Posted by: nmontague | June 7, 2010

What is Virtue?

Since this blog is going to be about Virtue, I thought that a good place to start with this second entry is by asking the question “What is Virtue?” The logical place for me to begin to understand virtue is to look at what the word means. So I turned to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary.

 Main Entry: vir·tue

Pronunciation: \ˈvər-(ˌ)chü\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English vertu, virtu, from Anglo-French, from Latin virtut-, virtus strength, manliness, virtue, from vir man — more at virile
Date: 13th century

1 a : conformity to a standard of right : morality b : a particular moral excellence
2 plural : an order of angels — see celestial hierarchy
3 : a beneficial quality or power of a thing
4 : manly strength or courage : valor
5 : a commendable quality or trait : merit
6 : a capacity to act : potency
7 : chastity especially in a woman

vir·tue·less \-(ˌ)chü-ləs\ adjective

Two of those definitions stood out to me. The 5th one, “a commendable quality and trait” stood out as a traditional meaning.  I think it’s likely that this is the definition we think of most often when we talk about Virtue.  However, what interested me the most was  the 6th definition, “a capacity to act.” That definition stood out more to me because I don’t think the capacity to act is usually associated with Virtue.

When people think of Virtue they think that something is a virtue because it’s a nice quality to have. But I don’t think people generally ask themselves why it’s a nice quality to have. Example: A common phrase is “Patience is a virtue”. But why is it a virtue? It’s a virtue because by gaining patience we gain a greater capacity to act. We have the wisdom to wait for things to occur when they are to occur and it prevents us from rushing through things sloppily. Virtue are those good qualities that we develop that empowers us to do more with our lives and with our time.

I think we can see this even more after looking at the definition of Virtue’s antonym, Vice:

Main Entry: 1vice
Pronunciation: \ˈvīs\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin vitium fault, vice
Date: 14th century

1 a : moral depravity or corruption : wickedness b : a moral fault or failing c : a habitual and usually trivial defect or shortcoming : foible <suffered from the vice of curiosity>
2 : blemish, defect
3 : a physical imperfection, deformity, or taint
4 a often capitalized : a character representing one of the vices in an English morality play b : buffoon, jester
5 : an abnormal behavior pattern in a domestic animal detrimental to its health or usefulness
6 : sexual immorality; especially : prostitution

synonyms see fault, offense

Vice is something that corrupts us. It’s keep us from being pure, true, etc. And corruption weakens our capacity to act. For example, dishonesty is a common vice. People who are dishonest to the point where it becomes a vice are untrustable, unreliable. You can’t expect them to finish their work or rely on what they tell you as accurate information. A lot of the reasons politicians are such impotent leaders is precisely because so many of them are dishonest. No one is going to follow someone they can’t trust or rely upon.

So Virtue are the character traits we develop that empower us to do more in life. They empower us to govern our own lives. They provide us with a greater range of opportunities that would otherwise be possible. I think this is because they allow us to get along with others and leave them with no doubt as concerning our reliability and abilities.  And also, because virtue increases the quality of everyones lives. They make bad men good, and good men better.

I am confident by making an effort to live a more virtuous life, we can enhance our life in ways we can’t imagine right now. We will be empowered to do more in our own lives and in the lives of others.  But it will take effort on our part.



  1. BTW I apologize for the paragraphs at the end. I can’t seem to get them to separate so it’s a little harder to read. Ill figure it out at some point.

  2. ~ Go to you “Edit Post” feature.

    ~ Click the “HTML” tab.

    ~ Separate the paragraphs there.

    The Visual editor screws that up for me sometimes, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: