This is my third of the ‘virtues’ essays.
Even more so as with wisdom, I have a difficult time comprehending ‘vision’ as being a virtue when one defines virtue as being part of an ethical system (as opposed to just something of value). I can, with no trouble at all, think of numerous historical figures who are vilified as amoral monsters yet who were undoubtedly visionaries.
In my essay on wisdom, I opined that wisdom could still be considered an ethical virtue because, generally speaking, the measurement of wisdom lies with others rather than the self. That is, people will not call you wise unless you also share their ethical standards. In the case of vision, however, I believe that people are more likely to credit visionaries as such even when they do not share their morals. I may hold Constantine in contempt for betraying his fellow Pagans to a thousand years of Christian oppression, but he was clearly a man who saw in the rigidly hierarchical structure of the church the potential to pull the fractured Roman empire together.
Having said this, I do believe that vision is an excellent quality to possess and in some ways is virtue-like. By this I mean that training oneself to think (and act) for the long-term results in self-interest playing a diminishing role in one’s motivations. Removed from the temptations of instant gratification or short term personal enrichment, one becomes freer to act according to one’s own principles. Planning one’s actions according to how they will affect the third generation out from your own should theoretically entirely remove self-interest as a driver for your actions since neither yourself nor anyone you personally know, nor your or their children or grandchildren would be the expected beneficiaries of these actions. Some may still think that your actions are morally reprehensible, but at least they’ll know that you aren’t just doing it to line your own pocket.
Therefore, like wisdom, vision is more of a useful quality worth pursuing that can enhance one’s ethics even if it isn’t a virtue in and of itself. I’d like to conclude by calling out the Long Now Foundation as a modern leader in vision. With their aim of fostering long term thinking on the magnitude of 10,000 years, Long Now has a lot to offer students who may be wondering how they can get this vision thing.