Virtue/Vice Codification
Where an author applies a system of virtues and vices as the basis for a moral narrative


(permanent link) added: 2013-02-24 09:19:59 sponsor: Anbalsilfer (last reply: 2013-02-27 02:44:22)

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Note: A new trope is needed because Seven Heavenly Virtues suffers from a severe case of missing supertrope syndrome, having become littered with many examples of other virtue systems than the one the article is supposed to represent.


Some authors see the concepts of good and evil in morality as too abstract or poorly defined. One way to deal with this problem that has been used many times is to simply divide the abstract concepts into the separate moral qualities that seem to make up "goodness" and "evil". What results from this process is a system of virtues and vices.

A virtue is a positive moral quality. Individual virtues are treated as only aspects of goodness, and no virtue alone is enough to form a good character. Similarly, each virtue has a corresponding vice which represents either the diametric opposite of the virtue or its complete absence.

One classical system of virtues from history is the Seven Heavenly Virtues and their counterparts the Seven Deadly Sins, but there have been many others. This is the trope for works that define or otherwise deal with such a system in order to form a moral narrative.

When featured in video or tabletop games, virtue systems often takes the form of scorekeeping scales that represent a protagonist's prowess in a certain virtue. The player's actions in the game will add to or subtract from the player's virtue scores. These scores themselves may be anywhere from fully visible to completely hidden to the player, but they are sure to have some kind of effect on the gameplay. Sometimes they affect whether NPCs react positively or negatively towards the Player Character, for instance. Character trackers of this kind are particularly common in computer-based role-playing games, both eastern and western.

For virtues commonly found in unsympathetic characters, see Evil Virtues. For the narrative pattern where virtues or vices are allegorically associated with characters or other in-story entities, see Embodiment Of Virtue and Embodiment Of Vice, respectively.

It can be argued that virtues belong to one or more of three broader categories: utilitarian virtues, social virtues and moral virtues.

  • Utilitarian virtues are virtues that increase personal ability to interact with the world in the ways that one deems prudent. Examples include courage and diligence. Due to the fact that these virtues do not necessarily deal with morality directly, they may be Evil Virtues.
  • Social virtues are virtues that help people get along with one another harmoniously. Examples include friendliness and trust. As with utilitarian virtues, these may be Evil Virtues, since purely social virtues may come to overshadow moral ones.
  • Moral virtues are virtues that seem to carry some sort of (often subjective) intrinsic moral value, even when the aforementioned two dimensions are not considered. Examples include honesty and respect. The most controversial virtues often fall within this category, due to the intrinsic subjectivity of morality.

A virtue need not carry connotations in only one of these dimensions. For example, the virtue of respect can at the same time be regarded as a social and a moral virtue, while the virtue of mirth can be regarded as dealing with all three.

Below follows a list of virtues that have been identified in various works throughout history. As the list is fairly long, it has been broken down into categories based on which of the three dimensions mentioned above the virtues seem to deal with.

Primarily utilitarian virtues
  • Courage. Synonymous with valor. The ability to overcome fear by channeling it in a constructive direction. Opposite of cowardice.
  • Determination. Strength of conviction. The ability to hold fast to one's convictions even in the face of adversity. Opposite of irresolution.
  • Diligence. The strength to not give up or fail when facing hardship. Hard to find a clear exact antonym of in the English language.
  • Discipline. The ability to set aside emotional impulses in the interests of striving towards one's goals. Opposite of impulsivity.
  • Fortitude. Closely related to strength, but with a more mental emphasis. The strength of maintaining integrity in the face of adversity. Opposite of frailty.
  • Frugality. Closely related to chastity, but more economical in focus. The ability of householding one's worldly assets with wisdom and temperance. Opposite of lavishness.
  • Hope. The ability to retain a sense of purpose through a sense that one's situation can be improved. Opposite of despair.
  • Orderliness. The ability to arrange one's circumstances in an organized manner in the interests of efficiency. Opposite of confusion or disorganization.
  • Resourcefulness. The ability to come up with creative solutions to problems by "thinking outside of the box". Hard to find a clear exact antonym of in the English language. "Dullardity" is unfortunately not a word. If it were, it would be perfect here.
  • Strength. Closely related to fortitude, but with a more physical emphasis. The ability to retain one's motivation in the face of hardship. Opposite of weakness.
  • Tenacity. Basically synonymous with diligence, with slightly more emphasis on the long term. Hard to find a clear exact antonym of in the English language.
  • Valor. Synonymous with courage. Opposite of cowardice.
  • Vigilance. The practice of keeping alert for external threats towards one's interests. As a virtue, slightly controversial since it can easily turn into paranoia if it is unchecked, leading to needless social tension. Opposite of heedlessness.

