The VIA Institute on Character looks at virtues from the perspective of the “positive psychology” movement. They have come to categorize what they consider to be the core universal human virtues (they sometimes call them “character strengths”) in this way:
- creativity (includes originality, adapability, ingenuity)
- curiosity (exploration, openness)
- judgment (rationality)
- love of learning (philomathy, practical knowledge)
- perspective (wisdom, counsel)
- bravery (valor)
- honesty (authenticity, sincerity, integrity)
- perseverance (persistence, industry)
- zest (vitality, enthusiasm, vigor, wholeheartedness)
- forgiveness (mercy)
- humility (modesty, straightforwardness)
- prudence (caution, carefulness)
- self regulation (self control, discipline, good temper)
- appreciation of beauty & excellence (awe, wonder, admiration, elevation)
- hope (optimism, striving)
- humor (playfulness, cheer)
- spirituality (faith, purposefulness, religion, appreciation of the sacred)
The Institute suggests that people tend to have certain “signature strengths” — a small set of key virtues that they are especially strong in and identify with as part of their identities.
They have created a personality test that’s supposed to tell you what your signature strengths are and also which virtues you are relatively weak at (you can take it on line and, if you fork over your email address, you’ll get a summary of your strengths & weaknesses along with an offer to buy a more complete results report for $10-40).
They seem to be more focused on accentuating and leveraging your strengths than in trying to strengthen your weaknesses. They’ve put out a book — The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality — to promote this perspective.
What counts as a virtue? The institute says a character trait can be considered a virtue if it:
- Is ubiquitous, found across cultures and time.
- Is fulfilling.
- Is morally valued in its own right, even in the absence of obvious beneficial outcomes.
- Does not diminish others.
- Has an undesirable opposite (e.g., for curiosity, this would be disinterest).
- Is trait-like, meaning it manifests in a range of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. It is general enough to cross situations & is stable over time.
- Is measurable.
- Is distinct from other positive traits in the classification.
- Has consensual paragons (exemplars).
- Has prodigies.
- Is non-existent in certain individuals within situations.
- Has cultural rituals for cultivating and sustaining them.
See also: Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman)