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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.

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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
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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

Notes

  1. ^ a b http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=699&letter=C&search=compassion | The Jewish Encyclopedia
  2. ^ http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=699&letter=C&search=compassion |The Jewish Encyclopedia
  3. ^ Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a. See also the ethic of reciprocity or "The Golden rule."
  4. ^ http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/tawheed/conceptofgod.html | University of Southern California
  5. ^ http://www.milligazette.com/Archives/15122001/1512200144.html
  6. ^ a b c http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/bs-s15.htm Buddhist Studies for Secondary Students, Unit 6: The Four Immeasurables
  7. ^ http://buddhism.kalachakranet.org/immeasurables_love_compassion_equanimity_rejoicing.html 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)

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