Primarily social virtues
  • Beauty. The aspiration to uphold and express a sense of aesthetics through one's person and environs. As a virtue, should be interpreted in a much wider sense than merely personal comeliness. Rather controversial partially due to the subjective nature of beauty, but it is hard to argue that there is anything wrong with trying to attain beauty, as long as it does not interfere with more morally relevant interests, as Evil Virtues might. Opposite of homeliness. All forms of etiquette are included in the domain of this virtue, except modesty (see below).
  • Modesty. The tendency and ability to suppress impulses to lampshade one's strengths in social contexts. Opposite of boisterousness.

Primarily moral virtues
  • Mercy. The drive, motivated by sympathy and/or piety, to abstain from inflicting harm on other sentient beings. Opposite of mercilessness.
  • Reverence. The ability to relate to things as having more than only their worldly face value. At first this might seem controversial, but ethics is not really possible without it. Purely moral principles, like mercy, have very little worldly face value. Opposite of irreverence.

Utilitarian/social virtues
  • Ambition. The aspiration to achieve one's goals. A double-edged sword, since one's motivation for this can be either personal satisfaction or societal glory. The latter type of ambition is a classic "evil virtue". Opposite of lethargy.
  • Chastity. These days often misread to only mean sexual abstinence, this virtue is more accurately interpreted as synonymous with temperance and self-control. It is the ability to exercise and express one's desire's with constraint, weighing in the consequences of one's actions all the while. Opposite of debauchery.
  • Industriousness. The practice of engaging in activities that further ones's personal and collective goals in a constructive fashion. Opposite of passivity.
  • Cheer. Closely related to mirth, this virtue has a slightly more introverted emphasis. Also closely related to hope, on which it usually depends. May seem oddly placed in a listing of virtues since the classical view is that we can do little to affect our emotional outlook. Once we realize that optimism and pessimism are largely a matter of perspective however, it becomes more relevant. It is the ability and will to recover from negative outlooks in order to retain one's integrity. Opposite of cheerlessness.
  • Prudence. The practical wisdom to distinguish between constructive and non-constructive action. Opposite of recklessness.
  • Rationality. The ability to apply principles of logic and scientific methodology to problems. May at first seem to be at odds with virtues like faith, but they concern completely discrete domains of speculation. While rationality deals with the realm of observable phenomena, i.e the empirical world, faith deals with anything that lies outside this domain, like philosophy. It is not possible to prove a philosophy, it is only possible to believe in it. Opposite of irrationality.
  • Self-control. See chastity. Opposite of debauchery.
  • Sobriety. Like chastity, this virtue carries modern misleading connotations. As a virtue, it is synonymous with temperance and self-control, like chastity. Opposite of debauchery.
  • Temperance. See chastity. Opposite of debauchery.

