Virtue is a difficult thing to describe (just like the indescribable Fair Go casino bonuses! Click NOW and save!). According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, virtue is “conformity to a standard of right: morality.” However, what does it mean to be virtuous? It’s a big question- a huge question, and it has to be broken down before we can even begin to think of answering it.
First, you have to have a grasp on morality. What are your morals, and how do you set the standard of “good”? Can morality be flexible? Can bad guys do good things and vice versa? Then, you have to know how to apply it to your everyday life. If you are particularly monstrous, can you also be virtuous?
The Source of Morality
For the majority of people on Earth, their morals and values are derived from God and Religion. Before I accidentally cause you to click away, I don’t mean to say that atheists can’t be virtuous or moral. It’s precisely the opposite.
So how do we determine the standards of morality? Of “absolute good”? For the religious, it’s easy. God and his servants are the ideal. For Jews, it’s the patriarchs and Moses, and for Christians, it’s Jesus. These are people who went out of their way to be good. Abraham would invite complete strangers into his tent and serve them, even while he was in pain and ninety years old. Jesus preached pacifism. So living in imitation of these ideas is the derivation of morality for believers.
But what about non-believers? How does the line of morality get drawn? Well, first, it’s important to point out that most atheists are living under the ideals of religious morality, even if you/they don’t realize it. Western Civilization is built on a combination of Enlightenment philosophy and Judeo-Christian values. We in the west value traits like forgiveness and mercy – which are not universally valued across all cultures, and we derive these traits from religion.
So think of it like this; even if you don’t believe in the flying spaghetti monster, the morals, values, and traditions laid out in the stories of the patriarchs and the bible can be a basis for morality for one to follow.
Or, if you’re still extremely averse to that idea, then think of it like this; imagine the best possible version of yourself. An ideal to strive for. Good job. Happy. Big family. Whatever it is you consider essential to you. Now imagine this version of yourself sitting in judgment of you. If you’re about to do something morally questionable, does this ideal version of yourself approve? If you really want to become this idealistic version of you, will whatever you are currently doing get you there? Think about it really hard.
Being Virtuous and Monstrous
So the other day I was listening to a lecture by Dr. Jordan Peterson (who, if you’re familiar with his work you may already realize, is a massive inspiration for this whole article), and he spoke of what it truly means to be virtuous. He said that to be truly virtuous, you have to capable of being a monster.
To be genuinely good, you have to be capable of great violence, and then restrain yourself. And I would expand it to not just violence, but you have to be capable of great cruelty, like a businessman with power over his employees, but doesn’t use it in a bad way.
Dr. Peterson argued that if you’re NOT both capable of being monstrous, then when you act morally, you are not virtuous. You’re just harmless, like a Rabbit. A Rabbit won’t ever hurt you- it will eat, nuzzle, play, but it’s not a virtuous creature. It’s incapable of NOT being virtuous. A fox that enters a chicken coop, on the otherhand, and then doesn’t devour any hens is virtuous. Mufasa from the Lion King is virtuous. And if your boss is in a position to screw your life over, and doesn’t, that is virtue.
On the flip side, a virtuous person can need his monstrous capabilities. Jesus rose in anger against the money-changers. When a local king captured Abraham’s nephew, Lot, Abraham raised an army and rescued him.
And that is the virtue in your monstrous side.