Personhood, Integrity, and the Virtues
A Glance at Human Development According to the Virtues of St. Thomas Aquinas


The word 'person', from the two Latin words per and sona, literally means 'through sound'. A person is essentially one who speaks. The human person is a communicator. As the word 'communication' suggests, a speaker (one who communicates) is one who enters into communion with others.

Now if we consider this for a moment, it should become evident that indeed, a person is, as Boethius points out, "an individual substance of a rational nature". Persons communicate ideas, and only rational beings conceive ideas. Your pet cat really only communicates its passions (i.e., desires or fears), for it has no ideas to communicate. When was the last time you had a serious discussion with your cat about anything, let alone its weight problem, or the ethics of killing mice, or the nutritional value of Cat Chow? As they say, "It ain't going to happen."

But not only do we communicate ideas, we communicate our will, that is, our love. Once again, only a rational being has will (rational appetite), which is, as we will see later, very different from the sensitive appetite. For the object of the will is an intelligible good, that is, a known good (known by the mind, as opposed to the senses) such as truth, friendship, beauty, etc. Songs, for instance, not only communicate ideas, but most often they are expressions of love (will).

A person has intellect and will. Man is a person, and so he has intellect and will, but so too are angels persons. Angels have intelligence and will, but they are without matter. They are not rational animals, as is the human person. Rather, they are pure spirits (intelligences). There is also intelligence and will in God, and so God is a person. In fact, God is three Persons in One Divine Nature. But this is an area too vast for us at this point. Let it be said that man is the most inferior creature on the hierarchy of intellectual beings. At the same time, though, man is the highest creature in the hierarchy of beings in the material universe. The universe will reach its perfection only in the perfection of man.

Not only does the word 'person' imply intellect and will, it also implies, as the word 'communication' reveals, community. The human person is a social and political animal. The human person has a radical need for others. Hence, he does not achieve his perfection in isolation from others, but only in and through a life directed to the common good, that is, the good of the whole political or civil community. Individualism does not lead a person to his perfection, well-being, or happiness. Ultimately it leads us to our own personal disintegration, that is, our own destruction. Much more so is this the case with hedonism, which maintains that the ultimate meaning of human life lies in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The hedonist sees no essential difference between brute animals and man, that is, between your pet cat and you. But as was pointed out above, you are a person, not merely an individual. There is an essential difference between man and brute; the former is personal (a person), while the latter is not.

Now, there is nothing evil in pleasure. The human person is both a rational and sentient creature. The passions are good; for they are an essential part of our being, and as such must not be suppressed. But the lower (sentient) must always be under the direction of the higher (reason). We all know how aggravating it is to have to be in the same room with some unruly toddlers running, screaming, and getting into this and that, while their parents, without even a residue of common sense, look on with a milksop gaze, oblivious to everyone's frustration. The parents ought to get control of their children. In the same way the passions must be subjected to the governance of reason, while reason in its turn must be subject to and molded by the light of truth. This is what it means to be an integrated person. This is what it means to have an integrated personality.

But this integrity (integration of all the powers of the human person) is something that develops over time. Moreover, there is a definite direction to this development, and this direction is the key to the meaning of human life. As was said, the two words 'direction' and 'meaning' in fact mean the same thing. The French word sens can be translated as either 'meaning' or 'direction'. Consider the expression 'going nowhere' or 'spinning one's wheels'. Someone who is just "spinning his wheels" is "going nowhere fast". In other words, he is engaged in a meaningless and pointless task.

What is the direction of human development? The direction of a movement is known in its origin; for the end is in the origin, that is, in the agent. If we wish to know where this car is going, all we have to do is ask the driver. As Aristotle says, "Every agent acts for an end." The driver of the car is acting for an end. When he tells us the end for which he aims, we understand the meaning and direction of the car's movement (for instance, 'this car is going to Texas'). But what is the meaning of man's life? Where is he going? What is his destiny? The answer is found in his origin, that is, in God who is the author of everything that is. In fact, since God is the origin of everything, God is the meaning and purpose of all that is -- which is why the visible universe achieves its perfection in the perfection of man, which consists in his return to God. This is why Dostoevsky points out that if God does not exist, everything is permitted, for there is no meaning or direction to life. It is entirely absurd.

The entire plan of both the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologica (St. Thomas Aquinas' two great works) follows the Neoplatonic theme of exitus-reditus. Man comes from God (exitus) and his destiny is to return to God (reditus).

This is the context in which Aquinas' philosophy of man and his doctrine of the virtues must be understood, that is, in the context of man's creation by God and his return to Him.

The human person must freely and knowingly develop his various powers (his passions, intellect, and will) by ordering them to that final destiny, which is union with God. For the perfection of a movement is achieved in its end. Hence, the perfection of man (and in him the material universe) is achieved in this return to his origin, that is, in his return to God.