Social/moral virtues
  • Charity. Synonymous with generosity. The will to give of oneself and one's own property to help satisfy the greater need of another. Opposite of stinginess (in the specific sense unwillingness to give). Note that greed is not an exact opposite of this virtue. The opposite of greed would rather be the satisfaction to lead one's own life with a minimum of personal property. This has seldom been called out as a virtue in western culture, for some reason.
  • Compassion. The ability to sympathize emotionally and relate to another's ordeal. Presupposes empathy, but the inverse does not apply. Opposite of indifference.
  • Fairness. A sense of personal justice. The practice of adjusting one's reciprocal treatment of others in response to their behaviour toward oneself and others. Opposite of unfairness.
  • Fidelity. The habit of staying true to one's previously expressed intention. Opposite of infidelity. Religious connotations of these terms are not relevant in this context.
  • Forgiveness. The capacity to relate to the flaws of others with empathy, and forego any punitive action or attitude out of this understanding. Opposite of vengefulness.
  • Friendliness. The practice of seeking joyful harmonious relations with others. Opposite of aloofness.
  • Generosity. See charity. Opposite of stinginess (in the specific sense unwillingness to give).
  • Impartiality. The abstinence from giving preference to one person's interests over another without due cause. Opposite of partiality.
  • Helpfulness. Roughly synonymous with charity and generosity, with slight emphasis on immaterial aid. Roughly opposite of stinginess. Hard to find a clear exact antonym of in the English language.
  • Honesty. The inclination to share one's sincerely held views, with particular unwillingness to deceive. Opposite of duplicity,
  • Kindness. The habit of striving to heighten the well-being of others. Opposite of cruelty.
  • Loyalty. The principle of guarding the interests of those with whom bonds of trust, affection or camaraderie have been formed. Opposite of fickleness.
  • Peace(fulness). The desire and ability to suppress or channel into their opposite feelings of anger, hatred, alienation and fear. Opposite of harriedness.
  • Respect. The principle of not encroaching on another's personal freedom or dignity. Opposite of disrespectfulness.
  • Reciprocity. Synonymous with fairness. Opposite of unfairness.
  • Selflessness. The capacity to regard the interests of others as not fundamentally subordinated to one's own for any arbitrary reason. Opposite of selfishness.
  • Self-sacrifice. The capacity to make personal sacrifices in the name of one's moral convictions. Opposite of self-indulgence.
  • Sincerity. Closely related to honesty. The drive to fully acknowledge one's deeper motivations, and not hiding them from trusted others. Opposite of delusionality.
  • Tolerance. The principle of reserving judgement until certainty is achieved that it is due. Opposite of prejudice.
  • Trust. Suffers a strained relationship with vigilance. The inclination to allow strangers the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming the worst about them without due cause. Opposite of mistrust, which in many ways is similar to paranoia (see vigilance).
  • Trustworthiness. The principle of safeguarding the trust placed in oneself by others. Opposite of treacherousness.
  • Understanding. The capacity to relate to the views of others with empathy. Acknowledging the similitude between oneself and others. Opposite of judgmentality.

Utilitarian/moral virtues
  • Passion. The capacity and inclination to cultivate deep and vivacious emotional motivation. Best tempered with discipline. Opposite of apathy.
  • Purpose. Forming and maintaining a personal goal, or adopting and maintaining a collective one. Opposite of disorientation or fecklessness.

Utilitarian/social/moral virtues
  • Camaraderie. The willingness to form social bonds based on affection and habit of facing joy and hardship together with friends rather than alone. Needs to be balanced with self-sufficiency. Opposite of severance.
  • Duty. A sense of obligation to those with whom bonds of trust and loyalty have been formed. Closely related to loyalty, but also includes an element of industriousness in the name of the collective. Opposite of negligence.
  • Humility. A "golden mean" virtue. A realistic view of one's own limitations and place in the world, while at the same time possessing a true sense of one's own worth. This need not imply acceptance, unless one truly knows that one's lot cannot be changed. Opposite of pride, which is having an inflated sense of self-worth. On the other side, opposite of meekness, which is having a deflated sense of the same.
  • Independency. The abstinence from relying on others for the solution of problems that are more prudently dealt with by oneself in solitude. Opposite of dependency. Can be viewed as synonymous with self-sufficiency but that also carries problematic negative connotations, see solidarity below.
  • Mirth. Closely related to joy but includes an element of sharing in one's joy through laughter or playful activity. Opposite of glumness.
  • Patience. The acceptance of the fact that things, including understanding, takes time, and the ability to suppress negative reactions that arise when the wait takes longer than initially expected. At first may seem trivial in a list of virtue, but it is truly of profound weight in order to avoid needless social tensions. And, as is well known, social tensions have a way of snowballing... Opposite of impatience.
  • Responsibility. Can in one sense be regarded as a synonym of duty. In another, it means having prudently analyzed the possible consequences of one's actions beforehand, weighing them into the decision. Also implies not shying from one's own responsibility for said consequences when they happen. Opposite of irresponsibility.
  • Solidarity. The insight that one can accomplish much more in union with others with whom interests are shared than alone, through the means of organization and co-operation. Opposite of self-sufficiency.

