What is a virtue?

The question of what exactly a virtue *is* has come up in the contributing comments of my Symposium question. Since this is a key issue in Plato studies, I think it would be helpful to expand on this matter. I will provisionally define virtue/arete (at least this is how I understand the Greeks to define it) as “a power of sustained excellence in purposive activity.” Whatever has a functional aim (whether thing, or craft or instrument or tool) has a virtue specific to it. I am able to drive a nail with a hammer (sort of), but a carpenter with skill can drive it well. A brick can be used to (more…)

Felt Absence and the Quest for Virtue

In Book II of the Republic, Socrates lays out a strategy for determining the meaning of dikaiosyne, a word translated almost universally in Plato translations as “justice,” and just as universally in New Testament translations as “righteousness”. His strategy is peculiar to say the least: let’s make the soul large to our view by creating a city in speech; let’s look for the three (other) virtues of wisdom, courage and moderation; whatever virtue is left over must be justice. How can we take this method of discovery seriously? Questions abound: (more…)