CARDINAL VIRTUES (Lat. cardo, a hinge; the fixed point on which anything turns), a phrase used for the principal virtues on which conduct in general depends. Socrates and Plato (see Republic, iv. 427) take these to be Prudence, Courage (or Fortitude), Temperance and Justice. It is noticeable that the virtue of Benevolence, which has played so important a part in Christian ethics and in modern altruistic and sociological theories, is omitted by the ancients. Further, against the Platonic list it may be urged (1) that it is arbitrary, and (2) that the several virtues are not specifically distinct, that the basis of the division is unsound, and that there is overlapping. It is said that St Ambrose was the first to adapt the Platonic classification to Christian theology. By the Roman Catholic Church these virtues are regarded as natural as opposed to the theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity. Some authors, combining the two lists, have spoken of the Seven Cardinal Virtues. In English literature the phrase is found as far back as the Cursor Mundi (1300) and the Ayenbite of Inwit (1340).
See B. Jowett, Republic of Plato (Eng. trans., Oxford, 1887, Introd. p. lxiii); Plato, Protagoras (329-330); Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, vi. 13. 6; Th. Ziegler, Gesch. d. chr. Eth. (2nd ed.); H. Sidgwick, History of Ethics (5th ed.), pp. 44, 133, 143; and Methods of Ethics, p. 375.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)