The Four Cardinal Virtues Revisited

by Percival J. Meris on January 30, 2011

cardinal virtues

THERE ARE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES, FROM WHICH ALL OTHER MORAL VIRTUES EMANATE. They cover every aspect of your life. Knowing and practicing them ensures you practice their derivative virtues automatically.

Cardinal Virtues: What Does This Mean?

The word “virtue” is derived from the Latin word vir, which means man. Man symbolizes strength. A man of virtue is a man with strength of character. The weak fall away from a life of virtue.

The word “cardinal” is a derivative of the Latin word cardo, which means hinge. Like a door hinge, these four cardinal virtues are the pivot points upon which a person’s moral life swings.

The Four Cardinal Virtues:

Here are the four cardinal virtues with explanations of what they are in layman’s language:


    Prudence is a virtue of the intellect. It is wisdom of decision. It dominates all the other virtues. Without prudence, other virtues cease to be. Consider this example:

    A man is drowning. You decide to save him. Your courage is stronger than your fear of the risk involved. So, you plunge into the water to save him – only to realize you do not know how to swim.

    This is stupidity. Instead of one person losing his life, there are now two of you. A classic example of a virtue (courage) ceasing to be because of imprudence.


    Fortitude is a virtue of the will. It is strength of will. (Fortitude from the Latin fortis, meaning strong). It is very much related to courage. This virtue is called for when you have to perform a prudent act against your wishes.

    A man of fortitude has sufficient strength to resist temptations – temptations to do what is not good or not do what is good. Temptation exists when great convenience or pleasure presents itself in doing or not doing an act at the expense of the interest of self and others.

    It is convenient to get rich quickly by unjustly depriving others of their hard-earned assets. It may not be convenient to dispose garbage properly, so that it will not do damage to the environment.

    It is pleasurable to smoke, drink, or take drugs to the detriment of one’s health. It may not be pleasurable to perform a highly risky job that has to be done to save the life of another.


    Justice is a virtue of relationship. It is giving to any person, including yourself, what is due to him. There is injustice when you do otherwise, especially when it is a deliberate act of deprivation.

    All persons are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A misdeed against any of these is an act of injustice.

    All persons deserve your love. It is their right to receive love from you, simply because they are God’s creatures. When you love, you do justice.

    Let us be clear at this point: love as used here does not refer to the romanticism that infatuated “lovers” know. It is decision to wish for what is best for the other persons. It is the kind of love that Mother Teresa of Calcutta has exemplified to the world.


    Temperance is a virtue of the body …and perhaps of the mind, too. In simple language, temperance means moderation. Many of the diseases of the body have been brought about by intemperance.

    People sometimes mistake the notion of what is good. When something is good, they take too much of it on the assumption that more is better.

    Anything good taken too much is poison. Vitamin A is good. Too much of it is toxic. It interferes with vitamin D activity of facilitating the absorption of calcium. As a result, the abusive person is faced with an increased risk of bone fracture.

Using the Four Cardinal Virtues as Action Criteria

If you find yourself at the crossroad of decision-making about an act to perform, ask yourself these questions:

  • Prudence: Will my action result to something good or, at least, to something not harmful?
  • Fortitude: Am I willing to face the challenges and hardships it entails for me to do it?
  • Justice: Will my action serve my own interest, as well as the rights and needs of others?
  • Temperance: To what extent should I perform my act to prevent it from becoming harmful?

The Four Cardinal Virtues: Your Ultimate Guide to Morality

Morality is the performance of behaviors that brings about what is best for you and for other people. It is not simply a rule of conduct that limits your freedom of action and your enjoyment of fun.

They are there FOR YOUR OWN GOOD and the good of everybody. Nonobservance leads to your detriment and that of others.

Therefore, we have to subject our wills to its laws, in order to bring about what is best for all concerned. I assert that it is plain stupidity not to be moral. Many personal and social problems arise from immorality in its various forms.

“Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to our lives.” ~ Albert Einstein

If there is anything that should guide you to act morally, the four cardinal virtues are good points of departure.

You do not have to remember the hundreds of virtues listed in the book of morals that are derivatives of these four. All you have to do is remember the four cardinal virtues.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

3A6gqFGp0543NM October 8, 2012 at 4:57 am

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Percival J. Meris October 10, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Thank you for calling my attention to the inability of my site to display properly on K-Meleon browser. I will see what i can do to correct the situation.

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