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Vices and Virtues Part II

In the first half of this article, we defined vices and virtues and discussed how they impact our code of ethics.  This code of ethics creates a good society, which, according to Aristotle, is needed if we are to flourish and lead a more purposeful life. We also mentioned that each of us is responsible for molding this society. We do this when we overcome our vices and become virtuous people.

Virtues need to be cultivated if they are to become more prevalent and habitual in our daily life. The idea here is to encourage each other to practice virtues that would improve our character, sharpen our code of ethics and in so doing improve the society in which we live.

So where do we begin? Needless to say, we are all different. Each of us has our strong points and weak points. So we begin by getting to know ourselves better.  This is the first of four steps in the Socratic tradition to change behavior. In brief these four steps are

We can know ourselves

We can change ourselves

We can create new habits of thinking, feeling and acting

We can use knowledge to flourish in a social environment we help to create and live a more purposeful life

One way to get to know ourselves better is to make a list of vices and virtues. There are many examples these on the web. Next, go down your list and mark those vices and virtues with which you can best identify.

Here is an example:

Vices – frugality, cruelty, disrespect, grumpiness, impatience, insolence, obstinacy, prejudice, self-indulgence, selfishness, and wastefulness.

Virtues - kindness, respect, cheerfulness, patience, reverence, compliance, tolerance, restraint, and selflessness.

Aristotle noted that virtues can have several opposites. For instance, both cowardice and rashness are opposites of courage; the opposites of humility are shame and pride Vices can therefore be identified as the opposites of virtues - but with the caveat that each virtue could have many different opposites, all distinct from each other.

There are a number of ways to change habits depending on what we are trying to achieve. One method is to replace a bad behavior with a good behavior. (Number 2 on the Socratic steps) This positive approach works well with eliminating vices.

The method then is this: identify a vice you would like to get under control, for instance vainglory, which is defined as excessive or ostentatious pride, especially in one’s own achievements. Vainglory looks for praise from others while not being able to praise others in return. It ends up hindering relationships and destroys any merit of other virtue we may have.

Then research that virtue’s antonym or opposite. There may be several. In this instance one opposite could be humility. Now research and find ways to practice humility. By practicing humility, vainglory will be pushed aside.

Because your behavior has changed you may find that people will begin to respond to you differently.  You are now on the way to be making a better you and a better society.