Five millennia ago, ancient Egyptians developed a concept known as Maat.
Comprising justice, law, order, truth, morality, and balance, Maat was the opposite of chaos, injustice, and dishonesty. In many ways, this concept is similar to what we today refer to as virtue.
Although most often discussed in a religious context, virtue is a concept that transcends religion. The term itself describes a set of character traits associated with high moral standards.
In this article, we will talk about the virtue definition, the meaning of virtue, and offer some examples of virtuous acts.
What Is the Definition of Virtue?
The virtuous definition is a type of behavior that reflects a person’s moral excellence.
This word can refer to any quality or character trait that society considers morally good. Honesty, loyalty, courage, and kindness are universally seen as positive traits. This means that each can be described as a virtue.
The term virtue first entered the English language in the 13th century. It was coined many centuries earlier in ancient Rome where it was used to describe the admirable qualities of men. These included not only their moral conduct but also their strength and physical features.
In fact, the root of the word virtue is vir, which is the ancient Roman word for man.
Over the centuries, the meaning of virtue has evolved, but the basic concept has remained the same.
What does it mean to have virtue?
You are what you consistently do. Your habits shape your character.– Jon Butcher, Author of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Program
Different schools of thought have different ideas of what it means to have virtue.
Religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam teach that a virtuous person must obey the word of God. Philosophy teaches that having virtue means acting in a way that is beneficial to oneself as well as others.
Whether religious or secular, all definitions of virtue agree that a virtuous person has a good moral character and the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong.
Virtues are developed through repetition. By practicing virtuousness in everyday life, you can gradually turn your virtues into habits and build a strong character in the process.
What are the 12 virtues?
In his work “Nicomachean Ethics,”, the Greek philosopher Aristotle listed 12 virtues that help people behave in the right way at the right time.
Aristotle believed each of these 12 examples of virtues was the “golden mean” between vice and deficiency.
The 12 virtues are as follows:
Standing between recklessness and cowardice, courage is seen in people who are aware of the danger they find themselves in, yet bold enough to keep moving in any direction.
The golden mean between restraint and excess, Aristotle recognizes temperance in people who enjoy drinking but never drink too much. It is synonymous with moderation.
Liberality is the virtue of kindheartedness and charity. It stands between extreme greed on one end and giving above one’s means on the other.
Magnificence is the art of living extravagantly without being too flashy or self-indulgent. The term is synonymous with radiance and grandeur.
Magnanimity is seen in people who are worthy of great things and also see themselves as such. It stands between vanity and self-deprecation.
Aristotle underlines the difference between healthy ambition (moderate striving for acceptance or distinction) and unhealthy ambition (immoderate striving for the same things). He sees the former as a life-enhancing virtue and the latter as a destructive vice.
According to Aristotle, patience is the virtue of controlling one’s temper. It’s the golden mean between getting too angry and not getting angry enough. In Aristotle’s own words,
Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.
Friendliness is the measure of a person’s social intelligence. It is the golden mean between not being fond of others at all and being too friendly toward too many people.
Truthfulness is synonymous with honesty. A truthful person is open and candid. They stand between habitual liars on one end and tactless, boastful people on the other.
According to Aristotle, wittiness is the virtue of being able to differentiate between what’s funny and what’s unfunny and/or hateful. Witty people are sensitive (but not overly sensitive) to other people’s feelings. They would never tell a joke that could hurt others.
For Aristotle, modesty is synonymous with shame and denotes the virtue of being neither too shy nor too shameless. A modest person is aware of their errors but this awareness doesn’t stop them from acting.
Justice is synonymous with fairness, the virtue of acting fairly toward others. Just people have a sense of right and wrong, which they use to assess the actions of others as well as their own.
What Is a Godly Virtue?
In the fifth century, Roman Christian poet and governor, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, devised a list of seven heavenly (or godly) virtues. These virtues opposed the seven deadly sins.
For each of the seven sins, there is a corresponding heavenly virtue. The virtues protect people from the temptation of committing sin.
First introduced in his epic poem “Psychomachia,” the seven godly virtues according to Prudentius are:
- Charity (opposes greed)
- Chastity (opposes lust)
- Diligence (opposes sloth)
- Humility (opposes pride)
- Kindness (opposes envy)
- Patience (opposes wrath)
- Temperance (opposes gluttony)
What does “patience is a virtue” mean?
The saying “patience is a virtue” first appeared in William Langland’s mid-14th-century poem “Piers Plowman.”
However, the basic idea behind this expression dates back to the early fifth century. In Prudentius’ list of godly virtues, patience is the opposite of anger.
He teaches us that it’s admirable to wait for something for a long time without getting frustrated.
Contrary to what some claim, “Patience is a virtue” doesn’t mean that you should just sit and do nothing and hope those good things will eventually come your way.
Instead, it means that you shouldn’t lose your temper or faith while working toward your goal.
The Final Word
Fairness, kindness, courage, and thoughtfulness can serve you well in your everyday life. Turn them into habits by applying them regularly to yourself and others and you’ll build a strong, admirable character.