Virtue

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Personification of virtue (Greek ἀρετή) in Celsus Library in Ephesos, Turkey
Virtue, sword in hand, with her foot on the prostrate form of Tyranny on the Great Seal of Virginia

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.

Contents

Classical antiquity

Platonic virtue

The four classic Western Cardinal virtues are:

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 (prudence).

Aristotelian virtue

In his work Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defined a virtue as a balance point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait.[1] The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a golden mean sometimes closer to one extreme than the other. For example, courage is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, confidence the mean between self-deprecation and vanity, and generosity the mean between miserliness and extravagance. 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.[citation needed] 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 if virtue was synonymous with wisdom then 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".

Jewish tradition

Virtues fighting vices, stained glass window (14th century) in the Niederhaslach Church

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."[2]

Christian tradition

In Christianity, the three theological virtues are Faith, Hope and Love, a list which comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13 (νυνι δε μενει πιστις ελπις αγαπη τα τρια ταυτα μειζων δε τουτων η αγαπη (pistis, elpis, agape). 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 for God and humankind from other types of love such as friendship or physical affection.) "These are not acquired through human effort but, beginning with Baptism, they are infused within us as gifts from God."- United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

There are many listings of virtue additional to the traditional Christian virtues (faith, hope and love) in the Christian Bible. One is the "Fruit of the Holy Spirit," found in Galatians 5:22-23: "By contrast, the fruits of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things."[3] (Ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη χαρὰ εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία χρηστότης ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις πραΰτης ἐγκράτεια· κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος.)[4]



Christianity

The substance that acts on faith, capable of manifesting miracles.

Virtue, as a measurable, spiritually-able substance, as defined by Christ Jesus; recorded by the apostle Mark. According to the King James version of the Holy Bible, from within The book of Mark, Chapter (5), verses (25) through (33) by experiential definition.

25. And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, 26. And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, 27 When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. 28 For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. 29 And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. 30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? 31 And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? 32 And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. 33 But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. [5]


Arguably paralleled: As Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen, according to The Book of Hebrews 11:1-3, as quoted from the King James version of the Holy Bible.

1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. [6]


Terminological parallel: By these 2 examples set apart, one is made better aware of the necessity of a greater understanding, of the potential of virtue, as it is paralleled here by both; in "substance,' 'actions' and by the 'Person" of Christ Jesus or The Living Word of God, that each doing their own parts and/or in parallel, act on faith, with virtue and according to Biblical reference, are able to manifest miracles, by the Word of God.

Muslim tradition

In the Muslim tradition, the Qur'an, is the literal word of God, (Allah), and the definitive description of virtue. The Prophet Muhammad(Be peace upon him) is the messenger of Allah and a best example of Islamic virtues in human form. The hadiths or reported sayings of Muhammad(Be peace upon him) are also central to the Islamic understanding of virtue.

According to the holy book of Qur'an, Islam is the word (which translated meaning is "submission"). The objective of this word is self submission to the will of Allah and obey his all instruction and restriction. Chapter (5) sūrat l-māidah (The Table spread with Food), proclaims that virtue is acceptance to the will of God, acceptance of the ways of God, acceptance of divine grace, of forgiveness, mercy, gracious, true repentance, the redemption, acceptance of the ways of Peace, the acceptance of the way things are. Foremost among God's attributes are mercy and compassion or, in the canonical language of Arabic, I-rahmani and I-rahimi. Each of the 114 chapters of the Qur'an, with one exception, begins with the verse, "In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful".[7]

The Arabic for compassion is I-rahmani. As a cultural influence, its roots abound in the Qur'an. A good Muslim is to commence each day, each prayer and each significant action by invoking God the Merciful and Compassionate, i.e. by reciting Bi Ism-i-Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim.

The Muslim scriptures urge compassion towards captives as well as to widows, orphans and the poor. Traditionally, Zakat, a toll tax to help the poor and needy, is obligatory upon all Muslims (9:60). One of the practical purposes of fasting or sawm during the month of Ramadan is to help one empathize with the hunger pangs of those less fortunate, to enhance sensitivity to the suffering of others and develop compassion for the poor and destitute.[8]

The Muslim virtues are: prayer, repentance, honesty, loyalty, sincerity, frugality, prudence, moderation, self-restraint, discipline, perseverance, patience, hope, dignity, courage, justice, tolerance, wisdom, good speech, respect, purity, courtesy, kindness, gratitude, generosity, contentment, and others.[9]

Bahá'í tradition

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.

Many of the virtues are described with special significance in Bahá'í scripture, such as:

The Virtues Project developed by Canadian Bahá'ís Linda Popov, Dan Popov, and John Kavelin, is greatly inspired by the Bahá'í perspective on virtues.

Hindu virtues

Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma (Dharma means moral duty), has pivotal virtues that everyone keeping their Dharma is asked to follow, for they are distinct qualities of manusya (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 Indian 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.

The modes of Sattva are as follows:[citation needed]

Buddhist tradition

Buddhist practice as outlined in the Noble Eightfold Path can be regarded as a progressive list of virtues.

