Definitions of Virtue

Virtue is conduct that reflects universal principles of moral and ethical excellence essential to leading a worthwhile life and to effective self-government. For many leading Founders, attributes of character such as courage, responsibility, and integrity were thought to flow from an understanding of the rights and obligations of men. Virtue is compatible with, but does not require, religious belief. One’s thoughts and words alone do not make a person virtuous. According to Aristotle, virtue must be based on a just objective. It requires action, and it must become a habit.


Our 139 American Portraits narratives profile historic actors and their actions within the context of virtue. Below is a list of those virtues and the narratives which explore them. For a text list of all lessons, view our "Narrative List" page.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Acting on good judgment about what is right or wrong, deserving the trust of others. To strive to know and do what is best, not what is most popular. To be trustworthy for making decisions in the best long-term interests of the people and tasks of which they are in charge. Individuals must take care of themselves and their families, and be vigilant to preserve their liberty and the liberty of others.


To tell the truth, expose untruths, and keep your promises. In examining the stories of those who have practiced integrity, students will learn the challenges and benefits of acting with integrity.

Courage (Vigilance)

The ability to take constructive action in the face of fear or danger. To stand firm as a person of character and do what is right, especially when it is unpopular or puts you at risk.

Self-Sacrifice (Honor)

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others. Students will see how acting selflessly benefits society.

Diligence (Perseverance, Initiative)

Diligence is intrinsic energy for completing good work. Students will learn about how acting diligently in pursuit of a goal or objective can help them build their character.

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