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Virtue Ethics

I found this article to be very interesting and helpful. There is more information about the research at the Virtues Web Site

A virtues approach to personality

"Personality psychology, given its concern with human potential, motivation, and will, can be regarded as a modern, scientific outgrowth of moral philosophy (Averill, 1980, 1997). Nonetheless, with rare exceptions (e.g., Bertocci & Millard, 1963), the virtues have been largely ignored in modern personality theory."

Michael J. Cawley III, James E. Martin, John A. Johnson*

Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

Received 29 July 1998; received in revised form 15 April 1999; accepted 20 September 1999


"The structure of virtue was investigated through the development and construct validation of the Virtues Scale (VS), a 140-item self-report measure of virtues. A factor analysis of responses from 390 participants revealed four factors: Empathy, Order, Resourcefulness, and Serenity. Four virtue subscales constructed from the highest loading items on each factor were correlated with the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R) scales in two additional samples (ns=181 and 143). One of these samples also completed the DIT measure of Kohlbergian moral development. Meaningful, replicated correlations between the virtue subscales and personality scales and complete lack of relationships between the virtues scales and the DIT indicate that virtue is a function of personality rather than moral reasoning and cognitive development. # 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved."

Table 1
Scale items for four virtue factor subscales
Factor I
Factor II
Factor III
Factor IV

Michael J. Cawley III, James E. Martin, and John A. Johnson claim to have resolved through factor analysis the structure of virtue. The Virtues Scale (VS) can be viewed as a model of personality like the Big Five. Individual character can be seen as oscillating between the poles of the virtues and vices (some of my virtue antonyms, or vice names, are still pretty lame).

Factor I

Empathy - animus, antagonism, antipathy
Concern - apathy, indifference, unconcern
Understanding - impatience, insensitivity, intollerance, unsympatheticness
Consideration - selfishness, thoughtlessness
Friendliness - coldness, unsociability, hostility
Sympathy - callousness, indifference, insensitivity, disharmony, incompatibility
Affability - coolness, reserve, reticence, unfriendliness
Sensitivity - hardness, insensitivity, thick-skinnedness
Charity - malice, selfishness, stinginess
Compassion - cruelty, indifference
Liberality - bigotry, narrow-mindedness; meanness, miserliness, stinginess
Graciousness - ungraciousness
Courtesy - discourteousness, impoliteness, rudeness

Factor II

Order - chaos, disorganization, disorderliness
Discipline - carelessness, negligence
Seriousness - facetiousness, frivolousness, smilingness
Decency - disobligingness, indecency
Deliberateness - unintentionalness
Scrupulosity - carelessness, recklessness, superficiality
Earnestness - apathy, flippancy, frivolousness
Self-control - Self-abandonment, irresponsibility
Self-denial - Self-indulgence
Abstinence - indulgence, self-indulgence
Obedience - disobedience, rebelliousness, unruliness, willfulness
Conservativism - destructiveness, neglectfulness, wastefulness
Cautiousness - heedlessness, imprudence, incautiousness, recklessness
Carefulness - carelessness, inattentiveness, recklessness, thoughtlessness
Tidiness - disorganization, messiness, untidiness
Austerity - elaborateness, extravagance
Cleanliness - dirtiness, dishonor, indecency

Factor III

Resourcefulness - unimaginativeness, uncreativeness, incapableness
Purposefulness - aimlessness, falteringness, purposelessness
Perseverence - discontinuousness, giving-up, stopping
Persistence - inconstancy, fatigableness, irresolution
Confidence - diffidence, skepticism
Sagacity - ignorance, foolishness
Self-esteem - inferiority complex
Fortitude - cowardice, fear, weakness
Intelligence - foolishness, stupidity
Zealousness - apathy, indifference
Independence - dependence, clinging

Factor IV

Serenity - disturbedness, troubledness
Meekness - arrogance, assertiveness, rebelliousness
Forebearance - angriness, intemperateness, impatience, mercilessness
Forgiveness - blamefulness, censuriousness, punitiveness
Peacefulness - disturbedness, noisiness, troubledness, violentness
Patience - exasperation, impatience, intolerance
Mercifulness - cruelty, hard-heartedness, mercilessness

Virtue Ethics

"Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism)."

An objection to virtue ethics has been that it is unable to provide action-guidance.

"[T]he complaint that virtue ethics does not produce codifiable principles is still the most commonly voiced criticism of the approach, expressed as the objection that it is, in principle, unable to provide action-guidance."

"But the objection failed to take note of Anscombe's hint that a great deal of specific action guidance could be found in rules employing the virtue and vice terms ("v-rules") such as "Do what is honest/charitable; do not do what is dishonest/uncharitable." (Hursthouse 1991). (It is a noteworthy feature of our virtue and vice vocabulary that, although our list of generally recognised virtue terms is comparatively short, our list of vice terms is remarkably, and usefully, long, far exceeding anything that anyone who thinks in terms of standard deontological rules has ever come up with. Much invaluable action guidance comes from avoiding courses of action that would be irresponsible, feckless, lazy, inconsiderate, uncooperative, harsh, intolerant, selfish, mercenary, indiscreet, tactless, arrogant, unsympathetic, cold, incautious, unenterprising, pusillanimous, feeble, presumptuous, rude, hypocritical, self-indulgent, materialistic, grasping, short-sighted, vindictive, calculating, ungrateful, grudging, brutal, profligate, disloyal, and on and on.)"

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, Chap. 9, 1109a 20 - 1109b 25; trans. Ostwald.

"How to attain the mean"

"Our discussion has sufficiently established (1) that moral virtue is a mean and in what sense it is a mean; (2) that it is a mean between two vices, one of which is marked by excess and the other be deficiency; and (3) that it is a mean in the sense that it aims at the median in the emotions and in actions. That is why it is a hard task to be good; in every case it is a task to find the median: for instance, not everyone can find the middle of a circle, but only a man who has the proper knowledge. Similarly, any one can get angry--that is easy--or can give away money or spend it; but to do all this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way is no longer something easy that anyone can do. It is for this reason that good conduct is rare, praiseworthy, and noble.

"The first concern of a man who aims at the median should, therefore, be to avoid the extreme which is more opposed to it, as Calypso advises: 'Keep clear your ship of yonder spray and surf'. For one of the two extremes is more in error than the other, and since it is extremely difficult to hit the mean, we must, as the saying has it, sail in the second best way and take the lesser evil; and we can best do that in the manner we have described.

"Moreover, we must watch the errors which have the greatest attraction for us personally. For the natural inclination of one man differs from that of another, and we each come to recognize our own by observing the pleasure and pain produced in us (by the different extremes). We must then draw ourselves away in the opposite direction, for by pulling away from error we shall reach the middle, as men do when they straighten warped timber. In every case we must be especially on our guard against pleasure and what is pleasant, for when it comes to pleasure we cannot act as unbiased judges. Our attitude toward pleasure should be the same as that of the Trojan elders was toward Helen, and we should repeat on every occasion the words they addressed to her. For if we dismiss pleasure as they dismissed her, we shall make fewer mistakes.

"In summary, then, it is by acting in this way that we shall best be able to hit the median. But this is no doubt difficult, especially when particular cases are concerned. For it is not easy to determine in what manner, with what person, on what occasion, and for how long a time one ought to be angry. There are times when we praise those who are deficient in anger and call them gentle, and other times when we praise violently angry persons and call them manly. However, we do not blame a man for slightly deviating from the course of goodness, whether he strays toward excess or toward deficiency, but we do blame him if his deviation is great and cannot pass unnoticed. It is not easy to determine by a formula at what point and for how great a divergence a man deserves blame; but this difficulty is, after all, true of all objects of sense perception: determinations of this kind depend upon particular circumstances, and the decision rests with our (moral) sense.

"This much, at any rate, is clear: that the median characteristic is in all fields the one that deserves praise, and that it is sometimes necessary to incline toward the excess and sometimes toward the deficiency. For it is in this way that we will most easily hit upon the median, which is the point of excellence."

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 330 B.C./1962)

CliffsNotes::Aristotle's Ethics - Book II Summaries: Chapter IX: How to Find the Mean

The Nicomachean Approach to Ethics: The Argument of Ethics I and II

The Internet Classics Archive | Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle: Book II

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