Digest of terms


traditionally there have been four cardinal/principal virtues: prudence/wisdom, justice, self-control, courage (so Plato). To these have been added, in Christian ethics, three theological virtues: faith, hope and love (so Aquinas). These offset the equivalent number of Seven Deadly Sins. No less important for Christians is the listing of virtuous qualities in Paul's New Testament writings: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, gratitude (Colossians 3:12-17) - such lists may be helpful but they may also be regarded as an ultimately artificial way of seeking to encapsulate or capture the rich variety of virtuous attitudes and actions.

It has been argued by Alasdair MacIntyre that, in recent times, genuine appreciation of the meaning and worth of virtue, as of any commonly shared moral discourse, is fading fast. He argues that it depends upon the vibrancy of particular moral communities for its survival. Yet at the same time there has been a flourishing of 'virtue ethics' as a rival to traditional deontological or consequentialist types of moral philosophy, with an emphasis on the quality of individual character, and drawing on the Aristotelian tradition of eudaimonistic ethics.

Curiously, as Nietzsche observed, the word 'virtus' once meant manliness and then came to mean virginity...

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