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Can Virtue Be Taught?

I've been thinking about this for at least 3/4 of a year now, and I came across a lecture of Russell Kirk's by the same name in his posthumous collection called Redeeming the Time. First, we have to define virtue. Etymologically, the word comes to English by way of the French vertu and before that the Latin virtus. Its root is vir for man, linking virility with valor, merit, and moral perfection. Thus the idea that a virtuous man is a man's man.

Kirk picks up on this connection of virility and virtue when he writes,
In recent decades, many folk seemingly grew embarrassed by this word virtue; perhaps for them it had too stern a Roman ring. They made the word "integrity" do duty for the discarded "virtue." . . .[I]ntegrity is chiefly a passive quality, somewhat deficient in the vigor of "virtue." People of integrity may be the salt of the earth; yet a rough age requires some people possessed of an energetic virtue.

He says the concept of virtue has been communicated to us via the Greeks and Hebrews and classically means "the power of anything to accomplish its specific functions; a property capable of producing certain effects; strength, force, potency." Hence the connection to virility and manliness.

Kirk concludes that virtue cannot be taught except in the context of a family or other small, tight-knit group that is committed to the excellence of its members. Churches, for instance, but not schools, especially not today's public schools. Mainly, because virtue is best taught by example and not "research projects."


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