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What are Moral Virtues?

Moral Virtues are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love which are acquired by human effort (CCC; 1804).
Last year in Septuagesima 2018 we listed the major seven virtues in What is a Virtue? There we outlined:

-The Definition of "Virtue"
-The Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity
-The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude
In February 2018 we mapped out a brief developmental sketch of the virtues to show Catholicism's unique addition to the dialogue on excellence in The Development of Virtue.
Out of the major Seven Virtues they can be categorized into three groups:
Moral virtues, being virtues, are firm dispositions of the intellect and will to do good. However, since they are moral virtues, they are habits of willing good that affect and shape desires and deeds. Desires can include faculties of the senses: passions, imagination, dreams, experience, etc. as well as faculties of the appetites: nutrition, reproduction, growth, etc. Moral virtues are thus none of these but are that which govern these. To repeat, moral virtues are habits of the intellect that govern desires and deeds. In other words, the intellect has dominion over the senses and appetites whether an internal motion (longing, wanting) or external motion (doing, acting out). Moral virtues are when the mind finally gets reigns over the heart to do good, which ultimately leaves the heart wanting to do the good. It's like breaking in a horse for good work.
Since Faith, Hope, and Charity are all Theological Virtues. Thus, none of these are Moral Virtues. This leaves us with the four Cardinal Virtues as possible Moral Virtues. Prudence is a virtue that governs the intellect and thus is not a moral virtue. This leaves us with three major Moral Virtues:
-Justice a.k.a Righteousness
-Fortitude a.k.a. Courage
-Temperance a.k.a. Moderation
How is each a Moral Virtue?
-Because Justice gives God, neighbor, and self their due, it is about action, and thus is a moral virtue.
-Because Fortitude gives firmness and constancy to face dangers and difficulties it governs passions, and thus is a moral virtue.
-Because Temperance moderates attraction to pleasures and use of created good it governs desires and deeds, and thus is a moral virtue.

This means Justice, Courage, and Temperance are not strong feelings, intuitions, gut instincts, rule-following, or any of the like. They are habits of one's intellect governing the passions and the appetites. Since they are habits, one doesn't think about them any more than one breathes or actively thinks when tying one's shoes. As long as we think about the virtues and virtuous acts when acting, we can be assured we are not yet in the habit of virtue. E.g. one does not actively think about how to shoot a ball into a goal, but only passively, as a sort of intellectual and muscle memory whereby one focuses on the goal and shoots. It is a habit, not an experience whereby I abstract from the act and dwell upon "being intentional." Catholics beware of the Evangelical speech habit of being "trying to be deliberately intentional," this typically keeps one on the level of abstracting about "what's it like for me to be doing what I'm doing" and prevents habit formation. To this end, we need more unintentional acts, meaning, allowing one's habit of willing good to take over and not "overthink it," ie stop a will inclined to good in order to think about doing something else. Free will is not "choosing between alternatives," this is the Liberal Tradition's definition of free will. Free will for the Catholic is the will being properly formed to achieve its proper function and end, to choose good. One is never "free" in choosing evil, for this becomes a slavery and subjugation to non-good, lack of character, etc. Since true freedom then is willing good, one wants its perfection to be in not choosing between alternatives, but rather willing good with clarity and ease. We call such a training of the will a "virtue" or "habit" (habitus).
Some thinking and reflection can be helpful in spiritual growth, but also overthinking, over-recording, and over-planning can stifle virtue cultivation by preventing the deeds from becoming habits. Imagine if you were trying to make a habit of breathing or walking in a straight line. The more you thought about each breath or each step, the longer it would remain awkward. To use an athletic metaphor, "Get out of your head and get in the game." Do a virtuous act and don't think too much about it. Reflect at the end of the day and have a rough plan on how to proceed tomorrow, but don't "make a plan to breathe," that sort of planning will inhibit rather than cultivate virtue as a habit.
It's Sexagesima Friday 2019, so Ash Wednesday comes this Wednesday. Have you prepared for Lent by analyzing your moral virtues? Which do you think God is asking you to focus on? Remember, none of the virtues can be ultimately separated because they are ways of being, and ultimately God is Being-Itself. But at the same time, we can work on Justice and it will accidentally work on Courage at the same time. We don't have to be aware of everything for it to work on us. This can be a great gift to relieve potential anxiety about "which virtue to focus on?"
Here are some examples of minor Moral Virtues or sub-virtues, meaning they are forms of Justice, Temperance, or Fortitude.
-Chastity: chastises concupiscence
form of Temperance; regulates immoderate desire
-Meekness: regulates the onslaught of anger
form of Temperance; regulates immoderate passion
-Obedience: to follow a superior’s will/command
form of Justice; regulates what you ought to do
-Clemency: regulates external punishment
form of Temperance; regulates immoderate action
-Humility: regulates a tendency towards immoderately high things
form of Temperance; regulates immoderate desire
-Religion: offering service and ceremonial rites to a superior nature men call “divine”
form of Justice; regulates what all humans ought to do for God
-Piety: doing what one ought toward parents and country
form of Justice: regulates what you ought to do to neighbor
-Honesty: being in an honorable state due to spiritual beauty
form of Temperance; regulation of beauty and honor in oneself
-Diligence: eagerness to do one's prescribed work well and to its completion
form of Fortitude; regulates firmness and constancy toward the good
-Perseverance: constant will despite difficulties or delay
form of Fortitude; regulates firmness and constancy toward the good

