Alain de Botton Presents Ten Virtues for the Modern Day


At the end of my col­lege years, I found I need­ed to take one final polit­i­cal sci­ence course to com­plete my major. I chose a small sum­mer ses­sion on the sub­ject of virtue. Hav­ing enrolled with no idea what to expect, I fin­ished the quar­ter less changed by the assigned read­ings and class­room dis­cus­sions than by the very — and very unusu­al — task of hav­ing to think about virtue at all. Jokes about the dis­tance of virtue from mod­ern col­lege stu­dents’ minds write them­selves, but Alain de Bot­ton, a man giv­en to much thought and writ­ing about such lost top­ics, sus­pects that the same con­di­tion afflicts all of us. Hence his intro­duc­ing, under the ban­ner of his insti­tu­tion The School of Life, the Virtues Project. It emerges into an unre­cep­tive envi­ron­ment. As de Bot­ton puts it in this intro­duc­to­ry post, “In the mod­ern world, the idea of try­ing to be a ‘good per­son’ con­jures up all sorts of neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tions: of piety, solem­ni­ty, blood­less­ness and sex­u­al renun­ci­a­tion, as if good­ness were some­thing one would try to embrace only when oth­er more dif­fi­cult but more ful­fill­ing avenues had been exhaust­ed.”

“Through­out his­to­ry,” he con­tin­ues, “soci­eties have been inter­est­ed in fos­ter­ing virtues, in train­ing us to be more vir­tu­ous, but we’re one of the first gen­er­a­tions to have zero pub­lic inter­est in this.” In order to bring that num­ber up, de Bot­ton and The School of Life have enu­mer­at­ed ten sim­ple but uni­ver­sal virtues — resilience, empa­thy, patience, sac­ri­fice, polite­ness, humor, self-aware­ness, for­give­ness, hope, and con­fi­dence — and embed­ded them in a man­i­festo, of which you can down­load a hand­some PDF ver­sion. This pro­vides the foun­da­tion­al text of the Virtues Project, a com­po­nent of de Bot­ton’s larg­er mis­sion, laid out in his recent book Reli­gion for Athe­ists, to repur­pose for mod­ern soci­ety the ele­ments of faith that have demon­strat­ed prac­ti­cal val­ue through­out his­to­ry. Since my adult life, which effec­tive­ly began as that last poli-sci course end­ed, has chiefly pre­sent­ed the chal­lenge of win­ning and main­tain­ing my own self-respect, I’ll be com­mit­ting these ten virtues to mem­o­ry, and no doubt watch­ing for the Virtues Pro­jec­t’s lec­tures and pub­lic events to come.

via Andrew Sul­li­van

Relat­ed con­tent:

Alain de Bot­ton Wants a Reli­gion for Athe­ists: Intro­duc­ing Athe­ism 2.0

Socrates on TV, Cour­tesy of Alain de Bot­ton (2000)

Alain de Bot­ton Pro­pos­es a Kinder, Gen­tler Phi­los­o­phy of Suc­cess

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (3)
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  • yup says:

    This was just what I need­ed to see today. Thanks for the refer­ral — look for­ward to read­ing this book!

  • Hanoch says:

    It is dis­heart­en­ing to see athe­ists strug­gle with the con­cept of virtue. Mr. de Bot­ton may advo­cate his ideas of virtue but, ulti­mate­ly, they are just his sub­jec­tive judg­ments. This is the prob­lem that aris­es when reli­gion — which relies on an objec­tive source of moral­i­ty — is aban­doned.

  • Ronny says:

    What about love? Isn’t that a virtue?

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