For other uses, see Virtue (disambiguation).
Virtue (Latin: virtus, Ancient Greek: ἀρετή "arete") is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. The opposite of virtue is vice.
1 Classical antiquity
1.1 Platonic virtue,
1.2 Aristotelian virtue,
1.3 Prudence and virtue,
2 Religious traditions
2.6 Bahá'í faith,
2.7 Egyptian religion,
3 In Chinese philosophy,
4 Samurai virtue,
5 Philosophers' views
5.1 René Descartes,
5.2 Immanuel Kant,
5.3 Friedrich Nietzsche,
5.4 Benjamin Franklin,
6 Virtues as emotions,
7 In Objectivism,
8 In modern psychology,
9 Vice as opposite,
10 List of virtues,
11 Further reading,
12 See also,
14 External links,
This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July 2010)
The four classic Western Cardinal virtues are:
temperance: σωφροσύνη (sōphrosynē),
prudence: φρόνησις (phronēsis),
courage: ἀνδρεία (andreia),
justice: δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē),
This enumeration is traced to Greek philosophy and was listed by Plato in addition to piety: ὁσιότης (hosiotēs). It is likely that Plato believed that virtue was, in fact, a single thing, and that this enumeration was created by others in order to better define virtue. In Protagoras and Meno, he states that the separate virtues can't exist independently and offers as evidence the contradictions of acting with wisdom (prudence), yet in an unjust way, or acting with bravery (fortitude), yet without knowing this(prudence).
In his work Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defined a virtue as a point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait. The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a golden mean sometimes closer to one extreme than the other. However, the virtuous action is not simply the "mean" (mathematically speaking) between two opposite extremes. As Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics: "at the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue." This is not simply splitting the difference between two extremes. For example, generosity is a virtue that fits between the two extrema of miserliness and being profligate. Generosity the perfect between the two errors; it is hitting right on the target. Further examples include: courage as the golden mean between cowardice and foolhardiness and confidence the golden mean between self-deprecation and vanity. To find the golden mean requires common-sense smarts, not necessarily high intelligence. In Aristotle's sense, virtue is excellence at being human, a skill that helps a person survive, thrive, form meaningful relationships, and find happiness. Learning virtue is usually difficult at first, but becomes easier with practice over time until it becomes a habit.
Prudence and virtue:
Seneca, the Roman Stoic, said that perfect prudence is indistinguishable from perfect virtue. Thus, in considering all consequences, a prudent person would act in the same way as a virtuous person. The same rationale was expressed by Plato in Meno, when he wrote that people only act in ways that they perceive will bring them maximum good. It is the lack of wisdom that results in the making of a bad choice instead of a prudent one. In this way, wisdom is the central part of virtue. Plato realized that because virtue was synonymous with wisdom it could be taught, a possibility he had earlier discounted. He then added "correct belief" as an alternative to knowledge, proposing that knowledge is merely correct belief that has been thought through and "tethered".
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_ethics
Loving God, and obeying his laws, in particular the Ten Commandments are central to Jewish conceptions of virtue. Wisdom is also celebrated in the Book of Wisdom.
A classic articulation of the Golden Rule came from the first century Rabbi Hillel the Elder. Renowned in the Jewish tradition as a sage and a scholar, he is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud and, as such, one of the most important figures in Jewish history. Asked for a summary of the Jewish religion in the most concise terms, Hillel replied (reputedly while standing on one leg): "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is the explanation; go and learn."
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_ethics
See also: Seven virtues and Evangelical counsels
In Christianity, the three theological virtues are Faith, Hope and Love, a list which comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13 (νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη, τὰ τρία ταῦτα· μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη (pistis (faith), elpis (hope), agape (love)). The same chapter describes love as the greatest of the three, and further defines love as "patient, kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude." (The Christian virtue of love is sometimes called charity and at other times a Greek word agape is used to contrast the love of God and the love of humankind from other types of love such as friendship or physical affection.)
The Bible mentions additional virtues, such as in the "Fruit of the Holy Spirit," found in Galatians 5:22-23: "By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit it is benevolent-love: joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, benevolence, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is absolutely no law against such a thing."
