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What Is Virtue? How Do We Promote It?

[by Scott Swain] 

vir-tue [ vurchoo ]
1. goodness: the quality of being morally good or righteous
2. good quality: a quality that is morally good
3. admirable quality: a quality that is good or admirable, but not necessarily in terms of morality

"If you make a choice under duress, is it a virtuous choice?"
No. A virtuous choice can only be a choice freely made.

"How do we deal with obesity? With complete freedom to eat what they want, some people are getting obese. So if we make some rules about what is legal to eat, then we can push people to eat more healthily, which will instill the virtuous behavior in them."
No. Virtue requires having freely chosen the behavior. Why is that? Because if you were forced to do something then you are not responsible and thus, do not own the action. "The Devil made me do it" doesn't fly. Bonus: You are allowed to see the consequences of your non-virtuous actions.

"I want my child to grow up being generous and fair. So it is okay for me to force her to share her toys." No. Do you want your child to share because they chose to or because they were forced to? Which way is true generosity? Which way is virtuous? Bonus: You have respected your child's needs for choice and autonomy, and avoided picking a battle.

How do people choose virtuous behavior? I say that they exercise "good judgement". So if a person makes virtuous choices via "good judgement", then how do you get to have "good judgement"? Are we born with "good judgement"? No. Judgement is a skill. It requires practice and experience. We need the freedom to make mistakes. We need feedback so we know we made mistakes in judgement. We need accountability to help us understand the value attained or lost due to our judgement call. All of this requires liberty to make our own choices. Bonus: You are supporting natural consequences!

In summary: When someone makes the choice for us or limits our choices to only the "good" ones, we are deprived of valuable lessons and the chance to make virtuous choices.
But how can we encourage virtuous behavior without pushing people? Here is what I believe to be the solution: We practice the language of empowerment and compassion.
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