Virtue: Wikis


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Personification of virtue (Greek ἀρετή) in Celsus Library in Ephesos, Turkey

Virtue (Latin virtus; Greek ἀρετή) is moral excellence. A virtue is a character trait or quality valued as being always good in and of itself.

Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting individual and collective well being. The opposite of virtue is vice.


Virtues and values

Virtues can be placed into a broader context of values. Each individual has a core of underlying values that contribute to his or her system of beliefs, ideas and/or opinions (see value in semiotics). Integrity in the application of a value ensures its continuity and this continuity separates a value from beliefs, opinion and ideas. In this context, a value (e.g., Truth or Equality or Creed) is the core from which we operate or react. Societies have values that are shared among many of the participants in that culture. An individual's values typically are largely, but not entirely, in agreement with his or her culture's values.

Individual virtues can be grouped into one of four categories of values:

Examples of virtues include:

Four classic Western virtues

Virtue, sword in hand, with her foot on the prostrate form of Tyranny on the Great Seal of Virginia.

The four classic Western Cardinal virtues are:

This enumeration is traced to Greek philosophy and was listed at least by Plato, if not also by Socrates, from whom no attributable written works exist. Plato also mentions "Holiness".

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).

Aristotle's virtues

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defined a virtue as a balance 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. 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.

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 followed by Plato in Meno, when he wrote that people only act for what they perceive will maximize the good. It is the lack of wisdom which results in the making of a bad choice, rather than a good one. In this way, wisdom is the central part of virtue. However, 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".

Roman virtues

  • Auctoritas — "Spiritual Authority" — The sense of one's social standing, built up through experience, Pietas, and Industria.
  • Comitas — "Humour" — Ease of manner, courtesy, openness, and friendliness.
  • Constantia — "Perseverance" — Military stamina, mental and physical endurance.
  • Clementia — "Mercy" — Mildness and gentleness.
  • Dignitas — "Dignity" — A sense of self-worth, personal pride.
  • Disciplina — "Discipline" — Military oath under Roman protective law & citizenship.
  • Firmitas — "Tenacity" — Strength of mind, the ability to stick to one's purpose.
  • Frugalitas — "Frugality" — Economy and simplicity of style, without being miserly.
  • Gravitas — "Gravity" — A sense of the importance of the matter at hand, responsibility and earnestness.
  • Honestas — "Respectability" — The image that one presents as a respectable member of society.
  • Humanitas — "Humanity" — Refinement, civilization, learning, and being cultured.
  • Industria — "Industriousness" — Hard work.
  • Iustitia — "Justice" — Sense of moral worth to an action.
  • Pietas — "Dutifulness" — More than religious piety; a respect for the natural order socially, politically, and religiously. Includes the ideas of patriotism and devotion to others.
  • Prudentia — "Prudence" — Foresight, wisdom, and personal discretion.
  • Salubritas — "Wholesomeness" — Health and cleanliness.
  • Severitas — "Sternness" — Gravity, self-control.
  • Veritas — "Truthfulness" — Honesty in dealing with others.
  • Virtus - "Manliness" - Valor, excellence, courage, character, and worth. Vir meaning "man".

Abrahamic religions

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

The Jewish tradition

In the Jewish tradition, God is the Compassionate and is invoked as the Father of Compassion; hence Raḥmana or Compassionate becomes the usual designation for His revealed word. (Compare, below, the frequent use of raḥman in the Qur'an).[1]

In Biblical Hebrew, sorrow and pity for one in distress, creating a desire to relieve, is a feeling ascribed alike to man and God ("riḥam," from "reḥem," the mother, womb). The Rabbis speak of the "thirteen attributes of compassion." The Biblical conception of compassion is the feeling of the parent for the child. Hence, the prophet's appeal in confirmation of his trust in God invokes the feeling of a mother for her offspring (Isa. xlix. 15). [1]

Lack of compassion, by contrast, marks a people as cruel (Jer. vi. 23). The repeated injunctions of the Law and the Prophets that the widow, the orphan and the stranger should be protected show how deeply, it is argued, the feeling of compassion was rooted in the hearts of the righteous in ancient Israel.[2]

A classic articulation of the Golden Rule (see above) 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." [3]

Post 9/11, the words of Rabbi Hillel are frequently quoted in public lectures and interviews around the world by the prominent writer on comparative religion Karen Armstrong.

The Christian tradition

In Christianity, the theological virtues are faith, hope and charity or love/agape, 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). These are said to perfect one's love of God and Man and therefore to harmonize and partake of prudence.

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 Spirit," found in Galatians 5:22-23: "By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things."

The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989).

22 Ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη χαρὰ εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία χρηστότης ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις 23 πραΰτης ἐγκράτεια· κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος. 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).

The Muslim tradition

In the Muslim tradition the Qur'an is, as the word of God, the great repository of all virtue in earthly form, and the Prophet, particularly via his hadiths or reported sayings, the exemplar of virtue in human form.

The very name of Islam, meaning "submission," proclaims the virtue of submission to the will of God, the acceptance of the way things are. Foremost among God's attributes are mercy and compassion or, in the canonical language of Arabic, Rahman and Rahim. 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". [4]

The Arabic for compassion is rahmah. 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. [5]

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.[citation needed]

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]

  • Altruism: Selfless Service to all humanity
  • Restraint and Moderation: This is having restraint and moderation in all things. Sexual relations, eating, and other pleasurable activities should be kept in moderation. Some orthodox followers also believe in sex only in marriage, and being chaste. The degree of restraint and moderation depends on the sect and belief system. Some people believe it means celibacy, while others believe in walking the golden path of moderation, i.e. Not to far to the side of forceful control and total abandon of human pleasures, but also not too far to the side of total indulgence and total abandon for moderation.
  • Honesty: One is required to be honest with oneself, one's family, one's friends, and to all of humanity.
  • Cleanliness: Outer cleaniness is to be cultivated for good health and hygiene. Inner cleaniness is cultivated through devotion to God, selflessness, non-violence and all the other virtues. Inner cleaniness is maintained by refraining from intoxicants.
  • Protection and reverence for the Earth.
  • Universality: Showing tolerance and respect for everyone, everything and the way of the Universe.
  • Peace: One must cultivate a peaceful manner in order to benefit oneself and those around one.
  • Non-Violence/Ahimsa: This means not killing or being violent in any way to any life form or sentient being. This is why those who practice this Dharma are vegetarians, because they see the slaughter of animals for the purpose of food as violent on the grounds that there are less violent ways to maintain a healthy diet.
  • Reverence for elders and teachers: The virtue of reverence for those who have wisdom and those who selflessly teach in love is very important to learn. The Guru or spiritual teacher is one of the highest principals in many Vedic based spiritualities and is likened to that of God.

The 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-dṛṣṭi, sammā-diṭṭhi).
  2. Right Intention - Commitment to mental and ethical growth in moderation (samyak-saṃkalpa, sammā-saṅkappa).
  3. Right Speech - One speaks in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way (samyag-vāc, sammā-vācā).
  4. Right Action - Wholesome action, avoiding action that would do harm (samyak-karmānta, sammā-kammanta)
  5. Right Livelihood - One's job does not harm in any way oneself or others; directly or indirectly (samyag-ājīva, sammā-ājīva).
  6. Right Effort - One makes an effort to improve (samyag-vyāyāma, sammā-vāyāma).
  7. Right Mindfulness - Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness (samyak-smṛti, sammā-sati).
  8. 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."[6]
  2. Karuna: compassion; the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; compassion is the "wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering."[6]
  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."[6]
  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."[7]

There are also the Paramitas ("perfections").

In Theravada Buddhism's canonical Buddhavamsa[8] 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.

Virtue 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 zhong ("loyalty"). 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, vol31, 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."[9]

Chinese martial morality

Samurai values

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^ :

  • Rectitude (義 ,gi)
  • Courage (勇 ,yuu)
  • Benevolence (仁 ,jin)
  • Respect (礼 ,rei)
  • Honesty (誠 ,sei)
  • Honor (誉 ,yo)
  • Loyalty (忠 ,chuu)

Others that are sometimes added to these:

  • Filial piety (孝 ,kō)
  • Wisdom (智 ,chi)
  • Care for the aged (悌 ,tei)

Nietzsche on virtue

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

  • "One virtue is more of a virtue than two, because it is more of a knot for one's destiny to cling to."
  • "Virtue itself is offensive."
  • "When virtue has slept, it will arise all the more vigorous."
  • "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)

Virtues according to Benjamin Franklin

These are the virtues[10] 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 and inspired many people all around the world.

