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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Vasilca

How do Virtues and Character Relate? (MC-2)

In the previous blog, I was talking about character traits. Now I'm going to introduce the concept of virtue and argue that virtues should form the basis of the moral character.


How do Virtues and Character Relate? (MC-2)

Character Traits are Rooted in Virtues

Virtue Definition

Virtue is one of the oldest and more complex concepts in moral philosophy. It is present in all cultures, religions, and regions of the globe, from antiquity through the Middle Ages to modern times, from Judaism through Christianity to Buddhism, from Europe through India to Japan. The study of virtue and vice, its polar opposite, makes the object of morality. In the Christian faith, virtue and vice are each manifestations of good and evil, of Godliness and sinfulness. Morality is a set of principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, while moral judgment is an attempt to assign a value to an idea or action.

The dictionary defines virtue as a particular moral excellence or behavior, showing high moral standards. The roots of the word are Latin, i.e., virtus, meaning strength or worth. In Roman times, virtus was signifying manhood or manliness, the sum of physical and mental excellence attributed or expected of all citizens. Nowadays, virtue is considered the true mark of maturity, whose manifestation results in perfect human activities.

Virtues are good moral habits, while vices are bad moral habits. As we will see in one of the upcoming blogs, habits are actions that we repeatedly do, without thinking about them. So, virtues are habits of thinking, speaking, or doing in a good, positive, and inspiring manner that abides by high moral standards. When we teach children good ways, we're preparing them to become righteous persons because good manners easily and rapidly mature into good morals. A virtuous and moral person is one who knows the difference between right and wrong, and always chooses right.

Virtue Ethics

A virtuous person whose morality is reflected in his willingness to do the right thing – even if it is hard or dangerous – is also called an ethical person. Therefore, we can say that ethics are moral values in action. We can think of morality as the standards of thinking of an individual, while ethics would be the standards of actions of individuals.

Virtue ethics is a philosophy developed in antiquity by Greek thinkers, notably Aristotle. They wanted to understand life from a moral perspective and attempted to define those character traits based on virtues. This character-based approach to morality and ethics requested that we acquire virtues through learning and practice. By learning and practicing what it means to be sincere, courageous, honest, generous, and so on, citizens develop an honorable character.

According to Aristotle, by cultivating virtuous habits, people will likely make the right choice when faced with ethical dilemmas. Virtue ethics, therefore, helps us understand what it means to be a good human being. It gives us a guide for living a worthy life without giving us specific rules for resolving ethical dilemmas

There is a large body of humanistic and Christian literature addressing the topic of virtues. Authors and scholars make various classifications of virtues and analyze them from many points of view. For instance, in the Christian community there is a broad acceptance of cardinal virtues, which correspond inversely to each of the seven cardinal sins: humility vs. pride, gratitude vs. envy, patience vs. anger, diligence vs. sloth, charity vs. greed, temperance vs. gluttony, and chastity vs. lust. Other examples are provided in the list below which shows virtues related to social reverence and interaction. For this reason, they are called social virtues. The virtues of social reverence consist of virtues that respect the rights of God, the country, and the parents. They acknowledge the moral obligation we have toward those who give us more than we can ever repay. The virtues of social conduct include virtues that are required to maintain justice and civility in an orderly society.

Virtue of social reverence

  • Submission: respects God's right to receive worship (includes devotion, prayer, and adoration)

  • Piety: honors the rights of parents and country

  • Observance: recognizes the rights of authority

Virtues of social conduct

  • Gratitude: honors the acts of charity by benefactors

  • Truthfulness: fundamental to justice and perfecting the society

  • Affability: social courtesy and civility

Virtues and Positive Psychology

In contemporary humanistic science, the study of virtues falls under the new branch of psychology called Positive Psychology. According to the Center for Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. Put it another way; it is the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.

The dominant theory in positive psychology is PERMA, which is an acronym standing for Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments. In 2004, two pro-eminent American psychologists, C. Peterson and M. E. P. Seligman published the Handbook of Character Strength and Virtues, which identifies six classes of virtues and 24 character strengths, as follows:

- Wisdom and knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation

- Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, zest

- Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence

- Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership

- Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self-control

- Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

The following are excerpts from the website

“Our Mission: The mission of the Positive Psychology Center is to promote research, training, education, and the dissemination of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.”.

“The Rationale: During its first century, psychology justifiably focused most of its attention on human suffering. Marked progress has been made in understanding and treating numerous psychological disorders - depression, anxiety, and phobias, to name a few. While alleviating suffering, however, psychology has not paid much attention to what makes life most worth living. Positive Psychology is founded on the belief that people want more than an end to suffering. People want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. We have the opportunity to create a science and a profession that not only heals psychological damage but also builds strengths to enable people to achieve the best things in life.” 

“The Three Pillars: Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits involves the study of strengths, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.”

“Our Goals: Some of the goals of Positive Psychology are to build a science that supports:

  •  Families and schools that allow children to flourish

  •  Workplaces that foster satisfaction and high productivity

  •  Communities that encourage civic engagement

  •  Therapists who nurture their patients' strengths

  •  The teaching of Positive Psychology

  •  Dissemination of Positive Psychology interventions in schools, organizations, and communities.”

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