It follows quite readily that love is the fundamental characteristic of our growth and development, in particular the love of God - the Alpha and the Omega. The virtues are the ways in which the human person grows in the love of God; for love can only be channeled through virtue. The virtues are the means whereby the powers of man are so perfected that he readily acts in such a way as to come to a greater knowledge and love of God, and thus to a greater likeness of God.

The Appetites

The appetites are movements towards something apprehended as good, or movements away from something apprehended as evil. Appetite follows upon knowledge of some kind. The sensitive appetite follows upon sense knowledge, for instance, after seeing the piece of red meat, the dog tends toward the meat, that is, he desires it. So too does the movement of the will follow upon apprehension, but in this case the apprehension is of an intellectual kind. For instance, while reading a book, a person might come across a word that he does not understand. In order to understand the idea contained in the entire paragraph, he looks up the word in the dictionary. His action (looking up a word in the dictionary) is motivated by a will to know more completely, and what he wills to know is not something sensible that can be grasped by any of the senses, but something intelligible, known only by intelligence.

Appetite is an internal principle by which beings move or tend to their end. Consider that there is a real dynamism or energy in nature by which all beings seek their perfection, that is, tend towards their own fullness of being. Things desire to be most fully. And this is especially true of the human person. He seeks the good that is perfective of his nature, that is, his nature as an incarnate spirit. Man is a material kind of being, and so he moves towards his perfection as one immersed in the material world. He is in contact with the material world through his sense powers, both his powers of sense knowledge and his sensitive appetites. When we seek a good, all our appetitive powers, both sensitive and rational (will), play a very significant role. And so our development includes the perfecting of these powers.

Passion is man's sensible appetitive reaction to the perception of good or evil. The passions are appetitive powers, not apprehensive or cognitive powers (appetite follows upon cognition). The will, although an appetite, is not a passion or emotion. The sensitive appetites are divided into the concupiscible and irascible passions.

The concupiscible power has as its object a sensible good simply apprehended as such, i.e., a steak or a cold drink. Often, however, we experience difficulty in achieving a good (the steak is very expensive). The good then becomes a difficult good, and it is this difficult or arduous good that is the object of the irascible appetite.

In and of themselves, the passions are neither morally good nor morally evil. They can be either, to the extent that they are voluntary, that is, commanded by the will and directed by reason. For the proper development of the human person is threatened by excessive sensuality. Our development requires that the passions be moderated by reason. But we will return to this later. In the meantime, let us consider the passions in particular.

The concupiscible passion is the emotion of love (see diagram above). It is the passion whereby the lover is drawn to the loved object, which is not yet possessed. Delight or satisfaction occurs when the lover possesses the object loved. Note that satisfaction is an emotion, which is not the same as the satisfaction or joy that occurs in the will. The contrary to the passion of love (desire) in respect to evil is the passion of dislike (hate) or aversion. The contrary of delight is pain and sorrow (sadness), which is caused by the presence of some sensible evil, such as a bad smell or a plate of liver.

As was said above, the object of the irascible appetite is a difficult or arduous good, like the grapes of Aesop hovering over the fox. A difficult good gives rise to the passion of hope, which is like desire in that hope is concerned with the good not yet present, but possible to attain. The emotion opposite hope is despair, which occurs when the sensible good is viewed as impossible to attain. Hence, the hungry fox who, to ease the feeling of despair, convinces himself that the grapes weren't ripe anyhow. Fear is the emotional reaction to an impending evil, which appears difficult, inevitable, and invincible. Daring is contrary to fear, for it seeks to overcome the evil. Daring results from hope, but fear gives rise to despair. The emotion of anger urges us to react to a present and difficult evil.

So the intellect and will are not the only motivating principles (sources) of human action. The sensitive appetites have an essential albeit secondary role. But there must be an integration or harmony between the passions and the intellect. The passions, in any healthy individual person, must participate in the activity of reason. Consider a person in whom the emotion of anger is not quite in harmony with reason. None of us would want to be in the vicinity of such a one, especially if that person is tall, strong, and heavy. For it is by means of the virtues that the emotions are perfected and properly disposed to participate in reason. The virtues perfect not only the passions, but also the intellect (intellectual virtues) and will (justice) as well.


Virtues and vices are habits. The word 'habit' (habitus) comes from the Latin habere (to have). Habit pertains to something which is had, for instance, a quality or a disposition. Aristotle says that 'a habit is a disposition whereby someone is disposed well or ill' (Cf. Meta V, 20. 1022b, 10-12).

Now recall the distinction between first and second act. In regards to the human person, first act is the substantial form (soul), while second act refers to activity. But with respect to material things, wherever there is act, there is potency. The activities of things, i.e., plants, animals, or human beings, reveal their powers. For if this person is thinking (second act), we know that he must therefore have the power or ability (potency) to think. His actual thinking is the realization or actualization of that potency or power. All the powers of the human person, whether we are referring to the intellectual power, or the power to will, or the sensitive appetitive powers, are related to specific acts or operations.

Habits dispose powers so that the proper operations of these powers are more readily performed. The state of these powers disposed by habits is a state between the pure potency of the powers for operation and the full actuality of the operation itself.