  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.

Virtues of Ayn Rand's philosophy: Objectivism

Ayn Rand held that her morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. That the rest proceeds from these. That to live, man must hold three three fundamental values that one develops and achieves in life: Reason,[11] 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, as Rand meant it "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."[12] These values are achieved by passionate and consistent action and the virtues are the policies for achieving those fundamental values.[13] 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 or 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.[14]

Virtue and vice

The opposite of a virtue is a vice. 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. A more "modern" virtue, tolerance, can be considered the mean between the two extremes of narrow-mindedness on the one hand and soft-heartedness 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. Tolerance is not a virtue. As noted above, a virtue is by definition always good. Tolerance can be good or bad. For instance, no one would consider tolerating injustice to be good.

Virtue 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"[15] After three years of study, 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."[16] These six categories of virtue are courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b | The Jewish Encyclopedia
  2. ^ |The Jewish Encyclopedia
  3. ^ Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a. See also the ethic of reciprocity or "The Golden rule."
  4. ^ | University of Southern California
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c Buddhist Studies for Secondary Students, Unit 6: The Four Immeasurables
  7. ^ A View on Buddhism, THE FOUR IMMEASURABLES: Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity
  8. ^ 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).
  9. ^ Lunyu 2/1, tr. James Legge
  10. ^ Franklin's 13 Virtues Extract of Franklin's autobiography, compiled by Paul Ford.
  11. ^ Epistemology: reason, Objectivism (Ayn Rand).
  12. ^ Rand, Ayn The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, p. 27
  13. ^ Gotthelf, Allan On Ayn Rand; p. 86
  14. ^ Rand, Ayn (1961) For the New Intellectual Galt’s Speech, "For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand," p. 131, 178.
  15. ^ Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. (ISBN 0195167015)
  16. ^ Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. p. 36. (ISBN 0195167015)
  17. ^ Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. p. 36-39. (ISBN 0195167015)

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote



  • Virtue consisted in avoiding scandal and venereal disease.
    • Robert Cecil, Life in Edwardian England (1969)
  • Only Virtue is sufficient unto herself. She makes us love the living and remember the dead.
  • To gain a reputation for virtue, grieve over those you injure.
    • Mason Cooley, American aphorist. City Aphorisms, Fourth Selection (1987)
  • To be able to practise five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue...gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.
  • Let this great maxim be my virtue’s guide,—
    In part she is to blame that has been tried:
    He comes too near that comes to be denied.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • Virtue consists in doing our duty in the several relations we sustain in respect to ourselves, to our fellow men, and to God, as known from reason, conscience, and revelation.
    • J. W. Alexander, p. 611.
  • The paths of virtue, though seldom those of worldly greatness, are always those of pleasantness and peace.
  • Virtue is not a mushroom, that springeth up of itself in one night when we are asleep, or regard it not; but a delicate plant, that groweth slowly and tenderly, needing much pains to cultivate it, much care to guard it, much time to mature it, in our untoward soil, in this world's unkindly weather.
    • Isaac Barrow, p. 612.
  • No state of virtue is complete, however total the virtue, save as it is won by a conflict with evil, and fortified by the struggles of a resolute and even bitter experience.
  • What the world calls virtue is a name and a dream without Christ. The foundation of all human excellence must be laid deep in the blood of the Redeemer's cross, and in the power of His resurrection.
  • A virtuous youth and frugal manhood always create a Pisgah for the veteran in righteousness, from which he may calmly survey the stars, and read his " title clear to mansions in the skies," while yet in the flesh he can soar on the wings of meditation above the clouds, and catch glimpses of the heavenly world that lies in the placid and everlasting orient before him.
    • Elias Lyman Magoon, p. 612.


