What Is Virtue?
(This post is written as a reference for the Reprogram Your Life, 90 Days To Full Agency course and is subject to near constant updates and clarifications as I gather more information.)
Within self improvement circles we talk a lot about the need to develop virtue and avoid vice, even if we dont always use those exact words when describing it. Much of the discussion however glosses over a clear understanding of what is virtue.
How can we identify the fundamental characteristics of all virtue?
How can we avoid falling into false virtue?
This discussion is going to help you get a better understanding of virtue so that you develop it in your own life and recognize it in others.
Virtue and Character
"Virtue" is the translation of the ancient Greek arete, which meant any kind of excellence. Inanimate objects could have arete, since they were assumed to have a telos, that is, a purpose. Thus, the arete of a knife would be its sharpness. Animals could also have arete; for example, the strength of an ox was seen as its virtue. Though an animal could possess arete, the Greeks assumed natural potentialities in men and women to be virtues requiring enhancement through habits of skill. Therefore, Aristotle defined virtue as "'a kind of second nature' that disposes us not only to do the right thing rightly but also to gain pleasure from what we do" (Aristotle, 1105b25–30).
Because there are many things that "our nature" as humans inclines us to do, Aristotle argues, there can be many human virtues. How particular virtues are constituted can vary with different understandings of "human nature" and the different social roles and their correlative skills. Yet the virtues, according to Aristotle, are distinguished from the arts, since in the latter excellence lies in results. In contrast, for the virtues it matters not only that an act itself is of a certain kind, but also that the agent "has certain characteristics as he performs it; first of all, he must know what he is doing; secondly, he must choose to act the way he does, and he must choose it for its own sake; and in the third place, the act must spring from a firm and unchangeable character" (Aristotle, 1105a25–30).
www.encyclopedia.com (See link)
We have a natural potential for virtue.
It must be cultivated by good habits.
Virtue is realized via correct action.
You must be an agent (have Agency) to be virtuous.
You must know what you are doing.
You must be acting under your own volition.
You must be demonstrating virtue for its own sake.
The actions must come from your character.
Virtue requires habitual behaviour patterns
Virtue is a habit or firm disposition which inclines a person to do good and avoid evil.
Virtue is not something that you are or something that you have or something that you can get, it’s something that you do habitually. It’s a way of life. Virtue is selective and exclusionary in its application.
"At the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue." - Aristotle on virtue.
To be vs to do (falsifying virtues)
When describing virtues it’s easy to use “to be” sentences. This however leaves the descriptions open to subjective interpretation by the reader. It’s not clear how you can measure a “to be” and relies mostly on the assertion of the persons claiming virtue.
Using “to do” sentences to describe virtues creates a measurable, falsifiable metric for identifying each virtue. Further, any so called virtue that cannot be described in “to do” language is not a true virtue by the nature of it being unmeasurable.
Quick notes on virtue
Some virtues can be seen as subcategories of other virtues. When possible I will note that.
Many things that are typically called virtues are in reality vices or weaknesses.
Those who call a vice a virtue are looking to weaken and control you.
Virtues have a hierarchy and are networked with one another they are never contradictory.
Even a virtue can become a vice if not exercised properly.
This is NOT a complete list of virtues. Please feel free to submit suggestions and improvements.
Cardinal Masculine Virtues
These are the principal virtues that are universally expected of men throughout history. These masculine virtues make men valuable as providers and protectors. Some women display these virtues to an extent however men who fail to display these virtues are considered defective.
The habit of displaying and cultivating physical, mental and emotional strength by withstanding or exerting great force or pressure when confronted with challenges.
It is related to robust health in body and mind.
It can be trained by physical exercise and mindfulness.
The habit of displaying and cultivating physical, mental and emotional courage when faced with danger, risks or ostracism by refusing to irrationally abandon a lawful position that you have taken.
It can also be described as a mastery over impulsive fear. This is not an abandoning of fear, but a high level of control over your actions in the face of fearful situations.
It can be trained by mental programing and willing exposure to risks and danger.
The habit of attaining comprehensive knowledge and skill of a subject or skill through deep study, practice and mindfulness (to build focus).
Generally only applies as a virtue to the mastery of subjects that have real life benefits.
Enables you to become an excellent protector and provider by being skilled at your work, sports, music, relationships, defense, etc.
Recommended reading: Mastery by Robert Greene.
The habit of abundantly displaying virtue so as to engender respect, especially from ingroup male peers.
Cardinal Feminine Virtues
These are the principal virtues that are universally expected of women throughout history. These feminine virtues make women valuable as wives and mothers. Some men display these virtues to an extent however women who failed to display these virtues were considered defective.
The habit of displaying an abundance of love, loyalty, and enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause.
Most often women display this virtue within motherhood, in spiritual pursuits and towards their husbands.
Devotion can be trained by being mindful of the value and significance of specific people and systems in your life.
The habit of acting in a friendly, generous, and considerate manner to others.
You can train kindness by being mindful of the needs of others.
The habit of demonstrating concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others and acting to alleviate that suffering.
You can train compassion by being mindful of the situation of others and what is within your power to do to help them.
Often thought of as purely involving sexual restraint, true chastity goes much farther and encompanses the habit of reserving your attention, time and virtue for deserving persons and causes.
You can train chastity by being mindful of who you are committed to, who is within your circle of influence, who is your ingroup and reminding yourself to reserve your efforts for them.
Cardinal Western Virtues
These are the cardinal values that made western culture and peoples unique and successful over the last 3500 years. Without a majority of people being willing to display these virtues we can have no western culture.
The habit of putting the pursuit of the pursuit of truth ahead of all else by being willing to sacrifice short term personal gain for a greater understanding of reality.
An intolerance of dishonesty, lies and liars.
Manifest in our creation of superior philosophy, law and science.
You can train your truthfulness by being mindful that your speech and actions are truthful, being willing to warranty your speech and by digging into your mental programing to remove cognitive dissonance.
The habit of demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice personal gain for the sake of your ingroup and your honor.
You can train heroism by mentally programing yourself to admire and imitate the behaviour of our western heros both mythological and real.
The habit of setting strong boundaries to protect your virtue, your way of life or your people from threats. It starts with the intolerance of dishonesty and extends naturally to an intolerance of other vices and incompatible (less truthful) people and cultures.
You can train your intolerance by cultivating a love for virtue, love for yourself and love for your people.
The habit of demonstrating a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something by acting in support of that which you trust.
Trust applied as a virtue is slightly different than the standard dictionary definition of the word.
You can train your trust by being mindful of the reliability of those who request for trust and by being fully intolerant of breaches of trust.
The habit of cultivating experience, knowledge, and good judgment as demonstrated by the soundness of your actions and decisions.
Without wisdom all virtue is vulnerable to being misused.
You can train your wisdom by working to gain knowledge, being mindful of your experiences, learning from others and using logic, reason and evidence to make decisions.
The habit of demonstrating the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting unnecessarily angry or upset.
You can train your patience by being mindful of what is under your control and what is not under your control.
The habit of demonstrating a realistic understanding of your own capacity and self worth by being ready to learn from your experience and by not over or underestimating yourself.
Humility is essential for personal growth.
You can train your humility by being mindful of yourself, and your limitations.