Now, the appetitive part of man (concupiscible and irascible) obeys reason only with great difficulty. For him to perform a good act, it is first of all necessary that his intellect be well disposed by the intellectual virtues (wisdom, science, understanding, and prudence) and that his appetites be well disposed by the moral virtues (justice, fortitude, and temperance). The moral virtues can exist without some of the intellectual virtues, but not without prudence; for a good choice requires that the intention be directed to a good end and that suitable means be chosen to that end (prudence). And of course, a person can possess certain intellectual virtues, such as science, or speculative wisdom, without being morally good. As St. Thomas More wrote in a letter to his childrens' tutor: "Though I prefer learning joined with virtue to all the treasures of kings, yet renown for learning, when it is not united to a good life, is nothing else than splendid and notorious infamy."

Virtue is not freedom from passion, as the Stoics and, more recently, Immanuel Kant mistakenly believed. Rather, it is freedom from inordinate passion. Inordinate passion, as we said before, is that which is not subject to reason. But when passion follows the judgment of reason, it actually adds to the execution of reason's command. In fact, Thomas writes: "the more perfect a virtue is, the more does it cause passion" (Cf. Summa, I II. 59, 5). The morally virtuous person is more passionate than the one without moderation and virtue. A puritanical man or woman, for example, who may appear to be highly religious is not, by reason of his or her puritanical posture, necessarily virtuous. He or she might very well lack genuine virtue.

Now as was said earlier, the good of the appetitive movement consists in its conformity with the rule of reason. For the emotions have an innate need to be governed by reason. Evil is a divergence from the rule and measure of reason, either by exceeding the measure or falling short of it. And so moral good consists in a conformity to the rule, midway between excess and deficiency. In other words, virtue is in the mean between the two extremes of excess and deficiency. For instance:

The mean of virtue is either a real mean, as in the virtue of justice. For instance, if somebody robs you of twenty dollars, the real mean between excess and deficiency will be twenty dollars. Should the judge make the defendant pay fifteen dollars, this would fall short of the mean of justice, whereas fifty dollars exceeds the real mean. The mean can also be a mean of reason insofar as this mean is established according to conformity with right reason. For example, the mean of temperance cannot be determined with a calculator. How much food is it reasonable to eat for breakfast? A mailman who will be required to walk thirty kilometers is right to eat more than his seventy-five year old mother.

From one angle, virtue is in the mean between the two extremes of excess and defect, but when we consider moral virtue in relation to reason, which is its measure and rule, then virtue does not consist in a mean, but rather in an extreme. For the good of reason, when realized in the emotion in question, is a perfection. A perfection is an extreme in the order of excellence. Consider the following diagram.

Looking at the base line of the diagram, we see that virtue consists in the mean. The base line represents the operations of our appetites, as they are concerned with their objects. But looking at the top of the triangle, note how virtue is an extreme of excellence. This is an important distinction, because the mean of virtue is not a mean of mediocrity, but a mean of perfection. The mean is not determined by looking to popular culture, but to the order of reason.

Furthermore, the perfection of one moral virtue cannot be had without the other virtues. A virtue isolated from the others cannot be perfect as a virtue. For instance, there is no fortitude without prudence, and no temperance without prudence, nor is there prudence without justice, or fortitude, or temperance. But this will become clearer as we penetrate further into the nature of each virtue.

The Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity)

We consider the moral virtues insofar as they direct us to our last end, which is beatific union with God. So it is only right that the theological virtues precede the moral virtues. The first of the theological virtues, faith, pertains to the intellect, since truth is the object of faith. In fact, the object of faith is the first truth, that is, God Himself.

Now the existence of God can be known without faith, that is, through the natural light of reason. For this reason, believing in the existence of God is not an article of faith. In other words, believing that God exists is not necessarily indicative of the theological virtue of faith. Rather, faith is concerned about things revealed by God which exceed the ability of human reason to grasp -- such as the truth that God is Trinity (Three Persons, One Nature), or that Jesus is one Person, two natures, and that by his death he has redeemed the world, etc. Faith is a gift, a supernatural virtue that a person cannot acquire naturally on his own initiative. Moreover, faith involves both the intellect and the will. The object of faith is indeed a truth, but it is the will that chooses to believe or assent to the truths revealed by God. The will commands the intellect and directs it to the first truth.

The supernatural virtue of hope (gift as well) looks expectantly to the future. Through the virtue of hope, a person awaits the fulfillment of the promises of God. Hope also looks forward to personal immortality and the resurrection of the body. And so the faculty at work in the act of hope is the will (the rational appetite). To hope is to seek the good. In this case, it is an act of the will toward the Supreme Good known through faith.

The most important of the virtues, and the one most important for the development of the human person, is the supernatural virtue of charity. Charity is the love of God under the aspect of friendship. For on the purely natural level, man's greatest achievement is found in friendship (in the true sense of the word). That is why human friendship is the best way of explaining man's relationship to God brought about through charity.

