I am only one third of the way through the Virtue essays yet there is already a theme running through them. Before I continue with these essays I feel it necessary to pause and discuss this theme.
I’m going to start right now by saying that I believe that Ár nDraíocht Féin should stop using the term “Virtue”. Let me explain.
The Oxford English Dictionary has two basic definitions for virtue:
1) behaviour showing high moral standards,
2) a good or useful quality of a thing.
Let’s look at these two definitions in a bit more detail.
So to begin, both definitions can be seen as measurements:
The first definition applies to one’s actions, and the second definition applies to attributes that one possesses. Let’s explore some analogies to try to make this clearer.
A virtue according to the first definition, I am going to suggest, should provide individuals with a moral compass. That is, it should provide a basis for determining whether a particular course of action would be moral or immoral. The most famous example of this would be the seven heavenly virtues and opposing deadly sins of Aurelius Clemens Prudentius. If you hold charity as a virtue, for instance, it is relatively easy to gauge whether any particular action would be charitable versus greedy. By consistently acting in accordance with a particular set of such virtues, one is deemed to be moral or ethical by those who share the same set of virtues. It is important to note of course that morality is entirely relative; if I believe that greed is a virtue then I will look at your acts of charity as being immoral.
The second definition, instead of a moral compass, gives us a usefulness yardstick. This allows us to judge certain virtues as something that is useful to possess. Importantly, possessing such virtues does not generally say anything about whether the possessor has high moral standards or not. Such virtues may gain you respect and loathing at the same time from the same person. To reuse my previous example, if I believe that greed is a virtue then I may see your acts of charity as being immoral — while at the same time respecting you for having the fortitude to act according to your convictions.
The point of all of this is that I believe that the term “virtue” is too vague to be of much use. I like precision in words. Therefore, I am no longer going to discuss virtues. Instead, I will discuss morals (virtues which provide a moral compass) and character strengths (virtues which are useful to possess). Both are vitally important. Morals tell you whether an action is right or wrong. Character strengths are what makes your actions effective. To have morals without strength of character is to be impotent. To have strength of character without morals is to be a monster.
Having arrived at this point, it is an interesting exercise to re-frame the ADF’s “9 Virtues” in this light. Here is my take on it.
As you can see, most of the “9 Virtues” are really character strengths, as opposed to morals.
At first glance, I found this uneven weighting towards character strengths over morals somewhat surprising. After some consideration I do think it is understandable given ADF’s pan-Indo-European focus, since societal mores varied widely from culture to culture. ADF is clearly more interested in giving its members the tools to act rather than trying to guide those actions.
However, I do think that Our Druidry may be improved by starting to differentiate between morals and character strengths, and encouraging dedicants to research and consider whether or not to adopt some of the morals of their hearth culture. This will go a long way to providing what I see as much needed balance.
There, now that I have gotten that out of my system I can hopefully continue on with the Virtue essays requirement!