Virtue Signaling, part three

Yesterday, we looked at the first part of how, for our purposes, we are going to define the different facets of virtue. We talked about the Flip Side, that is, what a virtue could look like without wisdom to accompany it, and we talked about Orientation, that is, what aspect of our life is touched by the virtue in question.


In the facet of Intentionality, we will look at whether a virtue is active, passive or impulsive. Does this virtue require us to make a decision? For example, the virtue of Learning means we choose to apply ourselves to the acquiring of new information or skills. This makes Learning an active virtue. On the other hand, the virtue of Knowledge pulls from the vast experience of life. There is no decision to acquire this information, it is simply the result of a lifetime of learning (with a little “l”.)

I would argue that Bravery and Courage are two distinct virtues (although my indulgent husband and I disagree more or less vociferously as to why they are…) I argue that Courage is an active state of intention; although it is not always accompanied by action. I would also argue that Bravery is an impulse, animated by the Fight or Flight response. Bravery is Courage in action, but Bravery can exist without Courage, and without Wisdom for that matter.

My indulgent husband has some other argument as to why they are different, which, while I am sure is valid, I will save for another day when we get to discussing Bravery and Courage more in-depth. (My argument is better, anyway, but the man deserves his day in court.)

The Heartbeat

Is this a strange word to use for a facet of a virtue? Maybe. But I like to imagine each virtue as a living thing, and each virtue’s heart beats for something. That heartbeat exists in our Thoughts and our Actions, and can, eventually, when it has become a regular enough, become an Attitude.

Most virtues have a primary heartbeat. For example, the virtue of Curiosity exists first in our Thoughts. The virtue of Courtesy exists first in our Actions. Endurance happens through Action, Lucidity happens in our Thoughts. Each of these, if we practice them for long enough and regularly enough, can become Attitudes.

An Attitude of Curiosity brings about lifelong learning (little “l” again). An Attitude of Courtesy puts other people first in small, meaningful ways. An Attitude of Endurance means we don’t give up in the hard times. An Attitude of Lucidity allows us to neither over-nor-underestimate what we bring to the table in any given situation.

The Heartbeat of a virtue is the place where we can find that virtue in our own lives so that we can work on it. Learning to actively live in that Heartbeat means that we can develop new Attitudes–this is one of the goals of learning about virtue.

I like to imagine this facet like a tiny, muddy, kitten found by a little boy in the woods: at first, the kitten is cold, barely has a heartbeat. The little boy invests in that kitten: he cleans it, he wraps it up in a blanket, he feeds it. He plays with it. The next thing you know, there is a sleek-as-a-seal housecat sleeping on the bed in a shard of sunlight acting like he owns the place.

Virtue is like that kitten. It may barely seem alive today, but our investment in it can bring everything under its rule.

Up next:

Tomorrow we are going to start putting these tools into practice by dissecting our first virtue, the virtue of Acceptance.

Are you still with me, oh denizens of my Princessdom? This is going to get more interesting. Eventually. I hope. Bring your nerd glasses tomorrow!

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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