Man's greatest achievement is going to be found in a perfect love of God through charity, and so his personal growth will be found in his increasing love of God under the aspect of personal friendship. Friendship (even on the natural level) is the love of benevolence, which is, as the word indicates, a willing of the good of the other. This is the highest kind of love and the most difficult to achieve. Most often a person is loved not for his or her own sake, but primarily for what he or she can do for the lover either financially, sexually, or for the sake of some gain or other. But man is able to will the good of another person, not merely for the sake of a good that is perfective of himself, but for the other's own sake, without reference to the self. Such a love more perfectly reflects the love of God who freely communicates the goodness of intelligent existence to others, not to satisfy any personal need (for God needs nothing), but for their sake. The love that God has for His creatures is the exemplar of all true love. This benevolence is mutual in a genuine friendship between two persons.

Now, insofar as God reveals Himself and communicates his happiness to man, albeit imperfectly in this life, there is a foundation for friendship between God and man. Furthermore, charity grows in perfection to the degree that man comes to love God not for what God can do for him, i.e., for his gifts and benefits, but for God's sake alone. In other words, man is called to love God more than he loves himself. To finally succeed in such a task constitutes the greatest of successes. The internal effects of charity include joy, peace, and mercy (grief at another's distress). The external effects of charity are beneficence, almsgiving, and fraternal correction.

It should be pointed out at this point that for the Catholic, the virtuous life is not an end in itself, but is intended to lead us to a higher friendship, namely friendship with God himself. As Gerald Phelan writes: "For in the last analysis the Christian and the pagan conceptions of the ultimate common good in which all members of society are called upon to participate are poles apart... Society could no longer be regarded as the union of man in justice and friendship merely for the pursuit of man's well-being and happiness in that short period bounded by the nothingness that precedes birth and the nothingness that follows death." For Thomas, there is no true growth of the human person apart from this love of God.

The Cardinal Virtues

The four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Prudence perfects the practical intellect, justice perfects the will, and fortitude perfects the irascible appetite while temperance perfects the concupiscible appetite.

The moral virtues, which are not theological virtues, have a very positive role in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. For they enable man to achieve personal integrity and full human development, and they are the condition for the possibility of a just and healthy society.


Prudence, the mother of all the virtues, perfects the practical intellect. Without prudence, there can be no virtue. The work of prudence is the ordering of free actions to their proper end. It belongs to prudence to decide by what means we may obtain the mean of reason in our free actions. Hence it belongs to prudence to deliberate, judge and command the operations of man. Prudence makes it possible for a person to choose that act which here and now best helps him to move in the direction of his final end.

The parts of prudence include reasoning, understanding, circumspection, foresight, docility, caution, and memory. Note that memory does not mean the ability to retain information, such as the ability to remember names or phone numbers. It refers to something far more fundamental to the moral life. It implies the ability to learn through experience, which is a very rare ability to be sure. Memory is necessary because experience enables us to discover the best means to certain ends, and experience is the result of many memories. Some people, however, seem never to learn from their many and varied experiences, such as how to deal with people, or from their own mistakes in dealing with others, and so they continue to make the same mistakes with the result that the same problems follow them wherever they go. To witness this inability on the part of some very intelligent people is really quite remarkable. It is this ability to remember that is essential to the virtue of prudence.

But the entire process of prudence has its source in understanding. For it belongs to prudence to apply universal principles of morality to particular situations, in the here and now. Without understanding human nature and the fundamental precepts of natural law, prudence is not possible.

Docility is important, for without a readiness to be taught and a willingness to learn from others, a person cannot acquire prudence. And since prudence is the ability to discern the best means to the proper end, in the here and now, it takes into account all relevant details of each situation. This is circumspection.

The parts of imprudence include precipitation, thoughtlessness, and inconstancy. Precipitation refers to reckless haste. The imprudent man acts recklessly, without proper deliberation on the best means of achieving the proper end. The imprudent man tends not to think before he acts and quite often acts on impulse. Moreover, inordinate attachment to temporal goods and especially lustful attachments bring about a defect of prudence, for such attachments prevent proper deliberation and judgment. Negligence, which is a lack of solicitude, also pertains to imprudence.

Aquinas also speaks of kinds of false prudence, which is what we tend to think of when we think of prudence. There is, what he calls, the prudence of the flesh, which belongs to the man who seeks carnal goods as the ultimate goal of his life and subordinates other things to this end. Such a person becomes an expert at choosing the best means to realize the worldly end he has proposed for himself. But such a person has a false prudence, not at all virtuous and praiseworthy. In order to be virtuous, the end proposed has to be according to man's true destiny.

Craftiness and guile are also species of false prudence. These are concerned with the use of means that are not truly good. Craftiness is often expressed through some sort of fraud.

Being unduly solicitous about temporal matters or about the future also constitutes a false prudence. We see this in couples who delay having children until they feel that they are financially secure enough to have them. This can be a prudent course of action, but being unduly solicitous might include the decision to delay children until the right house in the suburbs and a new car is purchased and all debts are fully paid. Such a couple may never have children.

