Abstract Virtues

There are attributes that you may possess that could be considered virtues that transcend the familiar ethical virtues, in that they will make you more successful in any venture regardless of its ethical motivations or outcomes.

Strength is the most obvious. A strong person has the power to perform a good or evil act with more magnitude than a weak person. And if they set upon a venture, their likelihood to succeed will be predicated on a certain threshold of strength.

There are other less obvious virtues. (Jump to list)

In contrast to virtues, vices appear to be trivially opposed. For example, strength has the corresponding vice of weakness. There may be virtues and vices that fall outside of this obvious correspondence, but we will need to analyse the definitions in order to see if that is worth exploring. For now, let’s put that idea aside and step through examples for scrutiny. It may arise that a counter- example is found by proceeding in this manner.

I will enumerate some candidate themes and discuss weather they agree with this idea of an abstract universal virtue.


I first started thinking about this concept from the perspective of privilege - Institutional privilege has been a very hot topic of discussion recently but considering institution equal for the present, individual privilege is also an interesting idea to explore. The most commonly analysed form of individual privilege discussed is wealth, and rightly so as this is not only influential but also stratifying and fluidly transferable.

What interests me is the granting of moral weight to certain types of privilege that are inherently orthogonal to morals. The first that I considered is memory. Good memory seems to be implicitly granted high moral-standing while poor memory relegated to a vice, even though this is a highly intrinsic and inflexible attribute to possess.

While these attributes may be applicable to groups, I won’t discuss that here.

These thoughts are in no way intended to detract from the discussion of privilege from the perspective of institutions, class, and wealth. It is intended more as a new avenue of analysis rather than diminishing existing discourse.


There are surely many analogies to this idea and maybe formal names as well. The ones that spring immediately to mind are in machines, where no moral judgement is normally endowed. Another would be game characters who are granted “stats” for abstract characteristics, many of which appear here.


Some of these concepts will be obvious and frequently referenced, however the less obvious of these may be interesting to consider. Often they may be grouped under terms more frequently referenced in this context, but considering them in isolation may be interesting.

What is included vs. excluded? These should be intrinsic traits. They may be developed but should be independent of external possessions - for example, wealth would fall under this list, but I wouldn’t consider it an abstract virtue as it may be granted or taken away at any time. (is this a useful scalpel?)

Each candidate will be analysed in terms of several points of discussion:

  • Description: A description of the attribute
  • Abstractness: How it qualifies as an abstract virtues
  • Moral interpretation: Why it is assigned morality
  • Corresponding Vice: Inverses and counterpoints to the attribute
  • Training: Considerations and implications concerning implicit or deliberate training


This is the most obvious abstract virtue. Strength can be interpreted physically very easily, however it is applied as a virtue most often in non-physical scenarios where it aggregates other attributes such as courage, determination, pursuasiveness, etc. These are less easy to define than physical strength.

Strength’s abstract nature immediately evident. Your ability to accoumplish a goal can be predicated on how strong you are, and in cases where the outcome is variable the outcome may be proportionate to your strength.

Even though strength is not intrinsically moral, we attribute morality to strength in individuals. Weakeness, strength’s corresponding vice is very often portrayed as the defining attribute in a pivotal moment that casts a character as a villain. This is most often due to a form of cowardice. However, even in situations where inaction is simply a matter of lack of strength morality is still attributed. This may be due to the fact that a lack of sufficient strength to act in a situation preclude’s the demonstration of moral virtues and this is interpreted in the contrapositive as demonstration of vice. A falacy since lack or posession of strength in itself is inherently neutral.

While strength is flexible and can be trained for over time, in any particular situation strength can be thought of as static. However considering strength from a training perspective when evaluating its moral assignment is interesting as it may be valid to criticise lack of training, since this may be abdicating responsibility to make future moral decisions that have a strength prerequisite to perform. Given that one method of training strength is excercising strength-until-failure in analogous situations, you may then attribute vice to lack of strength if the oportunity to exercise it futiley in previous situations wasn’t taken, or similarly one may criticise an individual when they are currently choosing not to fail in favour of not trying.

This is nuanced by certain considerations such as injurious failure, probability, futility, and the composition of groups in the present and future scenarios.