Vaguely defined, self-implied or very controversial virtues
  • Chivalry. A broad, somewhat loosely defined virtue roughly consisting of a combination of courage, duty, self-sacrifice and courteousness (which can be regarded as a brand of beauty). Overall too complex to be rhetorically or pedagogically useful as a virtue. Can be used in storytelling for narrative colour, though.
  • Faith. The inclination to form opinions or beliefs about the non-empirical domains of existence. When faith encroaches on empirical domains that have been scientifically explored, however, it is no longer faith in its uncorrupted sense, but rather irrationality. Listed as highly controversial because conclusions about non-empirical matters are intrinsically subjective and usually very insecurely founded, and many believe that there is no intrinsic moral value in believing in doctrines that cannot be proved. There is a problem however in the fact that morality in itself is a subjective value that is extremely hard to anchor down with empirical evidence. See reverence, which has similarities, but is more narrow in focus.
  • Honor. This virtue is often included in virtue-ethical systems, but very rarely elaborated on in detail. It appears to be a form of aggregation of duty, loyalty and responsibility, with a slight emphasis on the social glory that rewards these virtues. Like chivalry, problematic when used outside of storytelling due to its complexity.
  • Integrity. The state and quality of holding fast to one's moral beliefs. Self-implied. This is a virtue that simply tells us to be virtuous.
  • Love. Another complex concept. Best dealt with by looking at the separate aspects individually.
    • Storge represents familial affection. Closely related to loyalty and duty, but of course with added emotional implications. It is hard to ascribe any intrinsic moral value to this affection without violating the virtue of partiality, however, since we do not normally choose our family, nation, etc.
    • Phileo is friendship. The affection implied here is more morally relevant, since we may actively seek the friendship of those who we deem worthy of it. This is basically a combination of camaraderie and reciprocity.
    • Eros. Romantic affection. Somewhat relevant in relation to the virtue of passion (allowing oneself strong feelings) but otherwise not morally relevant, for the same reason as storge. A classic evil virtue.
    • Agape. Unconditional love. A feeling of connectedness with and sympathy for all living things. Very morally relevant, as some would argue that it is the foundation of all morality. As such, it is much to all-encompassing to be rhetorically useful as a virtue, however. Particularly closely related to compassion.
  • Patriotism. See the subtype storge of love above. Nationality has many similarities to familial bond. While a measure of loyalty is certainly called for, bringing this too far will invariably infringe on the virtue of impartiality.
  • Piety. Basically a combination of faith and integrity. See these respective "virtues" for motivations why each one is problematic.
  • Rectitude. Synonymous with integrity. Self-implied.
  • Righteousness. Synonymous with integrity. Self-implied.
  • Spirituality. This falls somewhere between reverence and faith in the depth of its implications. It implies deep reverence for certain immaterial phenomena (morality, for example), but does not place as heavy emphasis on arbitrary belief as faith. Still suffers from some of the same controversies as that virtue, however.
  • Wisdom. Too wide in focus and loosely defined to be useful as a virtue. Its practical side is largely represented by prudence and responsibility, while its abstract side is covered by virtues like rationality and reverence in balance.


Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • In Karakuridouji Ultimo, there are fifty Douji representing positive traits. Ultimo and the Six Perfects of Buddhism are the strongest of them, fighting against the Douji based on negative traits (including the Seven Deadly Sins).

Fanworks
  • The My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fanfic Envy And Arrogance introduces six Elements of Discord, Evil Counterpart to the Elements of Harmony.
    • Arrogance - Pride and the resulting self-delusion, it is a counterpart to Honesty.
    • Guilt - the despair aspect of Sloth and as such a counterpart to Laughter.
    • Envy - here interpreted as the darkest expression of Avarice, which makes it a counterpart to Charity.
    • Deception - counterpart to Loyalty.
    • Hate - Wrath analogue - conterpart to Kindness.
    • Vengence - in which the five come together - counterpart to Magic/Friendship

Literature
  • In Going Postal, the (now) Eight Virtues are Fortitude, Patience, Chastity, Charity, Hope, Silence, Tubso and Bissonomy. Few people practice Tubso and Bissonomy in the busy modern world, because no-one remembers what they are.
  • The Psychomachia (The Battle for the Soul of Man), by the Latin poet Prudentius, was written to depict the battle between the virtues and vices for the souls of mankind. Faith fights [Paganism], Chastity fights Lust, Patience 'fights' Wrath, and so on.
  • The Allegory of Love by C. S. Lewis references many of the virtues listed in Psychomachia. Among them are: Orthodoxy, Humility, Patience, and Self-Control in opposition to, respectively: Discord, Pride, Wrath, and Luxury.
  • The Anne of Green Gables books contain a passing reference to a woman who named her three daughters Faith, Hope, and Charity: "Faith didn't believe in anything, Hope was a born pessimist, and Charity was a miser."
  • The three theological virtues are poisonous to the White Court in The Dresden Files. They are also embodied by the three swords wielded by the Knights of the Cross: Fidelacchius (faith), Esperacchius (hope), and Amoracchius (love).