All these have a resemblance to prudence insofar as they are concerned with means to ends, as prudence is. But they are forms of imprudence because prudence is concerned only with what is truly good for man, namely that which enables him to achieve his ultimate end.


Justice is the virtue that perfects the will. In short, it is the perpetual and constant will to render to each one his right (jus) or due. A right (jus) exists between two persons between whom some kind of equality has been established. And unless all people are by nature equal before God, there is no natural requirement on man's part to be just. Nietzsche and Sartre understood this very well.

Man is the only being in the visible universe willed into existence, by God, for his own sake. Everything else was created for man. But man exists for himself, not for the sake of the stronger or the wealthier. For he is equal, that is, of the same nature as any other human being. He consciously wills his own perfection and is called to develop himself in the direction of that fulfillment. He is master of his own actions and freely pursues his destiny. For this reason he has rights -- natural rights, that is, rights that belong to him inasmuch as he is a human person, created by God, and essentially (essence) equal in dignity to any other human being. His rights, therefore, do not depend upon how intelligent or physically fit he may be.

And so there are natural rights that are not given to us by the state, but belong to the nature of the human person. There are also positive rights that arise from private agreements (I'll pave your driveway if you agree to pay me $1000) and from public agreement, that is, rights established by the decision of the whole community (the right to drink alcohol or drive a car at a certain age). Rights also belong to nations or groups of people. There are also special rights resulting from special kinds of relationships between two persons, such as husband and wife, or parent and child.

Justice regulates the voluntary actions whereby one person is brought into contact with another. It is divided into distributive, commutative (particular), and legal (general) justice. Commutative justice directs man in his relations to other individuals and is concerned with the individual good. Legal justice directs a person in relation to the whole civil community and the common good. In this relationship, it is the civil community who is the partner with the claim. Note also that in a general way all vices are opposed to justice insofar as they are repugnant toe the common good (i.e., cowardice is a vice opposed to fortitude, but it is also opposed to legal or general justice, for running away in battle threatens the common good, etc). Distributive justice is concerned with the order of the whole to the parts, that is, with what belongs to the whole community in relation to each individual person. It belongs to distributive justice to distribute common goods proportionately. In this case it is the individual who has the claim in this relationship between himself and the social whole, a claim directed toward the governor, the ruler, the lawgiver. As Pieper writes: "Man, as administrator of the common weal, is brought to account and is obliged to give the individual members of the whole their due." Leaders of the civil community must make decisions which are equitable and which safeguard the rights of all.

Justice involves rendering to another what is his due. What we have received from the country in which we were born cannot be fully requited by any one individual person, especially those of us in the free west. We are the beneficiaries of the work of millions and millions of people. How do we pay them back? How do we do justice to all that we have received from the civil community? What is due to the whole community simply cannot be fully rendered by you or me. Justice requires, therefore, that we do our part, that is, live for the common good in all our actions so that others may be the beneficiaries of our work. In other words, we are required to cultivate the virtue of legal justice. This is what is wrong, at least in part, with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It fails to call attention to what the whole community can expect from its citizens. The entire Charter is written within an individualist frame of mind as opposed to a personalist framework that regards man as an essentially social animal.

An unjust man is one who is unwilling to maintain the proper equality between himself and others. He is willing to deprive others of what is rightfully theirs. We see this in the person who cheats on his income tax, or refuses to render a fair wage for a job well done, or chooses to do less than a job well done for a fair wage, or, more generally, in the person who lives a self-centered lifestyle, that is, a life that neglects the cultivation of the entire spectrum of the virtues (vis a vis the whole civil community).

The various kinds of injustice opposed to commutative justice include theft, robbery, fraud, injury, and adultery. The quasi-integral parts of justice consist in 1) doing good insofar as it is due to one's neighbor and 2) avoiding the opposite evil, namely doing that which harms one's neighbor. The potential parts of justice include religion, piety, observance, gratitude, and truth. Religion and piety, in particular, fall short of the perfect notion of justice, because it is not possible to completely remit the debt in their instances. For example, it is not possible to completely render to God what is due to him, because in order to begin doing so, we have to be given the gift of existence. God's gifts are always prior to anything we can accomplish in the way of trying to do justice to Him. So religion is indeed a part of justice; in fact, the virtue of religion is the most perfect part of the virtue of justice. Hence, there is a natural duty to be religious as there is a natural duty to be just. It follows that the non-religious man is an unjust man and will likely remain unjust in his relations with his fellows and with the civil community as a whole, despite the fact that he will never admit to such a thing. For inasmuch as it is impossible to fully render to God what is due to Him, a person is required by the demands of justice to surrender his life to God, to make every attempt to order his life entirely in accordance with God's will, that is, to make God the very center of his moral existence. The love of God is to be the form of all his actions. In doing so, however, he still does not satisfy the debitum, but he does all he can to do just that.