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_ethics
In Islam, the Qur'an is believed to be the literal word of God, and the definitive description of virtue. The Prophet Muhammad, as the messenger of God, is considered the best example of virtue in human form. The hadiths, his reported sayings, are central to the Islamic understanding of virtue.
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_ethics
Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma (moral duty), has pivotal virtues that everyone keeping their Dharma is asked to follow, for they are distinct qualities of mankind that allow one to be in the mode of goodness. There are three modes of material nature (guna), as described in the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures: Sattva (goodness,maintenance, stillness, intelligence), Rajas (passion, creation, energy, activity), and Tamas (ignorance, restraint, inertia, destruction). Every person harbours a mixture of these modes in varying degrees. A person in the mode of Sattva has that mode in prominence in his nature, which he obtains by following the virtues of the Dharma.
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_ethics
Buddhist practice as outlined in the Noble Eightfold Path can be regarded as a progressive list of virtues.
Right View - Realizing the Four Noble Truths (samyag-vyāyāma, sammā-vāyāma).,
Right Mindfulness - Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness (samyak-smṛti, sammā-sati).,
Right Concentration - Wholesome one-pointedness of mind (samyak-samādhi, sammā-samādhi).,
Buddhism's four brahmavihara ("Divine States") can be more properly regarded as virtues in the European sense. They are:
Metta/Maitri: loving-kindness towards all; the hope that a person will be well; loving kindness is "the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy.",
Karuṇā: compassion; the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; compassion is the "wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.",
Mudita: altruistic joy in the accomplishments of a person, oneself or other; sympathetic joy - "the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings.",
Upekkha/Upeksha: equanimity, or learning to accept both loss and gain, praise and blame, success and failure with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others. Equanimity means "not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but to regard every sentient being as equal. It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind - not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness or agitation.",
There are also the Paramitas ("perfections").
In Theravada Buddhism's canonical Buddhavamsa the Ten Perfections (dasa pāramiyo) are (original terms in Pali):
Dāna parami : generosity, giving of oneself.,
Sīla parami : virtue, morality, proper conduct.,
Nekkhamma parami : renunciation.,
Paññā parami : transcendental wisdom, insight.,
Viriya (also spelt vīriya) parami : energy, diligence, vigour, effort.,
Khanti parami : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance.,
Sacca parami : truthfulness, honesty.,
Adhiṭṭhāna (adhitthana) parami : determination, resolution.,
Mettā parami : loving-kindness.,
Upekkhā (also spelt upekhā) parami : equanimity, serenity.,
In Mahayana Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika), lists the Six Perfections as (original terms in Sanskrit):
Dāna paramita: generosity, giving of oneself (in Chinese, 布施波羅蜜).,
Śīla paramita : virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct (持戒波羅蜜).,
Kṣānti (kshanti) paramita : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance (忍辱波羅蜜).,
Vīrya paramita : energy, diligence, vigour, effort, perseverance (精進波羅蜜).,
Dhyāna paramita : one-pointed concentration, contemplation (禪定波羅蜜).,
Prajñā paramita : wisdom, insight (智慧波羅蜜).,
In the Ten Stages (Dasabhumika) Sutra, four more Paramitas are listed:
7. Upāya paramita: skillful means.
8. Praṇidhāna (pranidhana) paramita: vow, resolution, aspiration, determination.
9. Bala paramita: spiritual power.
10. Jñāna paramita: knowledge.
In the Bahá'í Faith, virtues are direct spiritual qualities that the human soul possesses, inherited from God Himself. The development and manifestation of these virtues is the theme of the Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh and are discussed in great detail as the underpinnings of a divinely-inspired society by `Abdu'l-Bahá in such texts as The Secret of Divine Civilization.
Maat or ma'at (thought to have been pronounced *muʔ.ʕat),1 also spelled māt or mayet, was the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. Maat was also personified as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. Her (ideological) counterpart was Isfet.
In Chinese philosophy:
"Virtue", translated from Chinese de (德), is also an important concept in Chinese philosophy, particularly Daoism. De (Chinese: 德; pinyin: dé; Wade-Giles: te) originally meant normative "virtue" in the sense of "personal character; inner strength; integrity", but semantically changed to moral "virtue; kindness; morality". Note the semantic parallel for English virtue, with an archaic meaning of "inner potency; divine power" (as in "by virtue of") and a modern one of "moral excellence; goodness".
