The Cardinal Virtue of Prudence
The simple acquire folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
Although most people have heard of the seven deadly sins, fewer people are familiar with that other list: the seven great virtues. The virtues can be divided into two groups: the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) and the four cardinal virtues (justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude). Although the list of the seven virtues is first found among the writings of Ambrose and Augustine, the list of the cardinal virtues wasn’t their creation; it was mentioned centuries before by Aristotle and Plato and represents the classical mind on what constitutes a virtuous man.
The cardinal virtues are not, I believe, what most Americans would think of if asked to define the four fundamental characteristics of a virtuous person. They are, in a sad sense, the antithesis of modern virtues. For example, consider the cardinal virtue of prudence.
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Thomas S. Buchanan is the George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. He has studied at UCSD, Northwestern University, and MIT, and has held visiting professorships at the University of Western Australia and the University of Aix-Marseille. He has served as department chairman, deputy dean, and institute director, president of the American Society of Biomechanics, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Biomechanics. He is on the Board of Trustees of Saint Katherine College, the editorial board of Touchstone, and the board of The Fellowship of St. James.
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