The debt we owe to our parents and the country in which we live is also a debt that cannot be fully remitted. As we said above, we are the beneficiaries of the labor and sacrifices of millions and millions of people, many of whom are no longer living among us. Consider the freedom that we enjoy, which was won by the sacrifices of millions, or the quality of food that we eat, the water that we drink, the roads that we use, the land on which our house is built, the cultural heritage we enjoy and is ours, etc. It is not possible for us individually to do justice to such benefits. There is a great deal that we do not pay for and cannot begin to pay for. The virtue of natural piety is that virtue whereby we render due worship to our parents and country. Since it is not possible to satisfy this debt, justice demands that we do our part, so to speak, that is, orient our lives towards the common good (legal or general justice). The person who lives primarily for himself is an unjust and ungrateful man who fails to recognize all the goods of which he has, gratuitously, been made the beneficiary. Once again, such a person will be unjust in all his other relations, for the unjust man is unwilling to maintain the proper equality between himself and others. Much less is he willing to acknowledge the reverse relationship that exists between himself and the civil community and direct his life to balancing the scales of justice as much as the civil community can reasonably expect (a balance which will remain forever tilted towards the social whole).

The same is true with regard to the honor due to one's parents. In the Old Testament, a person was given the death penalty for striking his parents (Ex 21, 17). Now we certainly do not advocate the death penalty for such an act, but there is a very profound insight into the nature of such impiety. The person who fails to honor his parents and recognize the debt that he cannot fully repay is one who will forever remain incapable of recognizing the debt he owes the civil community. He is the kind of person who has a right to expect anything from everyone, but has a duty to no one. Such a one is a threat to the common good if there ever was one.

Observance is that virtue by which we inwardly feel and outwardly express the respect that is due towards those persons who are distinguished by their office or by some dignity. No one can give adequate recompense to the ability of rightly administering an office. Each person again profits from the proper administration of public offices, such as that of the teacher, the court judge, or the holder of political office, etc. For it is through the proper administration of these offices that the common good is brought into existence. The holders of such offices cannot be fully acquitted by payment. Observance is the virtue that acknowledges this situation by the respect or reverence shown a person holding such an office of public responsibility. Even if the person holding the office does so irresponsibly (which seems to be the norm today), we are required to honor the office and the whole community in the person holding the office. Cultivating this virtue is very important if we are to develop a just character.

Gratitude is that part of justice without which religion, piety and observance are not possible. Cultivating such a virtue (learning to say 'please' and 'thank you') is very important for laying the foundation for good character. Expressing thanks to another is rendering him his just due. In fact, learning to say 'please' and 'thank you' is the necessary prerequisite for acquiring the virtue of piety and cultivating legal justice.

It is also a part of justice to tell the truth (honesty). For human beings have a right not to be lied to or deceived. To lie is to willingly violate due equality. Friendliness is also an aspect of justice; for this virtue is not strictly due to another person, and neither can friendliness be rightfully claimed and demanded. But it is impossible to live together joyfully without friendliness or kindness. As Thomas says: " man could not live in society without truth, so likewise not without joy."


Prudence is the habit that perfects the practical intellect and justice is the habit that resides in the will. But there is more than human intellect and will at the source of human action, as we said earlier. The sensitive appetites are also at work as principles of human activity. The passions are good, and emotional health demands that they be not suppressed and unreasonably denied. As Psychiatrist Conrad Baars M.D. writes: "'s emotions have an innate need to be guided and directed by reason. That is to say that they need and desire to be guided by their very nature. Of course, this implies that this guidance could not be given properly unless reason first of all respects the emotions, listens to them, and accepts them for what they are -- psychic motors that will provide the energy necessary for the many varied situations in which man finds himself" (Feeling and Healing Your Emotions, pp. 65-66).

The sense appetites are divided, as we saw above, into the concupiscible and irascible. Virtue (good habits that dispose us to 'the good') makes man good not only in perfecting his reasoning ability (prudence) and by establishing rectitude in his operations (justice), but also by removing obstacles to the fulfillment of justice. Right reason can be hindered by the appetites being drawn by some object of pleasure other than that which right reason permits, as well as through the presence of some difficulty that hinders man from acquiring that which reason requires. The former obstacle is removed by the virtue of temperance, the latter through the virtue of fortitude.

Unless individual persons are exhorted to cultivate these virtues, justice in the world, especially distributive justice, will never become an actuality. For evil does not exist on the level of "the system", as Marx mistakenly taught and those on the political left continue to maintain. Rather, evil exists on the level of the person. This confusion is rooted in Hegel according to whom the State was a personal and divine entity (God). If Hegel was right with respect to pantheism (God and the universe are One), then perhaps it would be correct to say that evil exists on the level of the system. But for a Christian, the state is not divine, not an entity whose organic parts are individual persons. The individual person is a whole unto himself. And so a just society can only exist on the basis of just individuals. Indeed, evil can become something systematic, but it does so only, at least initially, through the free decisions of unjust persons. And a person has a disordered will (injustice) not because they are lacking in knowledge, but rather because their love for temporal goods is disordered. As St. Augustine writes: "Temperance is love keeping itself entire and incorrupt for God; fortitude is love bearing everything readily for the sake of God; justice is love serving God only, and therefore ruling well all else, as subject to man; prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God and what might hinder it."

