Values v.s. Virtues

Many common errors today are the result of a failure to distinguish between values and virtues, or between things which are relative and things that are universal.

‘Values’ such as ‘open-mindedness’ and ‘tolerance’ are, unlike virtues, relative. While it would be good to be ‘open-minded’ with regards debatable or uncertain matters, it would be foolish not to decide on a matter after a thorough investigation. Likewise, being ‘tolerant’ is good in certain matters, but not in others (like abuse cases). Thus, such values are not universally applicable, and so should not always be held, but are relative to the circumstance. Virtues, on the other hand, are universal. It is always good to practice prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, no matter what the situation.

‘Liberals’ often take certain ‘values’ and apply them as if they were virtues, but they are not. This is why their namesake itself is a relative ‘value’ – one cannot equally liberalize economy and sexual abuse, for example. To be liberally ‘tolerant’ of these two areas equally is to be woefully irresponsible and unjust.

The same criticism can be applied to ‘conservatives’. Conservation, again, is a relative term; it is not universally a good thing. Again, to conserve the environment and chattel slavery equally would be an woeful injustice.

What applies to Catholics is to seek after its namesake – the things which are catholic, or universal; after ‘principles’, which are unchanging. This is what it means to be ‘ortho-dox’, to adhere to ‘right-speech’, to touch on what is true in all places and in all time. It does happen that ‘conservation’ touches on this, since Tradition (with capital “T”) is part of the revealed faith, alongside Scripture and the Magisterial teaching authority of the Church. However, the central concern is still to be ortho-dox – to think out of, and seek after, what is “right”, according to true and authentic faith and reason, rather than to be concerned about relative values – with the universality of the virtues mentioned above, and especially also of faith, hope and charity.


4 thoughts on “Values v.s. Virtues”

  1. Years ago I heard columnist George Will say, “Value is something you get at Wal-Mart. Virtues are what makes life worth living.”

    I have since learned that Mr. Will was inspired to offer that quip by Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of The American Mind” which is Professor Bloom’s excellent memoir of, and reflection on his career in academia. In “The Closing of The American Mind” Professor Bloom explains the Left’s nefarious and surreptitious replacement of “virtues” with “values.”

    In the U.S. Presidential campaign now getting underway, I am paying very close attention to the prospective candidates’ use of the word v-a-l-u-e. I will be most impressed by the first candidate I hear use the word v-i-r-t-u-e where “value” is now normally applied.

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