Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Virtue Then and Now

The previous post noted that Aristotle identified some specific virtues or excellencies that a good man must develop. He divided them into intellectual virtue, which obviously relate to cognition, and moral virtues, which have more to do with emotions and desires. 

Aristotle's moral virtues:

1) Courage – bravery 

2) Temperance – self-control 

3) Liberality – generosity

4) Magnificence – radiance

5) Pride – self-satisfaction

6) Honor – respect, reverence, admiration

7) Good Temper – equanimity, level headedness

8) Friendliness – conviviality and sociability

9) Truthfulness – straightforwardness, frankness and candor

10) Wit – sense of humor  

11) Friendship – camaraderie and companionship

12) Justice – impartiality and fairness


When one reads this list, some items appear to be more about manners, especially those desirable for a gentleman living in a fourth century BC Greek city-state like Athens. Indeed, Aristotle suggested that the average farmer or day laborers did not enjoy the opportunities to cultivate these virtues. Moreover, as men devoted to long hours of manual labor, they did not possess the leisure time to exercise these virtues in public life--participating in a leadership role.

Notions of virtue, however, change over time.


The rise and spread of Christianity introduced different thinking about virtues.

Catholic teaching recognized Seven Christian virtues. The first four cardinal virtues came straight from the pre-Christian classical era: 

1) temperance

2)courage

3)prudence

4)justice

To which they added the following:

5) faith

6) hope

7) charity

Then there are those virtues somewhat inaccurately described as the Protestant Work Ethic. The list below is a secularized version by Benjamin Franklin. Some reflect the light of Aristotle across the centuries. Some of them, however, describe not Aristotle's generous man of leisure, but the thrifty, hardworking, man of the middle class:

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 employ'd 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 uncleanliness in body, cloths, 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



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