὐσέβεια, or regard to the Deity, holds the place of prudence or wisdom (σοφία),
which, united to virtue, forms true wisdom. Plato notices
prudence, fortitude, and temperance, and in connection with or
arising out of these, justice, which he considers not as the
single virtue of giving all their due, but as the perfection of
human nature and of human society.
The term justice had been employed in the same large sense by
Pythagoras. According to the representations of Plato, prudence is the
governing virtue; courage is the right kind of fear, on guard against
the real dangers; temperance is the harmony of desires with
intelligence; and justice is every man doing his proper work.
"The four cardinal virtues are rather the necessary and essential conditions of
virtue, than each individually a virtue. For no one can by itself be manifested
as a virtue, without the other three" (Thurot, De l'Entendement, tom.
"Justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence, the old heads of the family of
virtues, give us a division, which fails altogether; since the parts are not
distinct, and the whole is not complete. The portions of morality so laid out,
both overlap one another, or are undistinguishable; and also leave parts of the
subject which do not appear in the distribution at all" (Whewell, Systemat.
Mor., lect. IV.).
Clodius, De Virtutibus quas Cardinales Appellant, 4to, Leips., 1815; Plethon,
De Quatuor Virtutibus Cardinalibus 8vo, Bash, 1552.