Perhaps the most significant but least obvious attribute that could be considered an abstract virtue is memory. Perhaps because it is rarely referenced explicitly in terms of merit, however its concequences and especially the concequences of its corresponding vices (forgetfullness, and more importantly, dismissiveness) are.

The ability to recall details, but also, when fallable, the ability to recall that which deserves attention. The ability to recall is dependent on several factors:

  • Current inherent power of memory - Clarity / Foggyness
  • Attention / importance paid to the event at time of acquisition
  • Repetition of exposure
  • Construction of narative or mnemonic devices
  • Decomposition of concepts
  • Cues - Scent, phrase, etc.

However, at any point in time, the ability to recall a past event is out of our controll beyond the will to conjure clarity or enumerate possible cues.

Memory presents as a particularly interesting example, since it is possibly the most abstract attribute but at the same time is assigned the greatest moral significance. Consider the following scenarios:

  • You have forgotten someone
  • You have forgotten someone’s name
  • You are able to recall historical precedents to inform a decision
  • You fail to attribute your successes to its causes and benifactors
  • You can’t recall details that would allow performing under pressure
  • Etc.

I’m sure you can imagine a story involving each of these scenarios where you would call a character’s actions moral or immoral if one of these occored. It is interesting then to consider why a moral judgement is made. The character’s ability to influence their memory in such a scenario is extremely limited.

Similar to strength, it is a highly abstract attribute that will enhance any endevour the more powerful a person’s memory is. Strong memory is very rarely a negative, and certainly never a moral negative except for in the cercumstances where trauma can’t be forgotten, or when details recalled are dismissed in order to perform imoral acts.

Like with all abstract vices, the moral interpretation relies of heavily upon the implicit assumption that strength or memory and accuracy and timeliness of recollection is a choice a choice that can be affirmed in good moral standing, or dismissed negligently, or vindictively. This is certainly not true in the moment where morality is being aserted. When a negative moral judgement is made, the vices attributed to the individual in question include laziness, malice, neglectfullness, and possibly mostly important, prior lack of consideration - often due to other vices.

The validity to moral attribution arises once again in lack of investment in the development of the virtue, and lack of application of the foundations of the virtue in prior situations that would enhance the power of the virtue in the current situation. More specifically, training of memory through applied rote and deliberate practice. Where judgement of an individual for lack of capacity to recall in a particular moment would rarely be justified in isolation, considering previous oportunities to prepare could be considered valid, however this is rarely explicitly aluded to. Moreover, the judgement is usually specifically reserved for the instantaneous failure to recall, and strengthened where inherent capacity is lacking.

This remainder of this post is a work in progress.





Obsession - Theme

Intelligence - Theme

Improvisation - Theme

Gregariousness - Theme - Using resources




Graph of Reinforcement Between Virtues

An initial sketch of what the dependence between abstract virtues may look like. I would hope to see a relatively symmetric graph to indicate the orthogonality of the virtues discussed here, removing redundant ideas and choosing inclusion based on influence. As you can see for yourself, this is currently not the case - partially due to lack of work to complete the graph, but also, probably becuase of poor choice of attributes.

Clearly this is an idea that is still developing and this essay isn’t meant to represent a definitive exploration of the concepts, but it should at least give a hint at a coherent notion that could be refined into something useful.

digraph {

	Memory -> Strength              [label="Abstract"];
	Memory -> Consideration         [label="Development"];
	Memory -> Focus                 [label="Recall"];
	Memory -> Intelligence          [label="Abstract"];

	Obsession -> Focus              [label="Enabling"];

	Charisma -> Gregariousness      [label="Enabling"];

	Improvisation -> Gregariousness [label="Enabling"];
	Improvisation -> Energy         [label="Abstract"];

	Focus -> Energy                 [label="Enabling"];
	Focus -> Will                   [label="Abstract"];
	Focus -> Intelligence           [label="Enabling"];

	Intelligence -> Speed           [label="Enabling"];

	Persistence -> Will             [label="Enabling"];


Do you disagree with the attributes I’ve included or my rationale of selection? Can you think of other missing attributes? What additional points of analysis should be explored for each attribute? How can the relative power, influence and interdependence of each attribute be navigated?

As mentioned before, this is still an idea in development, however I will probably leave this piece of wrting as-is. If you have thoughts about this concept maybe we can refine it together.