The Cardinal Virtues

If you’ve read this blog before, you probably know that I’m a fan of The Art of Manliness website.  (See Expecting the April 1 entry to be booby-trapped with jokes, I clicked with caution.  My eyes lit up when they came upon a piece on William De Witt Hyde and a small book he wrote in 1902 titled The Cardinal Virtues.  While all things Hyde attract my interest, this particular Hyde was a legendary president of my alma mater during the early 20th century.  I also wrote a paper on him during my grad school days.

Like many educators, philosophers, and theologians of his day, Hyde spent a lot if time thinking about how one ought to live.  (I mean…What a concept!  You know what I’m sayin’?)  His Cardinal Virtues were an attempt to offer a recipe reduced down to four ingredients.

Hyde set the stage as follows:

Life would be simple indeed if only some things, like eating and studying and working and saving and giving, were absolutely good; and other things, like drinking and smoking and spending and theatre-going and dancing and sexual love, were absolutely bad. To be sure, men and schools and churches have often tried to dissect life into these two halves; but it never works well. Material things and natural appetites are in themselves neither good nor bad; they become good when rightly related, and bad when wrongly related. The cardinal virtues are the principles of such right relation.

Then he gets down to the virtues:

1. Wisdom – Wisdom, in the ethical sense of the term, is a very different thing from book-learning. Illiterate people are frequently exceedingly wise, while learned people are often the biggest fools. Wisdom is the sense of proportion — the power to see clearly one’s ends, and their relative worth; to subordinate lower ends to higher without sacrificing the lower altogether; and to select the appropriate means to one’s ends, taking just so much of the means as will best serve the ends — no more and no less. It is neither the gratification nor the suppression of appetite and passion as such, but the organization of them into a hierarchy of ends which they are sternly compelled to subserve.

2. Justicerequires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society, the same way that wisdom requires the subordination of particular desires to the permanent interests of the whole individual to whom they belong. For the individual is a part of society in the same vital way in which a single desire is part of an individual.

3. CourageThis fact that Nature’s premiums and penalties are distributed on an entirely different principle from which wisdom and justice mark out for the civilized man renders it necessary to summon to their aid two subordinate virtues – courage and temperance: courage to endure the pains which the pursuit of wisdom and justice involves, temperance to cut off the pleasures which are consistent with the ends which wisdom and justice set before us… True courage, therefore, is simply the executor of the orders of wisdom and justice.

4. Temperance is closely akin to courage; for as courage takes on the pains which wisdom and justice find incidental to their ends, so temperance cuts off remorselessly whatever pleasures are inconsistent with these ends.  The temperate man does not hate pleasure, any more than the brave man loves pain, for its own sake. It is not that he loves pleasure less, but that he loves wisdom and justice more.   

I like it.  How about window stickers that ask…  Got Virtue?

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld