What different aspects of human character are relevant for moral virtue/excellence?Considerations of moral integrity may suggest that the question of what to do in certain situations cannot be...

What different aspects of human character are relevant for moral virtue/excellence?

Considerations of moral integrity may suggest that the question of what to do in certain situations cannot be asked in isolation of the question of what sort of person to be, hence the above question.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would think that the most important aspect of one's character to determine moral virtue or moral excellence is some understanding of right vs. wrong, determined by religious or cultural background, or a philosophy, that provides guidelines with which a person learns how to "behave" within the norms of his or her society. One aspect of this posting makes note of "isolation." My perception is that in isolation, I don't know how a person would learn to be "morally sound." Without guidelines of a social or religious nature, one would learn to survive, and do whatever was necessary to do so. Isolation would have to be complete, for while animals are not "moral" creatures, they have rules that the pack or species follows. For example, with wolves, the cubs are taken care of, but they wait their turn to eat—or are lightly "punished." Geese and cardinals mate for life, but this is particular to their nature, for other birds, fowl, etc., are not this way.

With this in mind, moral virtue encompasses respect, compassion, forgiveness and selflessness. It is a conscious decision that remains steadfast in spite of how others act. However, in this instance, can a question be asked in isolation to a specific circumstance with a morally virtuous person? I believe it can be here, for a moral individual will be consistent in exercising ethical behavior...always with the elements of respect, compassion, etc., in mind.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question and I am sure that there will be many different answers. In other words, all people have different philosophies in life. With that said, let me say a few things. First, I would completely agree with you that the character of a person is the most important part of virtue. It is not simply about doing certain things in given circumstances; it is about a person's character. To use an illustration from the New Testament. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. In short, the character of a person is the most important.

Second, there are several characteristics that, I believe, create for the foundation of virtue. Integrity is one of them. This means that person will be the same inside and out. More specifically, a person will do what is right, because it is right, irrespective on context or the situation. Another important quality for virtue is steadfastness or perseverance. A person needs to make the right choices, even if they are difficult.

Let me add a link that the ancient Roman author, Sallust wrote about Cato the Younger, who was known for his virtuous living.


Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a sense, your question of what to do morally and its corollary of what to be are flip sides of the same consideration: what one is in character often determines what one does--but not always--while what one does often reflects what one is--though not always. Feng shui has the concept of public self and private self that explains why people may seem to be one thing in public and quite another thing in private (of course, if public self traits and private self traits match or are compatible, there will be little or no divergence between perception of the two). Some aspects of character that determine moral choice and excellence are positive and some negative. Positives may be integrity, so that actions match character, thoughts and beliefs; honor for one's self and respect for others; an elevated belief system. Negatives may be sensitivity to social pressure or ostracism; deceptiveness; ulterior motives.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My problem with the last answer is it sort of seems to me to be saying that character is the most important aspect of character.  I can't really criticize the answer, though, because what else is there?  I don't know that there really are different aspects to character.  I think that character and integrity are used interchangeably.

To me, what your post implies is that we can only act correctly if we have good character -- if we know what sort of person we want to be (and presumably if we want to be a good person).  I would argue that what we should want to be is compassionate.  We should always want to act in ways that are best for the people with whom we are interacting.

marbar57 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with #7. All of us have differing opinions on what constitutes moral virtue and excellence. Culture, customs, traditions, and religious beliefs all play a hand in determining what we consider to be a moral, or a virtue, or something excellent!

Most cultures highly esteem someone who tells the truth, who doesn't steel, who is honest, and who works hard. Those are a given. Love is also considered the greatest of all. But, how many different ways can love be defined, or to what length and depth will people go?


accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of course, any answer to this question will depend a lot on what you think moral virtue or excellence is and how it can be defined. Let us remember that these are culturally defined concepts, and the norms and values of different cultures will impact their idea of moral virtue. I wonder whether one aspect that transcends culture is the notion of sacrificial love. Certainly, prizing the wellbeing and lives of others over our own wellbeing would be one of the key foundations for moral virtue in my opinion.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What I've come to is to act in everybody's best interest.  For so long, the "win-lose" philosophy has pervaded life; for the truly sociopathic it's the "lose-lose," and yet you still find those adhering to such an unproductive philosophy.  The "win-win" might not be as obvious as the other two, but it's there, and it has to be worked at to achieve.  The striving for the "win-win" is what creates the virtue.  I would ascribe the New Testament invocation to "Love thy neighbor as thyself" as the same thing.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that accessteacher makes a wonderful point. The answer depends upon how one defines moral virtue and excellence. Moral virtue is more simplistic to define. Doing a quick search on the web, one site listed over 120 virtues. As for excellence, to define this term is subjective. Many different people have different ideas regarding what excellence is.

Basically, the answer will be different for every person who answers it. It is not an answer which can be unified or answered subjectively.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have observed that people with good morals tend to have a great ability to empathize with others. These people can look at any variety of situations or challenges and "put themselves in someone else's shoes" and then make choices based on that. Being able to ask yourself how you would want to be treated helps you make virtuous choices in how you treat others.