  • "Virtue does not come from money, but rather from virtue comes money, and all other things good to man."
  • "The power of a man's virtue should not be measured by his special efforts, but by his ordinary doing."
  • "What makes a man heavy is the gravity of virtue. Without it, man will be so light that he will be drifted in the winds of immorality."
  • "The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, I was wrong."
  • "Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it we have always to combat with ourselves."
  • "The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues."
  • "Female virtue has been held in suspicion from the beginning of the world, and ever will be."
  • "Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one."
  • "Love supports virtue alone", say the fools. It supports vice as well
    • Valluvar in Tirukkural: 76
  • Blushing is virtue’s colour.
    • English proverb. (17th Century)

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity



–noun 1. moral excellence; goodness; righteousness. 2. conformity of one's life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude. 3. chastity; virginity: to lose one's virtue. 4. a particular moral excellence. Compare cardinal virtues, natural virtue, theological virtue. 5. a good or admirable quality or property: the virtue of knowing one's weaknesses. 6. effective force; power or potency: a charm with the virtue of removing warts. 7. virtues, an order of angels. Compare angel (def. 1). 8. manly excellence; valor. —Idioms 9. by or in virtue of, by reason of; because of: to act by virtue of one's legitimate authority. 10. make a virtue of necessity, to make the best of a difficult or unsatisfactory situation. (via. webster's dictionary)

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

This is a disambiguation page, which lists works which share the same title. If an article link referred you here, please consider editing it to point directly to the intended page.

Virtue may refer to:

  • Virtue, a poem by George Herbert
  • Virtue, a poem by William Carlos Williams

Bible wiki

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The subject will be treated under the following heads:
I. Definitions; II. Subjects; III. Divisions; IV. Causes; V. Properties.



According to its etymology the word virtue (Latin virtus) signifies manliness or courage. "Appelata est enim a viro virtus: viri autem propria maxime est fortitudo" ("The term virtue is from the word that signifies man; a man's chief quality is fortitude"; Cicero, "Tuscul.", I, xi, 18). Taken in its widest sense virtue means the excellence of perfection of a thing, just as vice, its contrary, denotes a defect or absence of perfection due to a thing. In its strictest meaning, however, as used by moral philosophers and theologians, it signifies a habit superadded to a faculty of the soul, disposing it to elicit with readiness acts conformable to our rational nature. "Virtue", says Augustine, "is a good habit consonant with our nature." From Saint Thomas's entire Question on the essence of virtue may be gathered his brief but complete definition of virtue: "habitus operativus bonus", an operative habit essentially good, as distinguished from vice, and operative habit essentially evil. Now a habit is a quality in itself difficult of change, disposing well or ill the subject in which it resides, either directly in itself or in relation to its operation. An operative habit is a quality residing in a power or faculty in itself indifferent to this or that line of action, but determined by the habit to this rather than to that kind of acts. (See HABIT.) Virtue then has this in common with vice, that it disposes a potency to a certain determined activity; but it differs specifically from it in that it disposes it to good acts, i.e. acts in consonance with right reason. Thus, temperance inclines the sensuous appetite to acts of moderation conformably to right reason just as intemperance impels the same appetite to acts of excess contrary to the dictates of our rational nature.


Before determining the subjects or potencies in which the different virtues reside, it will be necessary to distinguish two kinds of virtues: those which are virtues absolutely (simpliciter) and those which are virtues only in a restricted sense (secundum quid). The later confer only a faculty for well-doing, and render the possessor good only in a restricted sense, e.g. a good logician. The former, in addition to the facility for well-doing, cause one to use the facility rightly, and render the possessor unqualifiedly good. Now the intellect may be the subject of those habits which are called virtues in a restricted sense, such as science and art. But the will only, or any other faculty only in so far as it is moved by the will, can be the subject of habits, which are called virtues in the absolute sense. For it is the proper function of the will to move to their respective acts all the other powers which are in any way rational. Thus the intellect and sensuous appetite as moved by the will are the subjects of prudence and temperance, while the will itself is the subject of justice, a virtue in the absolute sense.


Virtues may be divided into intellectual, moral, and theological.

