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57. Intellectual Virtues

1. The intellect, mind, or understanding is speculative inasmuch as it simply knows, or contemplates what is known. The intellect is practical inasmuch as its knowing guides the will's choice. As we have said previously, the speculative intellect knows what is so; the practical intellect knows what to do. Now, even the speculative intellect has virtues.

2. Virtues of the speculative intellect are wisdom, science, understanding. Understanding is the habit of first principles. It is the mind's habitual awareness of fundamental and self-evident truths (one's existence; one's ability to think straight; the fact that a thing cannot be, at the same time, existent and non existent). Science is the mind's habitual possession (or virtue) of truth that has been thought out and evidenced or proved. Wisdom is the habit or virtue of the deepest and most valuable knowledge. There are many sciences, and these may be severally in the same mind as virtues. But there is only one wisdom. Still, the characteristics of wisdom can appear in various departments of human activity; we say that a man is wise in one particular, and unwise in another. But wisdom, in its perfection, is the deepest and most valuable knowledge the mind can possess and it centers in the supreme truth; the truly wise man contemplates ultimates, and guides his life by that knowledge.

3. Art, as a virtue of the intellect, is the acquired and habitual knowledge of how to make things rightly. Art is of the practical, rather than the speculative, order, but it is regularly aligned with the virtues of the speculative intellect. For the practical intellect is concerned with moral conduct; the intellect is specifically practical when it shows the will the way to righteous action, or even unrighteous action. But such guiding knowledge as refers to things other than moral conduct is simply ascribed to the speculative intellect.

4. Prudence is an intellectual virtue of the practical order. It is not the same as art. For art is the habitual knowledge - the habit, the intellectual virtue - of how to make things rightly; prudence is the virtue of knowing how to act rightly. Art looks to perfection in things, in its fruits; prudence looks to perfection in its subject, that is, in the person who possesses it. The one perfects the act, the other perfects the agent.

5. Prudence is a virtue most necessary to man, and is listed with the cardinal virtues. Life is made up of human acts; right knowledge of how these human acts should be performed is of first necessity for the living of a good life.

6. Annexed to prudence, but distinct from it and subordinate to it, are certain habits of the practical intellect. These are practical counsel upon proposed action, and practical judgment to perform or omit proposed action. Prudence, after counsel and judgment, presents the action to the will (to be undertaken or avoided) with recommendation, and even some semblance of command.

"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."
St Augustine

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"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. "
Thomas á Kempis

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"Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. "
Thomas á Kempis

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