Fortitude is a general virtue in that it implies a certain firmness of mind, which is necessary for the practice of any of the virtues. But fortitude is also a special virtue in that it is concerned with the emotions of fear and daring. For these emotions are linked to man's reaction to danger. Fortitude is the virtue that enables us to curb our fears and to moderate our daring. It is the virtue that binds the will to the good of reason in the face of the greatest evils. For this reason fortitude is properly concerned with the danger of death, for instance in situations of war, or in the situation of a court judge deliberating on the case of a well connected criminal, or a nurse attending the sick when there is a danger of deadly infection, or undertaking a dangerous journey for a good purpose.

It also belongs to fortitude to moderate daring and to direct us to how and when we should attack evil. And so it should be obvious that fortitude, in order to be authentically virtuous, must be guided and molded by prudence. But the principal act of fortitude is endurance. This is because it is more difficult to appease fear than it is to moderate daring.

It is also appropriate to use anger in action against evil. Fortitude regulates this passion. The ancient Stoics rejected anger and excluded all the other passions from the morally good life. Thomas teaches that the virtuous person should employ both anger and the other passions, but that these passions should be moderated by reason. For the body and the emotions are part and parcel of the human person, and so they are basically good.

This last point is very important. For Stoicism is very much alive today. Anger is often regarded as a loss of control or loss of composure and is thereby seen as something disgraceful and unbecoming of a professional or mature adult. But this is true of immoderate anger, or excessive anger, that is, anger ungoverned by reason. It has often been pointed out by levelheaded psychiatrists that some parents don't love their children enough to get angry with them. Moreover, a great deal of emotional illness, which spills over into the physical, results from the suppressed emotion of anger.

The vices opposed to fortitude include fear, fearlessness, and daring. The vice of fear is not the same as the passion of fear. A person who allows fear to rule him such that he fails to act rightly possesses the vice of fear, which is opposed to fortitude. Such fear is inordinate, the fear of the coward. Fearlessness is a vice when it results from a lack of love, or pride, or a dullness of mind. Moreover, it is natural for a human person to love his own life, for life is basically good, and it is natural to fear dangers of death. But daring can also be a vice, that is, when it lacks moderation.

The quasi-integral parts of fortitude are those virtues that are necessary for an act of fortitude. These virtues include confidence, magnificence, patience, and perseverance. When these virtues are referred to a lesser danger (than death), they are potential parts of fortitude, that is, secondary virtues in annexed to the virtue of fortitude.

Magnanimity, also annexed to fortitude, is concerned with overcoming the difficulties connected with the doing of great things and acquiring great honors. As such it involves a stretching forth of the mind to great and honorable ventures. To do so requires a confidence and strength of hope that stems from the opinion that one will be able to achieve certain great and honorable ends. The vices opposed to magnanimity include presumptuousness, which involves assuming what is beyond one's powers, and ambition which describes an inordinate desire for honor, that is, a desire for more than one's share of honor, or the desire of honor for oneself without referring it to God, or the resting of the heart in honor itself without referring it to the profit of others. And so the truly magnanimous person avoids vainglory. Glory is vain when a person seeks it in that which is unworthy of glory or does not refer glory to the honor of God and the spiritual welfare of one's neighbor. Pusillanimity is a vice on the deficient side of magnanimity. It makes a person fall short of that which is proportionate to his power. Such is a greater fault than presuming too much.

Magnificence is the virtue concerned with the carrying out of a great work, and the willingness to do so at great expense. Strictly speaking, magnificence has to do with the spending of money. For this reason magnificence applies to those who have such financial means at their disposal. But a person can also practice magnificence when willing to carry out a great task at great expense to himself. In this way even a poor person can do great things with regard to some particular work, which, though little in itself, can be done magnificently in its own proportion.

Patience and perseverance are also necessary virtues with respect to pursuing difficult goods. Without patience we are bound to be overcome by hardships and sorrow. Patience disposes us to bear the difficulties involved in the achievement of good. We must also persevere as long as is necessary to achieve the good. Softness and pertinacity are vices opposed to perseverance. The soft one gives in when things are difficult. Pertinacity is the inordinate persistence in something against many difficulties, rooted in pride or inordinate self-estimation and in an inability to give up one's own will. For the man of true perseverance is directed by reason in his quest of the good.


Temperance is the virtue that perfects the concupiscible appetite, and its work is to moderate those passions which seek the goods that have no particular difficulty with them. Why do we need such a virtue? When we are dealing with objects that appeal to our appetite, there is need of a virtue to temper or moderate the strong impulse of the appetite toward the good. Temperance withdraws man from those things that seduce the appetite and draw it away from the direction of reason.

