Virtues are good qualities in a person's character; qualities that can also be developed. In general people across cultures appreciate virtues. There may, however, be some differences in which virtues they value the most.

Plato (427347 BC) and his student Aristotle (384322 BC), well-known philosophers from Ancient Greece, were both interested in virtues. In his book The Republic, Plato described what were to become the traditional Platonic virtues, which are prudence or wisdom, justice, temperance or self-discipline, and courage. Prudence, justice, temperance, and courage are often called the cardinal virtues from the Latin word cardinalis, meaning pivotal. In addition to these virtues, medieval Christian philosophers started paying attention to the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Aristotle paid special attention to virtues in his book The Nicomachean Ethics. He lists more virtues than Plato does and discusses them in detail. According to Aristotle, virtues can be divided into intellectual virtues and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues include wisdom, understanding, and prudence or practical wisdom.

The moral virtues listed in The Nicomachean Ethics are courage, temperance, liberality (generosity), magnificence (generosity), magnanimity, good temper or patience, friendliness, truthfulness, ready wit, justice, and an unnamed virtue that lies between too ambitious and too unambitious.

According to Aristotle, a moral virtue is a mean between two extreme states. For example, ready wit stands at the mean between buffoonish and boorish actions. An excess, as compared to the mean, would involve striving to sound humorous at all costs, talking without tact, and acting like a fool. On the other hand, a deficiency in this respect leads a person to take offense easily and never to be humorous. A person who is ready-witted is pleasant, talks and listens adequately, behaves tactfully, and has an agile mind. Their life contains a reasonable amount of relaxation and amusement.

There are also longer lists of virtues. You can use these lists to become aware of your own or other people's good deeds and qualities. By exploring your own good qualities, it may become easier to find the motivation to develop virtues that are perhaps more challenging.

Virtues in Education

There are different ways of paying attention to virtues in an educational environment. For example, you may start by making a mental note of the positive actions of children and adolescents. Lists of virtues can provide you with a suitable vocabulary for this.

In her wonderful book The Virtues Project Educator's Guide, Linda Kavelin Popov introduces the reader to using virtues as an aid in education and schoolwork. She introduces five principles that can help to bring out virtues when working with children, or even in the work place. The book includes descriptions of 52 virtues and contains a lot of exercises.

Would you like to know how to act empathetically, respectfully, and assertively while setting clear limits in difficult educational situations? You can get practical assistance from How to Discipline Kids without Losing Their Love and Respect by Jim Fay and From Bad Grades to a Great Life! by Charles Fay. Written in a spontaneous manner, these books guide parents and educators in learning how to interact more empathetically with children and adolescents.