What Embodies Virtue?
The notion of virtue is most likely to be associated with chastity and morality, and, therefore, related to monasteries and religious matters. Some will equate it to purity, both internal and external. The great Ancient Greek philosopher Plato renders Socrates’ judgments on this issue, his renowned teacher who inferred in discussion with Meno, and ascertains that no one could know what virtue is and whether it can be taught. This is the external theme of Meno. It is a difficult question to answer as it is hardly possible to define the notion of virtue precisely. The concept comprises too voluminous substance and of too numerous parts. Plato also raises the problematic issue of knowledge, developing the topic of his previous dialogues. Although Socrates concludes that a true opinion and knowledge about perfection guides to righteousness, these components solely do not constitute it: possessing a virtue still depends on upbringing, good intentions and attitude towards others as well as inborn personality traits.
Firstly, it is common knowledge that parents tend to put all the best into their offspring and want them to become almost indefectible. Accordingly, each new representative of a generation should be better as compared to the former ones. The theory works only with one amendment: not all descendants will readily perceive the grains of truth the elders are willing to bring to them. Moreover, neither side is in fault, but so are the peculiarities of each person’s character. Exactly this Socrates is telling Meno: no matter how noble, respectable and kind a person is, he or she cannot teach their virtue any other individual, even the one of own flesh and blood. Nevertheless, in most cases, people do manage to transfer their best qualities to their children, upgrading them, in a certain sense. It is important to give the impetus, form a diligent view, and allow it develop to the greatest possible extent.
Secondly, as knowledge is the key point in solving the mystery of the righteousness, the crux of the matter of its achievement is education. By learning more and, thus, broadening the mindset, a person can make his or her understanding of the world more elaborate. Consequentially, such a person would be able to decide, what is good and what is bad. According to Socrates, “. . . [all] things hang upon the soul, and the things of the soul herself hang upon wisdom, if they are to be good . . .” (Plato, 380 B.C./1987, p. 292). Therefore, learning more helps to gain wisdom and, in turn, the soul’s flourishing. On the other hand, it is impossible to become a good person, relying only upon the amount of information stored in the head. Some individuals may use it for good purposes; others will decide to do the opposite. Unfortunately, people not always feel the heavy burden of responsibility for their deeds and are concerned only with themselves.
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Another problematic constituent of virtue, as the most vivid proof of being a human, is amiability. This feature requires having good intentions not only concerning oneself but towards others as well. Therefore, best attitudes to also people indicate if not possession of a virtue, then at least a trace of it. Beginning from the smallest steps, people can achieve dramatic results. The aforesaid reminds of planting tiny seeds for the sake of growing a blooming and fruitful garden. For example, Mother Teresa was famous for her immense humanity and, undoubtedly, was a highly virtuous person. She had done many actions worth to be called the heroic ones, the reflections of which still exist now, even after her death. From Mother Teresa’s example, it may be deduced that goodness and sympathy are somehow synonymic notions. Not only living with people but also living for them deserves the highest grade in human’s virtuousness scale.
After all, many representatives of our society seem to have their goodness innate. This thought is also corroborated in Plato’s dialogue: the quality of virtue might be granted by God, namely to poets, prophets and statesmen, who, “. . . being inspired and possessed of God, in which condition they say many grand things, not knowing what they say” (Plato, 380 B.C./1987, p. 304). The author also reminds the words of Socrates, who was sure that all the things people seem to have just discovered or invented, are, in fact, the reminiscences of the souls from their previous lives, and the ability to remember them is truly a heavenly gift. It is a disputable question, as regardless of the way it was received, every skill, including virtue, needs to be maintained and developed mentally, similarly to every muscle in the body, which requires physical training.
Therefore, it is possible to obtain virtue in various ways, be it just good intention or the gift empowered by the divine nature. It is obvious that without the proper ratio of knowledge and true opinion, it is impossible to channel person’s potential in a proper direction. This trait could be given not only by nature: it is a total product of upbringing in cooperation with prolific education and humane attitude to the world. Meanwhile, an important fact is that with the increasing of knowledge, the level of responsibility is rising as well. No matter of the amount of virtue a man possesses, he or she should develop and train it, since, like every skill, it tends to deteriorate. Even the smallest deeds can have a big influence in the long run that will be equally effective for the ancestors, contemporaries and descendants.