A. Intellectual Virtues

Intellectual virtue may be defined as a habit perfecting the intellect to elicit with readiness acts that are good in reference to their proper object, namely, truth. As the intellect is called speculative or practical according as it confines itself to the sole contemplation of truth or considers truth in reference to action, the intellectual virtues may be classified according to this twofold function of the mental faculty. The speculative intellectual virtues are wisdom, science, and understanding. Wisdom is the knowledge of conclusions through their highest causes. Thus philosophy, and particularly metaphysics, is properly designated as wisdom, since it considers truth of the natural order according to its highest principles. Science is the knowledge of conclusions acquired by demonstration through causes or principles which are final in one class or other. Thus there are different sciences, mathematics, physics, etc., but only one wisdom, the supreme judge of all. Understanding is defined as the habit of first principles; as habit or virtue it is to be distinguished, at least logically, from the faculty of intelligence. It is also called intuition, as it has for its object truths that are self-evident, the perception of which requires no discursive process. It is to be observed that these virtues differ from the gifts of the Holy Ghost, designated by the same name, inasmuch as they are qualities of the natural order, while the gifts are intrinsically supernatural. The practical intellectual virtues are two, namely, art and prudence.


Art, according to the Schoolmen, signifies the right method with regard to external productions (recta ratio factibilium). Just as science perfects and directs the intellect to reason correctly with regard to its proper object in view of the attainment of truth, so also art perfects and directs the intellect in the application of certain rules in view of the production of external works, whether these be of a useful or aesthetic character. Hence the division into useful and fine arts. Art has this in common with the three speculative intellectual habits, that they are all virtues only in a restricted sense. Hence they constitute a man good only in a qualified sense, e.g. a good geometrician or a good sculptor. For the proper function of science as art, as such, is not to confer moral goodness, but to direct the intellect in its scientific or artistic processes.


As art is the right method of production, so prudence, as defined by St. Thomas, is the right method of conduct (recta ratio agibilium). It differs from all the other intellectual virtues in this, that it is a virtue in the absolute sense, not only conferring a readiness for well-doing, but causing one to use that readiness rightly. Considered more specifically, it is that virtue which directs on in the choice of means most apt, under existing circumstances, for the attainment of a due end. It differs from the moral virtues as it resides not in the appetitive powers but in the intellect, its proper act being, not the choice of apt means, but the direction of that choice. But although prudence is essentially an intellectual virtue, nevertheless, under a certain respect (materialiter) it may be considered a moral virtue, since it has as its subject matter the acts of the moral virtues. For if the end be vicious, though a certain astuteness be manifested in the discernment of means, such astuteness is not real prudence, but the semblance of prudence. (See PRUDENCE.)

B. Moral Virtues

Moral virtues are those which perfect the appetitive faculties of the soul, namely, the will and the sensuous appetite. Moral virtue is so called from the word mos, which signifies a certain natural or quasi-natural inclination to do a thing. But the inclination to act is properly attributed to the appetitive faculty, whose function it is to move the other powers to action. Consequently that virtue is called moral which perfects the appetitive faculty. For as appetite and reason have distinct activities, it is necessary that not only reason be well disposed by the habit of intellectual virtue, but that the appetitive powers also be well disposed by the habit of moral virtue. From this necessity of the moral virtues we see the falsity of the theory of Socrates, who held that all virtue was knowledge, as he held that all vice was ignorance. Moreover, the moral virtues excel the intellectual, prudence excepted, in this, that they give not only the facility, but also the right use of the facility, for well- doing. Hence moral virtues are virtues absolutely; and when we say without qualification that a man is good, we mean morally good. As the proper function of the moral virtues is to rectify the appetitive powers, i.e. to dispose them to act in accordance with right reason, there are principally three moral virtues: justice, which perfects the rational appetite or will; fortitude and temperance, which moderate the lower or sensuous appetite. Prudence, as we have observed, is called a moral virtue, not indeed essentially, but by reason of its subject matter, inasmuch as it is directive of the acts of the moral virtues.


Justice, an essentially moral virtue, regulates man in relations with his fellow-men. It disposes us to respect the rights of others, to give each man his due. (See JUSTICE.) Among the virtues annexed to justice are:

  • religion, which regulates man in his relations to God, disposing him to pay due worship to his Creator;
  • piety, which disposes to the fulfillment of duties which one owes to parents and country (patriotism);
  • gratitude, which inclines one to recognition of benefits received;
  • liberality, which restrains the immoderate affection for wealth from withholding seasonable gifts or expenses;
  • affability, by which one is suitably adapted to his fellow-men in social intercourse so as to behave toward each appropriately. All these moral virtues, as well as justice itself, regulate man in his dealings with others. But besides these there are moral virtues which regulate man with regard to his own inner passions. Now there are passions which impel man to desire that which reason impels him forward; hence there are principally two moral virtues, namely, temperance and fortitude, whose function it is to regulate those lower appetites.


