Aesthetic Virtues

If you ever felt that you had a hidden air of dignity or nobility inside of you, squelched perhaps by either your current circumstances or personal anxiety, then this virtue set is for you. While there is are people who will tell you how you should behave if you want to be beautiful, or will sell you advice on how to appear beautiful to others, this isn't what you will find here. In this section I work on helping others develop what is most beautiful about their own personalities and characteristics.

This Aesthetic tree of values is one of Pincoff's classifications of "non-instrumental" values, that is, characteristics that don't necessarily help you succeed in meeting your personal goals and ambitions, but instead make your like more meaningful. Aesthetic is a characteristic that refers to the appreciation of beauty or good taste, and in this case it refers to the beauty behind people as an appreciation of their personality. In fact, according to Pincoff, these virtues are just about the opposite of instrumental goals. He says,

"qualities that are farthest away from being instrumentally valued…Aesthetic virtues are appreciated for what they are…they are exemplars of what human beings can be; their absence is regretted because it impoverishes life." (Quandaries and Virtues)

If you look at his list of aesthetic virtues, they seem to be a list of traits that are heavily dependent upon personal opinion. What does it mean to have "virility", for instance? How does a person with "nobleness" act? What's the difference between liveliness and vivaciousness? As a moral philosopher, Pincoff has thought about this and developed his opinions, and there are no doubt other intelligent people who will disagree with him. The question then becomes, do we bother studying or working toward something so hard to define? In this case, the answer is yes. No matter what you think is aesthetic or pleasing, almost everyone has a sense of this appreciation of beauty; many people think that their all of their lives' meaning is wrapped up in it. Even if being a moral person is truly more important, doesn't appreciating the beauty of those characteristics in those around you give morality more meaning? Finding the aesthetic value of people, including yourself, will make living a good or successful life worthwhile.

In this section, I focus not on meeting Pincoff's ideals verbatim, but instead try to help you develop your own sense of the aesthetic in those around you and in your life. I don't try to teach these values as a way to become more likable and attractive to other people, but rather as a method of working on developing your own personality and becoming free to be the person you feel you are (or more so, at least). I also hope that developing this sense of aestheticism will open you to seeing the beauty in others, and to helping them develop a sense of their own by not trying to stifle their personalities.


Here is a list of the virtues covered in this set. I suggest you start with the one you find the most absent in your life—and not to worry, there isn't one quality in here that will be impossible to possess. Every quality can be adequately met by those who work on drawing them out of their own personality. You might not be that "one guy" you've always wanted to be, but with work you can create something out of yourself that is worthy to be admired.

  • Dignity — This is poise and self respect, like a non-abrasive version self-confidence.
  • Virility — This is being attune to and comfortable with your gender and sexuality—I'm not making anything resembling a political statement here, this just means that you fulfill a strong sense of your own definition of what these things mean to you.
  • Magnanimity — This refers to someone who is able to keep their poise during danger or stress, and responds well to their own problems and to requests of aid from others.
  • Serenity — One who has this trait is not easily riled or stressed. They tend to have steady behavior. This is a little like Magnanimity, but focuses on general life rather than response to emegency situations (you don't necessarily want to be serene during an emergency.
  • Nobility — Having nobility refers to someone who obviously has a strong sense of their morality and ideals, and makes people want to trust them. While I don't think that a noble person has to avoid offense at all cost, a person with nobility should be able to control their behavior at appropriate times out of respect.
  • Gracefulness — This refers to being fully comfortable in your own skin, and a person who has accomplished. Developing serenity can help achieve this as someone suffering intensely through anxiety has difficulty being comfortable with how they move with the world.
  • Wittiness — One doesn't have to be a comedian to have some wit, but they do have to have a sense of humor. Someone who is witty is able to joke and laugh with those around them and also have a sense of humor about themselves. It also implies someone who can be amusing and fun if not necessarily hilarious.
  • Vivaciousness — Someone who is vivacious is excited and optimistic about life—and it shows. They tend to smile more and try to find new experiences. They certainly don't stay stuck in the same routine just to get by.
  • Imaginativeness — This is someone who has a creative spirit and is interested in new or unusual things. Interests could be education, the arts, nature, entrepreneurial ventures, or other creative ventures. They also tend to try to discover better solutions to problems, rather than by simply "what works".
  • Whimsicality — Someone who doesn't feel the need to be serious all the time, or even the majority of time. While being impulsive isn't always appreciation by some people, one can still pay the bills and be responsible even if they allow unplanned adventures or ideas to come to fruition as inspiration strikes.
  • Liveliness — This is someone who is animated and happy to be moving. Someone who is lively is more likely to get out of bed and get things done, and they also tend to be have more "magnetic" personalities in the opinion of most people (not all!). Being lively also tend to breed optimism and clear depression.

From the Source

Aesthetic virtues are qualities that are farthest away from being instrumentally valued or depreciated. Aesthetic virtues are appreciated for what they are, for the vision of themselves; we are grateful for their presence; they are examplars of what humans can be; their absence is regretted because it impoverishes life. There are at least two general sorts of aesthetic virtues: the noble and the charming. Noble virtues include dignity, virility, magnanimity, serenity, and, and, of course, nobility itself. The similarity to the Stoic list of virtues is not accidental. The Stoic's objectives seem to have been twofold: to achieve serenity - a certain level or tone in life — and to make of oneself a kind of model of what humans might aspire to, a model of nobility, of the sort of person who lives and dies in a high and admirable way.

Charming virtues attract, not by their altitude, but by their beauty. We appreciate gracefulness in a person: gracefulness in posture, in movement, in expression, in meeting the ordinary exigencies of life. Wittiness can be charming, as can liveliness, imaginativeness, and whimsicality. People who have such qualities attract, simply because life is better with such people than without them. The corresponding vices make for dull and unattractive common life: un-gracefulness, lack of wit, and so on.

Edmund L. Pincoffs | Quandaries and virtues: against reductivism in ethics


The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.

Albert Eistein, Renown American Physicist known for his theories of relativity

People who possess a true inner beauty, their eyes are a little brighter, their skin a little more dewy. They vibrate at a different frequency.

Cameron Diaz, American Actress

Attractiveness and magnetism of man's personality is the result of his inner radiance.

Yajurveda, One of the Canonical, Scriptural Texts of Hinduism

Recommended Reading

Quandaries and Virtues: Against Reductivism in Ethics — by Edmund L. Pincoffs

The author constructs a very interesting classification of virtues and vices and sketches a new approach to moral education for good character.

The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology — by Shane J. Lopez (Editor)

This long-awaited book contains almost 300 entries written by 150 leading international researchers, educators, and practitioners in positive psychology. 1160 pages; expensive!

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort. Confucius