Book: The House We Live In
Chapter: On Virtue
Values arise out of social conditions and change with social circumstances, but that does not mean they are entirely socially contingent. They are also grounded in relatively unchanging aspects of human nature and the universal existential circumstances all human societies must address. Values can have core aspects that are universal to all cultures, as well as phenotypical expressions particular to a time and place. The chapter begins by exploring how values are internalized, reflected on, and refined. Values can be judged as good or bad according to the degree to which they promote individual and collective flourishing. Virtues are constellations of habit and value that promote and partially define flourishing. There can be no definitive list of the virtues, since virtues are partially dependent on the whole-way-of-life that constitutes a culture, but there can nevertheless be a core set of virtues that are common to all cultures—a common thread running through the philosophies of antiquity and the world religions of today. The chapter closely examines three ethical philosophies of antiquity—Aristotelean, Buddhist, and Confucian—to discern their commonalities and differences. It then proposes and examines seven universal moral virtues—courage, benevolence, conscientiousness, temperance, equanimity, truthfulness, and justice—in terms of their relation to flourishing.