Confucian moral manifestations of "virtue" include ren ("humanity"), xiao ("filial piety"), and li ("proper behavior, performance of rituals"). In Confucianism, the notion of ren - according to Simon Leys - means "humanity" and "goodness". Ren originally had the archaic meaning in the Confucian Book of Poems of "virility", but progressively took on shades of ethical meaning. (On the origins and transformations of this concept see Lin Yu-sheng: "The evolution of the pre-Confucian meaning of jen and the Confucian concept of moral autonomy," Monumenta Serica, vol.31, 1974-75.)
The Daoist concept of De, however, is more subtle, pertaining to the "virtue" or ability that an individual realizes by following the Dao ("the Way"). One important normative value in much of Chinese thinking is that one's social status should result from the amount of virtue that one demonstrates, rather than from one's birth. In the Analects, Confucius explains de as follows: "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it."
In Hagakure, the quintessential book of the samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo encapsulates his views on 'virtue' in the four vows he makes daily:
Never to be outdone in the way of the samurai or Bushidō.,
To be of good use to the master.,
To be filial to my parents.,
To manifest great compassion and act for the sake of Man.,
Yamamoto goes on to say:
If one dedicates these four vows to the gods and Buddhas every morning, he will have the strength of two men and never slip backward. One must edge forward like the inchworm, bit by bit. The gods and Buddhas, too, first started with a vow.
The Bushidō code is typified by seven virtues^ :
Others that are sometimes added to these:
Filial piety (孝,kō),
Care for the aged (悌,tei),
For the Rationalist philosopher René Descartes, virtue consists in the correct reasoning that should guide our actions. Men should seek the sovereign good that Descartes, following Zeno, identifies with virtue, as this produces a solid blessedness or pleasure. For Epicurus the sovereign good was pleasure, and Descartes says that in fact this is not in contradiction with Zeno's teaching, because virtue produces a spiritual pleasure, that is better than bodily pleasure. Regarding Aristotle's opinion that happiness depends on the goods of fortune, Descartes does not deny that these goods contribute to happiness, but remarks that they are in great proportion outside one's own control, whereas one's mind is under one's complete control.
Immanuel Kant, in his Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, expresses true virtue as different from what commonly is known about this moral trait. In Kant's view, to be goodhearted, benevolent and sympathetic is not regarded as true virtue. The only aspect that makes a human truly virtuous is to behave in accordance with moral principles. Kant presents an example for more clarification; suppose that you come across a needy person in the street; if your sympathy leads you to help that person, your response does not illustrate your virtue. In this example, since you do not afford helping all needy ones, you have behaved unjustly, and it is out of the domain of principles and true virtue. Kant applies the approach of four temperaments to distinguish truly virtuous people. According to Kant, among all people with diverse temperaments, a person with melancholy frame of mind is the most virtuous whose thoughts, words and deeds are on the bases of principles.
Friedrich Nietzsche's view of virtue is based on the idea of an order of rank among people. For Nietzsche, the virtues of the strong are seen as vices by the weak and slavish, thus Nietzsche's virtue ethics is based on his distinction between master morality and slave morality. Nietzsche promotes the virtues of those he calls "higher men", people like Goethe and Beethoven. The virtues he praises in them are their creative powers ("the men of great creativity" - "the really great men according to my understanding" (WP 957)). According to Nietzsche these higher types are solitary, pursue a "unifying project", revere themselves and are healthy and life-affirming. Because mixing with the herd makes one base, the higher type "strives instinctively for a citadel and a secrecy where he is saved from the crowd, the many, the great majority..." (BGE 26). The 'Higher type' also "instinctively seeks heavy responsibilities" (WP 944) in the form of an "organizing idea" for their life, which drives them to artistic and creative work and gives them psychological health and strength. The fact that the higher types are "healthy" for Nietzsche does not refer to physical health as much as a psychological resilience and fortitude. Finally, a Higher type affirms life because he is willing to accept the eternal return of his life and affirm this forever and unconditionally.
