An interesting perspective on morals and virtues


Larry Lambert published this very interesting diagram on his blog the other day.  Clickit to biggit.

I found it intriguing, and looked for more information.  It comes from a Christian academic paper authored by James D. Lanctot and Justin A. Irving, titled “Character and Leadership: Situating Servant Leadership in a Proposed Virtues Framework“.  (It was tricky finding that source, because it’s been mis-catalogued by the university.  Follow my link and you’ll get there – just ignore the wrong title assigned to the paper.)  The paper included this second, equally interesting chart.

Speaking as a retired Christian pastor, I found it very interesting to compare those charts to the prison inmates with whom I’ve worked (and with my own character, as best I can tell).  I think they’re very useful guidelines to assess oneself and those in positions with which one must interact – politicians, administrators, bureaucrats, and so on.  If we understand their positions on the various continua, we may be better able to interact with them by tailoring our approach;  and, if their positions are simply too far off the norm, it’ll be a clue that we may be better off replacing them.

Try analyzing, first yourself, then popular politicians along those continua.  It’s an interesting exercise.  Once you’ve done so, ask yourself:  “Does that politician really represent who I am, and/or who I want him/her to be?  Do I really want to vote for this person?”  If we’re Christians, we could do a lot worse than apply those criteria to the way we vote.  Others will have their own criteria, of course.



  1. Very insightful, and a reminder that balance is important in so many things.

    That first diagram puts me in mind of my half-formed thoughts regarding Arnold Kling's three-axes model, and in particular the civilization-barbarism axis. Push too hard for civilization and you end up at decadence, which is just opulent barbarism.

    (One of these days I need to write a lengthy essay regarding both axis wraparound and axis spoofing, but this is not that day.)

  2. That top chart reminds me of an exercise we did in church twenty years ago. When the human TRIES to exert himself in what God alone can provide, what does it look like?

    The left side would be the normal human condition.
    The right side would be the person attempting to be "Christian" under their own power.
    The middle would be a person under control of the Holy Spirit.

  3. These charts are indeed useful; the first one is based off of Aristotle's and, to some extent, Plato's philosophies, especially the excess/deficiency spectrum. Some virtues have been added since their day, but they came up with the basic concept. May we all strive for the middle-ground virtues!

  4. While my own philosophical root stem from different sources, I have long maintained that the universe, in general, is built upon the tension between polarities. That first chart shows, quite clearly, the importance of balance between the various forces that pull all of us between order and chaos.

  5. @Eric Wilner;
    =>"you end up at decadence, which is just opulent barbarism."

    I have never heard that expressed so eloquently. Thank you for that.

  6. Sorry for the late comment. I downloaded the PDF you linked to and have been studying it.

    For years I have practiced Franklin's little exercise on virtues, usually at the beginning of the year. Most, or at least many, years.

    I would have done the tables a little differently, but the paper was still worth the little bit of time it took to read it through and study it some.

  7. Adding one of his little virtues: "Tranquility–Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”

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