Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 90, 2016

Justice: Then and Now

R. E. Houser
Pages 187-200

Justice as a Cardinal Virtue

This paper has two goals: 1) to understand justice as a cardinal virtue, according to Aquinas; and 2) to use his conception of justice as a cardinal virtue to understand how one engages in acts of “general” justice. The argument proceeds in four stages: 1) how Aquinas understands the virtues by looking to their “objects”; 2) the two distinct “modes” of the four cardinal virtues, as “general” and “specific” virtues; 3) the triangle of three kinds of justice, seen in terms of their “objects”; 4) Aquinas’s doctrine of justice as a “general” virtue (ST 2-2.58.5–6) shows that we can perform operations of “general” justice in two ways, as do the ruler and his minsters, and as ordinary folk do. Surprisingly, it is the latter mode of acting for “general” justice that is primary, not the former.