The Intellectual Virtues

Tobias Hoffmann

in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195326093
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Intellectual Virtues

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  • Philosophy
  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Epistemology



The article explores Aquinas's account of the individual intellectual virtues, with special focus on prudence. Aquinas argued that the intellectual virtues (apart from prudence) are virtues only in a qualified sense but he considers them superior to the moral virtues. Aquinas examines the virtues in detail in his Secunda Secundae. The only intellectual virtue that receives extensive treatment in the Secunda Secundae is prudence, a cardinal virtue as the four cardinal virtues, together with the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, constitute the major organizing principle of the Secunda Secundae. Aristotle mentioned that wisdom concerns knowledge of the highest causes and the ability to judge and order subordinate things by these standards. Wisdom as an intellectual virtue concerns God, as he is knowable by natural human reason, that is, as he is investigated in the science of metaphysics. According to Aquinas, the domain of a specific science is defined by its ‘subject’, which is confined to a single genus. The intellectual virtue of art refers to what the medieval called the mechanical arts and it is distinct from the so-called liberal arts. For Aquinas, the liberal arts are speculative habits such as the theoretical sciences and they merely have a resemblance to the mechanical arts in that they involve such activities as counting and measuring. Art as an intellectual virtue is the knowledge or the professional competence of a craftsman.

Keywords: intellectual virtue; liberal arts; cardinal virtue; prudence; theological virtues; wisdom

Article.  4802 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Epistemology

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