This does not mean that the passions are evil and need to be suppressed. Perhaps we can compare the relationship between the concupiscible appetite and reason with that of a child and its parents. The child needs the direction of reason (the parents), especially if he or she is in line waiting for a ride on the roller coaster or is about to walk over a smaller child in a desperate attempt to climb up a slide. We all know the frustration that results from witnessing parents neglecting such responsibility over their unruly children. The concupiscible appetites are like the child. They must be tempered and disposed, after repeated acts, in accordance with reason. Temperance integrates, that is, promotes the integrity of the human person by moderating the appetites whose forcefulness could quite easily destroy that integrity. Thomas teaches that with the proper ordering of the powers of man there comes a certain serenity or tranquility of soul (Cf. ST. II II 141, 2, ad 2).

Temperance is principally, but not solely, concerned with the pleasures of food and drink and sexual pleasures -- those pleasures connected with the preservation of human life. Pleasurable objects that are at our disposal are often directed to some necessity of life as to their end. The use of such pleasurable things must be judged according to the needs of this life. This calls for prudence, above all. But the purpose of temperance is not to stifle or block the passions and make a person insensible. In fact, it is the contrary. Temperance makes a person more passionate, while intemperance leads to greater insensibility. That is why the intemperate are never satisfied and are for the most part left feeling empty.

Insensibility is one of the vices opposed to temperance. To deny all pleasures belongs to the vice of insensibility. Often, though, it can be praiseworthy and necessary to abstain from certain pleasures for the sake of a good end. But denying them for no reason is not a part of temperance. For man cannot use his reason without his sensitive powers, which require a body, and the body is kept alive and healthy by means of certain operations that affords pleasure. And so the good of reason itself cannot be sustained in the person who abstains from all pleasures.

Intemperance is unchecked concupiscence. Such unchecked concupiscence is childish; for like a child, the intemperate person does not attend to the order of reason. Moreover, intemperance dims the light of reason, and since the clarity and beauty of virtues arises from the light of reason, intemperance is the most repugnant to a person's clarity and beauty, and as such is the most disgraceful vice -- but not the greatest vice.

The integral parts of temperance include shamefacedness, whereby a person recoils from the disgrace that results from intemperance, as well as honesty, whereby a person loves the beauty of temperance. Honesty refers to an honorable state, namely to that which is worthy of honor. It brings all that is connected with man into harmony with reason. Honesty is for that reason a kind of spiritual beauty, for beauty results from the concurrence of clarity and due proportion.

Abstinence, sobriety, chastity and purity constitute the subjective parts of temperance. Abstinence involves the retrenchment from a good. When a person abstains from a good according to the regulation of reason, it signifies a virtuous habit. Fasting is carried out for some good purpose, such as the avoidance of sickness or in order to perform bodily works with greater ease, or to avoid spiritual evils and more readily pursue spiritual goods.

Chastity moderates the concupiscences regarding sexual pleasure. Unchastity or lust destroys the very structure of the person, blinds the intellect and renders him incapable of contemplating truth. More than any other vice, lust brings about the disintegration of the person and destroys prudence, the mother of all the virtues (try reasoning with an unchaste person), whereas gluttony (the person who lives to eat) only dulls one's spiritual sense and depresses one's desire for things spiritual.

The virtues annexed to temperance (the potential parts of temperance) are continence, humility, meekness, and modesty. Continence is that by which a man resists evil desires which are vehement. Meekness restrains the onslaught of anger -- while clemency moderates external punishment. As we said above, anger is blameworthy if it is not regulated by reason. For anger arises in a person not according to his free choice -- for we do not choose to become angry. But the movement of anger is in reason's power, and we do indeed choose to either regulate it or allow it to rule us.

Humility is a virtue annexed to temperance because by it the virtuous person restrains the mind lest it tend to high things immoderately. Opposed to humility is the vice of pride, which is the inordinate desire of one's own excellence. Modesty is the virtue that deals with lesser matters in which moderation is not that difficult. Modesty of movement is the virtue concerned with the outward movements of the person, moderating them according to reason. For instance, consider the movements of the body builder who walks so as to appear ominous, or the woman who walks so as to appear sexy. Modesty of apparel also comes into play here. A man or women wearing very tight and thin clothing or a man walking around with his shirt unbuttoned down to his navel in order to expose his chest are examples of immodest apparel.

Leisure is also to be moderated by temperance. For just as bodily rest is necessary for the body's refreshment, so also the soul needs some kind of refreshment. Now talking in this way can give the false impression that body and soul are two distinct entities. But this is not the impression we intend to give. The human person as a whole needs to rest, because he is physically tired. But the whole human person also needs to leisure. For when the soul rises above sensible goods and is intent on the operations of reason, there results after a time a certain weariness of soul. The soul's rest is leisure, which of course involves some bodily pleasure, thereby alleviating the strain of the mind's study. Therefore, it is necessary to engage in playful or humorous activity. But there can be an excess in games or leisure when play is inordinate.

A Summary of the Virtues of Moderation (note: the measure of all the virtues of moderation is justice, not mediocrity or popular culture).

Summary of the Vices against Justice

Next Page: Chapter 25: An Introduction to Natural Law
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