Religion
  • The precursor to the seven heavenly virtues are the Cardinal virtues, first penned by Plato and Aristotle, and the Theological virtues, taken from the New Testament of The Bible. They are as follows:
    Cardinal: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Courage.
    Theological: Faith, Hope, and Love (also called Charity).
  • Buddhism teaches the Noble Eightfold Path, consisting of: Right view, Right intention, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, and Right concentration.
  • The Anishinaabe people (also known as the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Algonkins) of North America have the Seven Teachings, also known as the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. They are: Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, and Truth.
  • This is also related to the "Fruits of the Spirit", also from the New Testament: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They are so named because the belief is that the Spirit will grow (like a fruit) these qualities in you.
  • The Charge of the Goddess names the eight virtues as wisdom, beauty, strength, power, mirth, reverence, compassion and humility.

Tabletop Games
  • In Chaosium's Pendragon, traits included Chaste/Lustful, Energetic, Forgiving, Generous, Honest, Just, Merciful, Modest/Proud, Pious/Worldly, Prudent/Reckless, Temperate/Indulgent, Trusting and Valorous. Some of the traits were considered virtues by specific cultures:
    • Christian: Chaste, Forgiving, Merciful, Modest, Temperate.
    • Pagan: Energetic, Generous, Honest, Lustful, Proud.
    • Wotanic: Generous, Indulgent, Proud, Reckless, Worldly.
  • Exalted provides Four Virtues which structure the moral merits and failings of all sapient characters. They are Compassion, Valor, Conviction, and Temperance.

Video Games
  • The Ultima series
    • The original Eight Virtues which the Avatar must follow: Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility. In turn, these are taken from Three Principles: Truth, Love, and Courage.
    • There are eight sins or vices that are the opposite of the eight Virtues. While the Virtues are represented by seven shrines throughout the land and the eighth in the Ethereal Void, the Vices are represented by seven dungeons and the eighth in the vast underworld.
    • Honesty / Deceit, Compassion / Despise, Valor / Destard, Justice / Wrong, Sacrifice / Covetous, Honor / Shame, Spirituality / Hythloth, Humility / The Great Stygian Abyss
    • The people of Killorn Keep in Ultima Underworld II observe a dystopian set of virtues: sobriety, punctuality, obedience, vigilance, conformity, efficiency, silence, diligence.
    • In Ultima VII part 2: Serpent Isle, the (now extinct and vanished, respectively) followers of Chaos and Order each had a set of virtues: Tolerance, Enthusiasm and Emotion for Chaos, and Ethicality, Discipline and Logic for Order. Interestingly, these are not considered opposites to each other, but instead complement each other in Balance, which is considered optimal. (Logic and Emotion creates Rationality, etc, making the virtues of Balance.) Conversely, embracing one while rejecting the other causes imbalance and becomes "anti-virtues": Emotion without Logic is Insanity, and Discipline without Enthusiasm becomes Apathy.
  • Kingdom of Loathing -- The Ultimate Legendary Epic Weapon of the Turtle Tamers is the Flail of the Seven Aspects, representing seven good traits of turtles: Strength, Wisdom, Protection, Tenacity, Fortitude, Valor, and Patience. It can attack seven times in one round.
  • The Dragon Age has five negative emotions: Pride, Desire, Sloth, Hunger, and Rage, each associated with a type of demon and condemned by the Chantry. Likewise, there are five positive emotions, Fortitude/Valor, Compassion, Justice, Faith, and Hope, each associated with a benevolent spirit type.

Western Animation
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, a central theme is the values of Loyalty, Kindness, Laughter, Honesty, Generosity and Friendship, and how they together form the whole of Harmony.

Real Life
  • Seven separate virtues make up the Bushido code: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honor, and Loyalty.
  • For traditional Japanese society, the Pillars of Moral Character: On (Reciprocacy), Gimu (Piety), Giri (Duty), and Ninjo (Compassion).
  • The United States Army endorses seven basic values within its ranks, with an acronym of LDRSHIP: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.
  • Knights of the Middle Ages often followed Knightly Virtues based on the heavenly and Cardinal virtues.
  • Kwanzaa, a celebration of Afro-American/African culture in the US has seven principles:
    • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
    • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
    • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
    • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
    • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
    • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
    • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
  • The Boy Scout Law (American Version): "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." Similar versions are used in other countries, expressing generally the same morals.
  • The Seven Cardinal Virtues of a De Molay: Filial Love, Respect for Sacred Things, Courtesy, Comradeship, Fidelity, Cleaness, and Patriotism.
  • Ben Franklin drew out a list of thirteen virtues, in the order he deemed easiest to learn: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and - this last added after his lack was pointed out to him - humility.
  • The three virtues of programming: Laziness, Impatience and Hubris. Wait...
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