Temperance it is which restrains the undue impulse of concupiscence for sensible pleasure, while fortitude causes man to be brave when he would otherwise shrink, contrary to reason, from dangers or difficulties. Temperance, then, to consider it more particularly, is that moral virtue which moderates in accordance with reason the desires and pleasures of the sensuous appetite attendant on those acts by which human nature is preserved in the individual or propagated in the species. The subordinate species of temperance are:

  • abstinence, which disposes to moderation in the use of food;
  • sobriety, which inclines to moderation in the use of spirituous liquors;
  • chastity, which regulates the appetite in regard to sexual pleasures; to chastity may be reduced modesty, which is concerned with acts subordinate to the act of reproduction. The virtues annexed to temperance are:
  • continence, which according to the Scholastics, restrains the will from consenting to violent movements or concupiscence;
  • humility, which restrains inordinate desires of one's own excellence;
  • meekness, which checks inordinate movements of anger;
  • modesty or decorum, which consists in duly ordering the external movements of anger; to the direction of reason. To this virtue may be reduced to what Aristotle designated as eutrapelia, or good cheer, which disposes to moderation in sports, games, and jests, in accordance with the dictates of reason, taking into consideration the circumstance of person, season, and place.


As temperance and its annexed virtues remove from the will hindrances to rational good arising from sensuous pleasure, so fortitude removes from the will those obstacles arising from the difficulties of doing what reason requires. Hence fortitude, which implies a certain moral strength and courage, is the virtue by which one meets and sustains dangers and difficulties, even death itself, and in never through fear of these deterred from the pursuit of good which reason dictates. (See FORTITUDE.) The virtues annexed to fortitude are:

  • Patience, which disposes us to bear present evils with equanimity; for as the brave man is one who represses those fears which make him shrink from meeting dangers which reason dictates he should encounter, so also the patient man is one who endures present evils in such a way as not to be inordinately cast down by them.
  • Munificence, which disposes one to incur great expenses for the suitable doing of a great work. It differs from mere liberality, as it has reference not to ordinary expenses and donations, but to those that are great. Hence the munificent man is one who gives with royal generosity, who does things not on a cheap but magnificent scale, always, however, in accordance with right reason.
  • Magnanimity, which implies a reaching out of the soul to great things, is the virtue which regulates man with regard to honours. The magnanimous man aims at great works in every line of virtue, making it his purpose to do things worthy of great honour. Nor is magnanimity incompatible with true humility. "Magnanimity", says St. Thomas, "makes a man deem himself worthy of great honours in consideration of the Divine gifts he possesses; whilst humility makes him think little of himself in consideration of his own short-comings".
  • Perseverance, the virtue which disposes to continuance in the accomplishment of good works in spite of the difficulties attendant upon them. As a moral virtue it is not to be taken precisely for what is designated as final perseverance, that special gift of the predestined by which one is found in the state of grace at the moment of death. It is used here to designate that virtue which disposes one to continuance in any virtuous work whatsoever. (For a more detailed treatment of the four principal moral virtues, see CARDINAL VIRTUES.)

C. Theological Virtues

All virtues have as their final scope to dispose man to acts conducive to his true happiness. The happiness, however, of which man is capable is twofold, namely, natural, which is attainable by man's natural powers, and supernatural, which exceeds the capacity of unaided human nature. Since, therefore, merely natural principles of human action are inadequate to a supernatural end, it is necessary that man be endowed with supernatural powers to enable him to attain his final destiny. Now these supernatural principles are nothing else than the theological virtues. They are called theological

  • because they have God for their immediate and proper object;
  • because they are Divinely infused;
  • because they are known only through Divine Revelation. The theological virtues are three, viz. faith, hope, and charity.


