the craft of virtue

From Groundhog Day and the 10,000 Hour Montage, over at Slacktivist:

"Virtue, Aristotle believed, was a craft — it was something we had to learn. To be a good person, he taught, takes work. We have to learn how to be good, to study it, and then, above all, to practice practice practice.

Aristotle would have liked Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule. In his book Outliers, Gladwell suggested that expertise isn’t innate, but is something that only comes from practice — “10,000 hours of it — 20 hours a week for 10 years.” This is true for any craft, including the craft of virtue, of being a good person. It takes time and effort to acquire the skill and to turn it into a habit, a reflex, a trait.

When I first encountered this idea of virtue as craft, I found it exciting and even liberating because it was so different from the idea of virtue I had learned growing up in American fundamentalist Christianity. I had been taught to think of virtue as mainly a matter of avoiding sin — of abstaining from a long list of bad things. Virtue wasn’t something to do, but something you had because of all the things you didn’t do. It wasn’t a craft to be learned, developed and practiced, but a stockpile to be safeguarded and hoarded. It was as though we had each been given an initial supply when we were born again as innocents, and that finite supply had to be preserved, clasped tightly, and kept pure from a dangerous and poisonous world.

The best that one could hope for, in such a view, was that 10,000 hours later one might have vigilantly defended and retained most of one’s original purity so that one wasn’t any worse after all that time. But this view didn’t allow much hope for the possibility of becoming a better person.
So the idea of virtue as a craft gave me hope. And not just a vague, impractical kind of hope. This is the kind of hope that comes with an agenda, a curriculum, a course of study and a course of action and a regimen to practice."


  1. liberating perhaps but it sounds hard and painful...

  2. "Life IS pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

    - The Dread Pirate Roberts.

    "Love is always harder than indifference."

    - Me


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