In the last section of Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche outlines his thoughts on the noble virtues and places solitude as one of the highest virtues:
And to keep control over your four virtues: courage, insight, sympathy, solitude. Because solitude is a virtue for us, since it is a sublime inclination and impulse to cleanliness which shows that contact between people ("society") inevitably makes things unclean. Somewhere, sometime, every community makes people - "base." (BGE §284)
Nietzsche also sees truthfulness as a virtue:
Genuine honesty, assuming that this is our virtue and we cannot get rid of it, we free spirits - well then, we will want to work on it with all the love and malice at our disposal and not get tired of 'perfecting' ourselves in our virtue, the only one we have left: may its glory come to rest like a gilded, blue evening glow of mockery over this aging culture and its dull and dismal seriousness! (Beyond Good and Evil, §227)
These are the virtues that Benjamin Franklin used to develop what he called 'moral perfection'. He had a checklist in a notebook to measure each day how he lived up to his virtues.
They became known through Benjamin Franklin's autobiography.
Temperance: Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.,
Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.,
Order: Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.,
Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.,
Frugality: Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. Waste nothing.,
Industry: Lose no Time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.,
Sincerity: Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.,
Justice: Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.,
Moderation: Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.,
Cleanliness: Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.,
Tranquility: Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.,
Chastity: Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another's Peace or Reputation.,
Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.,
Virtues as emotions:
Marc Jackson in his book Emotion and Psyche puts forward a new development of the virtues. He identifies the virtues as what he calls the good emotions "The first group consisting of love, kindness, joy, faith, awe and pity is good" These virtues differ from older accounts of the virtues because they are not character traits expressed by action, but emotions that are to be felt and developed by feeling not acting.
Ayn Rand held that in her morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists, and a single choice: to live. All values and virtues proceed from these. To live, man must hold three fundamental values that one develops and achieves in life: Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem. A value is "that which one acts to gain and/or keep ... and the virtues are the actions by which one gains and/or keeps it." The primary virtue in Objectivist ethics is rationality, which as Rand meant it is "the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action." These values are achieved by passionate and consistent action and the virtues are the policies for achieving those fundamental values. Ayn Rand describes seven virtues: rationality, productiveness, pride, independence, integrity, honesty and justice. The first three represent the three primary virtues that correspond to the three fundamental values, whereas the final four are derived from the virtue of rationality. She claims that virtue is not an end in itself, that virtue is not its own reward nor sacrificial fodder for the reward of evil, that life is the reward of virtue and happiness is the goal and the reward of life. Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. Moral perfection is an unbreached rationality, not the degree of your intelligence but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.
In modern psychology:
Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, two leading researchers in positive psychology, recognizing the deficiency inherent in psychology's tendency to focus on dysfunction rather than on what makes a healthy and stable personality, set out to develop a list of "Character Strengths and Virtues". After three years of study, 24 traits (classified into six broad areas of virtue) were identified, having "a surprising amount of similarity across cultures and strongly indicating a historical and cross-cultural convergence." These six categories of virtue are courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom. Some psychologists suggest that these virtues are adequately grouped into fewer categories; for example, the same 24 traits have been grouped into simply: Cognitive Strengths, Temperance Strengths, and Social Strengths.
Vice as opposite:
This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July 2010)
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice
The opposite of a virtue is a vice. Vice is a habitual, repeated practice of wrongdoing. One way of organizing the vices is as the corruption of the virtues.
As Aristotle noted, however, the virtues can have several opposites. Virtues can be considered the mean between two extremes, as the Latin maxim dictates in medio stat virtus - in the centre lies virtue. For instance, both cowardice and rashness are opposites of courage; contrary to prudence are both over-caution and insufficient caution; the opposites of humility are shame and pride. A more "modern" virtue, tolerance, can be considered the mean between the two extremes of narrow-mindedness on the one hand and over-acceptance on the other. Vices can therefore be identified as the opposites of virtues - but with the caveat that each virtue could have many different opposites, all distinct from each other.
List of virtues:
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_virtues
John Newton, Ph.D. Complete Conduct Principles for the 21st Century, 2000. ISBN 0967370574.,
Hein, David. "Christianity and Honor." The Living Church, August 18, 2013, pp. 8-10.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license