Faith is an infused virtue, by which the intellect is perfected by a supernatural light, in virtue of which, under a supernatural movement of the will, it assents firmly to the supernatural truths of Revelation, not on the motive of intrinsic evidence, but on the sole ground of the infallible authority of God revealing. For as man is guided in the attainment of natural happiness by principles of knowledge known by the natural light of reason, so also in the attainment of his supernatural destiny his intellect must be illumined by certain supernatural principles, namely, Divinely revealed truths. (See FAITH.)


But not only man's intellect must be perfected with regard to his supernatural end, his will also must tend to that end, as a good possible of attainment. Now the virtue, by which the will is so perfected, is the theological virtue of hope. It is commonly defined as a Divinely infused virtue, by which we trust, with an unshaken confidence grounded on the Divine assistance, to attain life everlasting.


But the will must not only tend to God, its ultimate end, it must also be united to Him by a certain conformity. This spiritual union or conformity, by which the soul is united to God, the sovereign Good, is effected by charity. Charity, then, is that theological virtue, by which God, our ultimate end, known by supernatural light, is loved by reason of His own intrinsic goodness or amiability, and our neighbour loved on account of God. It differs from faith, as it regards God not under the aspect of truth but of good. It differs from hope inasmuch as it regards God not as our good precisely (nobis bonum), but as good in Himself (in se bonum). But this love of God as good in Himself does not, as the Quietists maintained, exclude the love of God as He is our good (see QUIETISM). With regard to the love of our neighbor, it falls within the theological virtue of charity in so far as its motive is the supernatural love of God, and it is thus distinguished from mere natural affection. Of the three theological virtues, charity is the most excellent. Faith and hope, involving as they do a certain imperfection, namely, obscurity of light and absence of possession, will cease with this life, but charity involving no essential defect will last forever. Moreover, while charity excludes all mortal sin, faith and hope are compatible with grievous sin; but as such they are only imperfect virtues; it is only when informed and vivified by charity that their acts are meritorious of eternal life (see LOVE, THEOLOGICAL VIRTUE OF).


To the human intellect the first principles of knowledge, both speculative and moral, are connatural; to the human will the tendency to rational good is connatural. Now these naturally knowable principles and these natural tendencies to good constitute the seeds or germs whence the intellectual and moral virtues spring. Moreover by reason of individual natural temperament, resulting from physiological conditions, particular individuals are better disposed than others to particular virtues. Thus certain persons have a natural aptitude with regard to science, others to temperance, and others to fortitude. Hence nature itself may be assigned as the radical cause of the intellectual and moral virtues, or the cause of those virtues viewed in their embryonic state. In their perfect and fully developed state, however, the aforesaid virtues are caused or acquired by frequently repeated acts. Thus by multiplied acts the moral virtues are generated in the appetitive faculties in so far as they are acted upon by reason, and the determination of first principles (see HABIT). The supernatural virtues are immediately caused or infused by God. But a virtue may be called infused in two ways: first, when by its very nature (per se) it can be effectively produced by God alone; secondly, accidentally (per accidens) when it may be acquired by our own acts, but by a Divine dispensation it is infused, as in the case of Adam and Christ. Now besides the theological virtues, according to the doctrine of St. Thomas, there are also moral and intellectual virtues of their very nature Divinely infused, as prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. These infused virtues differ from the acquired virtues

  • as to their effective principle, being immediately caused by God, whilst the acquired virtues are caused by acts of a created vital power;
  • by reason of their radical principle, for the infused virtues flow from sanctifying grace as their source, whereas the acquired virtues are not essentially connected with grace;
  • by reason of the acts they elicit, those of the infused virtues being intrinsically supernatural, those of the acquired not exceeding the capacity of human nature;
  • whilst one mortal sin destroys the infused virtues, with the acquired virtues acts of moral sin are not necessarily incompatible, as contrary acts are not directly opposed to the corresponding contrary habit.


