MB and I spent some time Saturday talking about the meaning of virtue
. It's a little odd that we're both somewhat unsatisfied with our lives, though not really with each other.
So, being a good Catholic lad, I kind of started with the Big 7, the ole tip top, the seven DEADLY sins. They are:
Pride: excessive belief in one's own abilities. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. aka Vanity.
Envy: the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situation.
Gluttony: an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
Lust: an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Anger: manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. aka Wrath.
Greed: the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. aka Avarice or Covetousness.
Sloth: the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
Even though I long ago gave up the idea of a Deity, this list of sins is very compelling. In many ways, the list seems almost Buddhist to me, since all all of the seven deadlies seem to result from an importance placed on the ego. Pride, the original sin in Catholocism, very close correlates to the frailty of the "self" in lots of Eastern philosophies.
Even more generally, if I could stop doing those things listed, or even reduce the amount of time I spend in activities related to those descriptors, I would probably be a better person. For an excellent short synopsis, see Minderbender's description of the seven deadly sins.
So virtue, to put a more positive spin on it, is divided somewhat differently in the Christian worldview (or at least Catholic worldview). The seven heavenly virtues are comprised of the Theological and cardinal virtues.
The Theological virtues are derived from Saint Paul and include love, hope and faith. Nice, sweet for quoting at weddings, but not really useful for me in my goal to be a better person. The cardinal virtues, mostly derived from classical Greek philosophy, are similarly unhelpful. They are prudence, temperance, courage and justice. All of which are cool, but do not work on the atomic level of personal philosophies all that well.
The Seven Contrary Virtues, as the name might suggest, are those virtues which are designed to combat the inclination to the seven deadly sins. The Contrary Virtues were derived from the Psychomachia ("Battle for the Soul"), an epic poem written by Prudentius: humility against pride, kindness against envy, abstinence against gluttony, chastity against lust, patience against anger, generosity against greed, and diligence against sloth.
This is getting closer, but I think needs updating, if nothing else for my Calvinist upbringing, and Weberian sense of work as a virtue. To that end, I have derived the following adaptation of how to be a virtuous person:
Industry: It is a virtue to work hard, to create order in the world through your actions. Industry not only prevents the destructive effects of sloth, but has an exponential effect for good as both an outcome and a process.
Charity: This virtue gets a bad rap under its current connotation, but what I mean by charity is a slightly older use of the word. Pedantically, charity is assuming the best in people. Don't talk poorly about others, act according to the golden rule, be patient and accepting. In some ways, this relates to social capital, and the fundamental attribution error, but really, it's best to keep it simple. Assume the best in people.
Humility: Don't get your nose out of joint because others don't see how special you are. Your life is no more or less important than anyone else's. Anger stems from pride, and so a healthy dose of humility can keep you calm.
Temperance: Moderation in all things. As an American, it's often hard to even tell when some behavior is excessive, but living simply is living best. Do I need that thing I think I need? Can I do without seeing that movie? Why am I ordering this beer? These kinds of questions can help forfend all sorts of gluttony and greed.
So I boiled the list down to four, which seems like a good number to me. They can all even really be boiled down further to the basic concept of selflessness. If I could nail these virtues down, and maybe pass them down to my children, it'll be a good day's work.