Small is Beautiful, Revisited


The cardinal virtues of temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice

I recently reread E.F. Schumacher’s classic Small is Beautiful (originally published by Blond and Riggs Ltd., London, 1973). I first read this book as part of my training with the US Peace Corps almost 20 years ago when I was an ‘appropriate technology’ agent in West Africa, and it had a huge impact on my thinking at the time. However idealistic its precept, the concepts of decentralized economies, resource conservation and the eradication of global poverty rang true, and resonate even more on the heals of recent, global economic meltdown. Schumacher closes his argument by reinvigorating the concept of the four cardinal virtues, originally posited by Plato. Here is the last paragraph of Small is Beautiful:

“Justice relates to truth, fortitude to goodness, and temporentia to beauty; while prudence, in a sense, comprises all three. The type of realism which behaves as if the good, the true, and the beautiful were too vague and subjective to be adopted as the highest aims of social or individual life, or were the automatic spin-off of the successful pursuit of wealth and power, has been aptly called ‘crackpot-realism’. Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’ The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.”