A. Mean of Virtues

One of the properties of virtues is that they consist in the golden mean, that is to say, in what lies between excess and deficit. For as the perfection of things subject to rule consists in conformity with that rule, so also evil in those same things results from deviation from that rule either by excess or defect. Hence the perfection of the moral virtues consists in rendering the movements of the appetitive powers conformable to their proper rule, which is reason, neither going beyond nor falling short of it. Thus fortitude, which makes one brave to meet dangers, avoids on the one hand reckless daring and on the other undue timidity. This golden mean, which consists in conformity with right reason, sometimes coincides with the mean of the objective thing (medium rei), as in the case of the virtue of justice, which renders to every man his due, no more and no less. The golden mean, however, is sometimes taken in reference to ourselves, as in the case of the other moral virtues, viz. fortitude and temperance. For these virtues are concerned with the inner passions, in which the standard of right cannot be fixed invariably, as different individuals vary with regard to the passions. Thus what would be moderation in one would be excess in another. Here also it is to be observed that the mean and extremes in actions and passions must be determined according to circumstances, which may vary. Hence with regard to a certain virtue, what may be an extreme according to one circumstance may be a mean according to another. Thus perpetual chastity, which renounces all sexual pleasures, and voluntary poverty, which renounces all temporal possessions, are true virtues, when exercised for the motive of more surely securing life everlasting. With regard to the intellectual virtues, their golden mean is truth or conformity to reality, whilst excess consists in false affirmation, and defect in false negation. Theological virtues do not absolutely (per se) consist in a mean, as their object is something infinite. Thus we can never love God excessively. Accidentally (per accidens), however, what is extreme or mean in theological virtues may be considered relatively to ourselves. Thus although we can never love God as much as He deserves, still we can love Him according to our powers.

B. Connection of Virtues

Another property of virtues is their connection with one another. This mutual connection exists between the moral virtues in their perfect state. "The virtues", says St. Gregory, "if separated, cannot be perfect in the nature of virtue; for that is no true prudence which is not just and temperate and brave". The reason of this connection is that no moral virtue can be had without prudence; because it is the function of moral virtue, being an elective habit, to make a right choice, which rectitude of choice must be directed by prudence. On the other hand prudence cannot exist without the moral virtues; because prudence, being a right method of conduct, has as principles whence it proceeds the ends of conduct, to which ends one becomes duly affected through the moral virtues. Imperfect moral virtues, however, that is to say, those inclinations to virtue resulting from natural temperament, are not necessarily connected with one another. Thus we see a man from natural temperament prompt to acts of liberality and not prompt to acts of chastity. Nor are the natural or acquired moral virtues necessarily connected with charity, though they may be so occasionally. But the supernatural moral virtues are infused simultaneously with charity. For charity is the principle of all good works referable to man's supernatural destiny. Hence it is necessary that there be infused at the same time with charity all the moral virtues by which one performs the different kinds of good works. Thus the infused moral virtues are not only connected on account of prudence, but also on account of charity. Hence he who loses charity by mortal sin looses all the infused but not the acquired moral virtues.

From the doctrine of nature and properties of virtues it is abundantly clear how important a role they play in man's true and real perfection. In the economy of Divine Providence all creatures by the exercise of their proper activity must tend to that end destined for them by the wisdom of an infinite intelligence. But as Divine Wisdom governs creatures conformably to their nature, man must tend to his destined end, not by blind instance, but by the exercise of reason and free will. But as these faculties, as well as the faculties subject to them, may be exercised for the faculties subject to them, may be exercised for good or evil, the proper functions of the virtues is to dispose these various psychical activities to acts conductive to man's true ultimate end, just as the part which vice plays in man's rational life is to make him swerve from his final destiny. If, then, the excellence of a thing is to be measured by the end for which it is destined, without doubt among man's highest principles of action which play so important a part in his rational, spiritual, supernatural life, and which in the truest sense of the word are justly called virtues.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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Simple English

File:Efez Celsus Library 2
Personification of virtue (Greek ἀρετή) in Celsus Library in Ephesos, Turkey

Virtue (Latin virtus; Greek ἀρετή) is a kind of behaviour which is thought to be good. The adjective is "virtuous". Someone who lives a virtuous life is someone who leads a good moral life, doing things that society thinks are good. The opposite of virtue is vice.

Philosophers throughout the ages have written their ideas about what they think virtue is. The Ancient Greek philosophers from Plato onwards said that virtue consisted of four things: Justice, Courage, Wisdom, and Moderation. In the Christian religion the three virtues were Faith, Hope and Charity. These are mentioned in the Bible in the First Book of Corintheans, ch13,v.13. These virtues are also very important in the Judaic and Muslim traditions.

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