Q: What about "virtues" like respect, responsibility, loyalty, being hardworking, etiquette, manners, politeness, and niceness?

A: It's important to note these are not classical, Christian virtues. When people call these "old fashion" they mean since the 18th or 19th c., whereas the virtues have been discussed for thousands of years across cultures. The American use of these terms then needs clarification. IF they are virtues, one must define them specifically, and some common uses of them do not qualify as virtues (this is the degree to which common sense culture has ceased to be a Christian Culture of Virtue). If you agree to the definitions above, then you could file them as follows:
-Respect and Responsibility under Piety (Justice)
If by these you mean showing deference, even in situations where you should act against a person's actions, then no, these are not virtues. E.g. you are respecting someone who needs to be resisted for being an unjustified aggressor, in this situation one's respect is not justice and injustice, negligence of one's duty to love one's neighbour. If by "respect" you mean ethical relativism, then no, it is not a virtue, since all virtues must aim at the good. If by "responsibility" you mean obeying the World on its terms, no it is not a virtue. E.g. being responsible means submitting your family, marriage, ambitions, finances, etc. to standards set by the World rather than God, then this "responsibility" is not justice, but impiety, and injustice. If you mean giving due time and work to the deeds you ought to do in all situations, then yes, these are virtues.
-Loyalty under Obedience (Justice)
If by this you mean staying on someone's side and supporting their decisions, even if it is evil, even if they're family or a friend, then no, this "loyalty" is not a virtue but is the vice of favoritism, a form of the vice of covetousness. If you mean doing your due to those with a legitimate claim on you to the good, then yes, it is a virtue.
-Hardworking under Diligence (Fortitude)
If by hardworking you mean high energy even if every hour of hard work is interrupted by a two-hour break or being high energy but never finishing work, then no, hardworking is not a virtue. These two would be forms of sloth disguised as the virtue of diligence. If you mean persevering work of good quality to its completion, then yes it is a virtue.
-Etiquette, Manners, and Politeness under Honesty (Temperance)
If by these you mean rule-following for the sake of pride, pleasure, to flatter, or for their own sake then no these are not virtues, but vices of vanity. If you mean giving your due to others through certain beautiful deeds: the gift of your presence, your dress, your home, etc. then yes they are virtues of charity.
-Niceness is not a virtue; nice is a vice
This term almost always means the same as the problematic definition above for etiquette, manners, and politeness -- a pleasantry for its own sake. If one is nice when they should admonish, then clearly niceness is not a virtue. Jesus was not nice when he flipped the usurers' tables, but Jesus is perfectly virtuous, thus niceness is not a virtue. If by "niceness" one means kindness, and this does not include the false loyalty above or the vain form of etiquette above, then it is a virtue.
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