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The Four Cardinal Virtues Paperback – March 31, 1966

4.9 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Dr. Pieper, with his grounding in Scholastic thinking, especially Thomas Aquinas, brings to the reader an interpretation of this classical tradition that has things to say about the human person today. He attempts to make what could become a list of requirements for ethical behavior into a human quest for the wisdom that enables one to become the kind of person one strives to be."
(Studies in Formative Spirituality)

About the Author

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a distinguished twentieth-century Thomist philosopher. Schooled in the Greek classics and in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, he studied philosophy, law, and sociology, and taught for many years at the University of Münster, Germany.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press; 1 edition (March 31, 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0268001030
  • ISBN-13: 978-0268001032
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on December 21, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first came into contact with this work because it was a required text for my seminary class on ethics. Pieper is a first rate German philosopher and expert on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas.
If you study this book, The Four Cardinal Virtues (fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence), along with his other book, Faith, Hope, Love (the three theological virtues), you will have a wonderful primer on ethics.
One word of warning. Philosophy is not light reading. I know, it was one of my majors. Philosophy written in German and translated into English produces a book not for the timid. If you are willing to take on the challenge, more power to you. It is worth the effort, but you should know what you are getting into before you put down your money. This is a book for those who want to think and wrestle with ethics. It is not for everyone.
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By Tina Bell on February 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
I read this book over and over again. Pieper is a great antidote to the vagueness of some modern Catholic writers who tend to use a feel-good approach to virtue and write vaguely about sharing, caring, and being nice to people. This book tells you what the virtues really are and what they have meant to the Church for two thousand years.
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Simply brilliant reading. Living naturally is what the crux of this book is all about.

The book delves into ethics, civics, justice, philosophy, psychology, and I think it is a healthy tool for understanding classical literature: Shakespeare, for example, and the inner psychology of his characters as this moral plain, that Pieper describes, is so much closer to his than most of what we hear in our modernity.

Pieper, here, spends time defining what the classic moral compass is, taken primarily from the last officially sanctioned church doctor St. Thomas Aquinas. Pieper brings Aquinas and other philosophers' language up to date, for the ears of the modern mind. Christianityfs definition has too much to do with how it's enemies, or alterior users, wish to define it and Pieper spends a short time correcting this in places.

If you liked this you might like Pieper's Virtues of the Human Heart which is a bit less discriptive but more powerful.

Pieper also makes the point that the most important stuggle is the internal struggle for meaning and direction in any organization or person.
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The four cardinal virtues are the most important of the "stable dispositions of the soul which direct men to do good" (a loose paraphrase of Aristotle's definition of moral virtue), and which all moralists prior to the modern age considered necessary for man's happiness. Virtue Ethics is a topic du jour in philosophical circles, and many books have appeared on the topic in recent years. Pieper's book on the cardinal virtues, first published in 1954, could be read with profit by today's 'experts.' It is especially useful for its responses to some modern (Christian as well as secular) misconceptions about the nature of ethics. By the way, as everyone ought to know, the fourth cardinal virtue is not Mercy, but Temperance. How typical of our age to make the mistake the reviewer below has made! Let us hope that all those people who found his review 'helpful' went on to buy and read Pieper's book.
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Of the three Josef Pieper books I have read (namely i) the anthology and ii) Faith, Hope and Charity and this present one), this has been the best for me. Pieper excels in crystalline clarity of thought; he exudes the wisdom of St Thomas. The brilliance of this book lies in Pieper's ability to see the depth of meaning in things, how we human being are configured towards right order and that when we damage and destroy this order, such as by committing an injustice, we not only damage others but counterintuitively harm ourselves more. Pieper examines Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance, shows their ranking in the order of virtues and shows how they interrelate.

Pieper has shown me something I would simply never have come to know myself, namely that prudence (as classically understood, not the cunning of the tactician, as understood in modern times) is the pre-eminent virtue. But, not only that, he shows clearly the true nature of the virtues and distinguishes them from the counterfeit virtues which society labels by the same name. Pieper is particularly good at showing how counterfeits of these virtues are in fact manichaeistic in nature, often showing disdain of the body. Thus, he cites St Thomas as saying that in paradise the pleasure which man derived from the sexual act would have been greater rather than impaired by an over-spiritualism. He is also excellent on anger. The tendency towards an overly spiritualist attitude with disdain for the body has resurfaced in recent years (see, for example, the talks of Anthony de Mello SJ where he indicates that Christ's manifestation of the natual passions, such as anger, is indeed a short coming!).
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This book cannot be praised enough. In it, Josef Pieper lays out the dimensions and interrelationships of the four cardinal virtues - Faith, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Pieper brings the virtues to life within the life of the reader in a way that modern readers obtain something that modern society does not equip them with, i.e., a vocabulary to talk about the really big ideas without which life is not worth living, which vocabulary is provided care of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas.

For example, we learn from Pieper some surprising things about that most prosaic of virtues - prudence. Prudence, according to Pieper, is nothing more, and nothing less, than a person's acceptance of reality. This virtue requires that a person cultivate openness toward truth, an awareness of truth when it is presented to him, and a willingness to submit to truth. This last, then, requires the cultivation of "docilitas" - the ability to take advice - and a willing to be silent so as to allow reality to intrude into the person's mind.

Prudence is the "first virtue." Without prudence, no one can be just or temperate or persevering because these virtues must conform to reason, which, in turn, requires a conformity with reality. "The good of man consists in being in accord with reason." (p. 24.) Pieper explains why a narcissist can never truly be virtuous:

"Whoever looks only at himself and therefore does not permit the truth of real things to have its way can be neither just nor brave nor temperate - but above all he cannot be just. For the foremost requirement for the realization of justice is that man turns his eyes away from himself." (p. 21 - 22.
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