  1. Right View - Realizing the Four Noble Truths (samyag-vyāyāma, sammā-vāyāma).
  2. Right Mindfulness - Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness (samyak-smṛti, sammā-sati).
  3. 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:

  1. 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."[10]
  2. Karuṇā: compassion; the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; compassion is the "wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering."[10]
  3. 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."[10]
  4. 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."[11]

There are also the Paramitas ("perfections").

In Theravada Buddhism's canonical Buddhavamsa[12] the Ten Perfections (dasa pāramiyo) are (original terms in Pali):

  1. Dāna parami : generosity, giving of oneself.
  2. Sīla parami : virtue, morality, proper conduct.
  3. Nekkhamma parami : renunciation.
  4. Paññā parami : transcendental wisdom, insight.
  5. Viriya (also spelt vīriya) parami : energy, diligence, vigour, effort.
  6. Khanti parami : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance.
  7. Sacca parami : truthfulness, honesty.
  8. Adhiṭṭhāna (adhitthana) parami : determination, resolution.
  9. Mettā parami : loving-kindness.
  10. Upekkhā (also spelt upekhā) parami : equanimity, serenity.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika), lists the Six Perfections as (original terms in Sanskrit):

  1. Dāna paramita: generosity, giving of oneself (in Chinese, 布施波羅蜜).
  2. Śīla paramita : virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct (持戒波羅蜜).
  3. Kṣānti (kshanti) paramita : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance (忍辱波羅蜜).
  4. Vīrya paramita : energy, diligence, vigour, effort, perseverance (精進波羅蜜).
  5. Dhyāna paramita : one-pointed concentration, contemplation (禪定波羅蜜).
  6. 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 Chinese philosophy

"Virtue", translated from Chinese de (), is also an important concept in Chinese philosophy, particularly Daoism. De (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; 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."[13]

Chinese martial morality

Samurai virtue

In Hagakure, the quintessential book of the samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo encapsulates his views on 'virtue' in the four vows he makes daily:

  1. Never to be outdone in the way of the samurai or Bushidō.
  2. To be of good use to the master.
  3. To be filial to my parents.
  4. To manifest great compassion and act for the sake of Man.

Tsunetomo 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:

Virtues according to Benjamin Franklin

These are the virtues[14] 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.

  1. Temperance: Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.
  3. Order: Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality: Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. Waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no Time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.
  11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. 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.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Kantian virtue

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.

View of Nietzsche

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche often took a more cynical view on virtue. A few of his key thoughts were as follows:

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"[15] 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.

In Objectivism

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 virtue[s] [are] the act[ions] 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."[16] These values are achieved by passionate and consistent action and the virtues are the policies for achieving those fundamental values.[17] 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.[18]

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".[19] 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 indicat[ing] a historical and cross-cultural convergence."[20] These six categories of virtue are courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom.[21] 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.[22]

Vice as opposite

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

See also

References

  1. ^ Sparknotes.com
  2. ^ Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a. See also the ethic of reciprocity or "The Golden rule."
  3. ^ The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989)
  4. ^ Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger and Allen Wikgren, The Greek New Testament, 4th ed. (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993, c1979)
  5. ^ The Book of Mark, King James version, chapter 5:25-33 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%205&version=KJV - Audio interface: http://www.biblegateway.com/audio/mclean/kjv/Mark.5
  6. ^ The Book of Hebrews, King James version, chapter 11:1-3 English Audio interface: Hebrews 11
  7. ^ University of Southern California
  8. ^ Milligazette.com
  9. ^ Meccacentric.com
  10. ^ a b c Buddhist Studies for Secondary Students, Unit 6: The Four Immeasurables
  11. ^ A View on Buddhism, The four immeasurables: Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity
  12. ^ Buddhavamsa, chapter 2. For an on-line reference to the Buddhavamsa's seminality in the Theravada notion of parami, see Bodhi (2005).
    In terms of other examples in the Pali literature, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 454, entry for "Pāramī," (retrieved 2007-06-24) cites Jataka i.73 and Dhammapada Atthakatha i.84. Bodhi (2005) also mentions Acariya Dhammapala's treatise in the Cariyapitaka-Atthakatha and the Brahmajala Sutta subcommentary (tika).
  13. ^ Lunyu 2/1, tr. James Legge
  14. ^ Franklin's 13 Virtues Extract of Franklin's autobiography, compiled by Paul Ford.
  15. ^ Marc Jackson (2010) Emotion and Psyche. O-books. p12 (ISBN 978-1-84694-378-2)
  16. ^ Rand, Ayn The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, p. 27
  17. ^ Gotthelf, Allan On Ayn Rand; p. 86
  18. ^ Rand, Ayn (1961) For the New Intellectual Galt’s Speech, "For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", p. 131, 178.
  19. ^ Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. (ISBN 0-19-516701-5)
  20. ^ Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. p. 36. (ISBN 0-19-516701-5)
  21. ^ Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. p. 36-39. (ISBN 0-19-516701-5)
  22. ^ Jessica Shryack, Michael F. Steger, Robert F. Krueger, Christopher S. Kallie. 2010. The structure of virtue: An empirical investigation of the dimensionality of the virtues in action inventory of strengths. Elsevier.

External links