According to the Romans, humanity refers to one's state of "refinement, civilization, learning, and being cultured". Since then with the advent of postcolonialism and other modern philosophies, this seems to be a little pompous if not downright nasty—and it certainly is the classic viewpoint of a colonizing power, that is, to bring civilization and culture to the lesser people throughout the world. A modern view would focus more on what gives us our humanity on a more universal scale, like our compassion and ability to connect with each others. These are the roman virtues, however, so instead of focusing on the a modern interpretation of humanity I will instead focus on the modern view of being learned, cultured, and "civilized"; while it is a misnomer to say one's humanity is based on how superior you are to everyone else, it is perfectly correct to say that refinement and culture are both good and admirable.

What a learned and cultured person knows and enjoys is a matter of opinion, but in order to get as much out of this life as possible, everyone should be chasing their own vision of learning and culture. If you are passionate about a field of knowledge and/or set of skills, set out to become truly competent in both your education and practice in that field. If you love novels, plays, art, or movies, you really should be taking the time to fully explore the full range of your tastes—and educate yourself about culture as well; knowing the history and people behind works and art can often make it much more satisfying.

Once you chart a course for your own vision and trekked down that pat for a while, look at what other people are calling knowledge and culture these days. Look at genres or mediums or expression that are different from what you are accustomed to. Take some classes in various forms of art and culture, and get both knowledge and refinement down with one stone. Start taking an interest in other relevant studies, such as politics, computers, or cooking. A great way to improve —and seriously challenge—yourself would be to study a new language. That's one way to really increase your connection with the rest of humanity!

v As far as being civilized, I think the best modern interpretation of this value would be a combination of being a good, responsible person and perhaps improving one's manners. I assume you are already taken measures to improve yourself if you are going through this site (unless, of course, you are reading this to become a better Roman), and manners is another topic altogether in the Roman Virtues (Respectability). Refinement and the nature of being civilized are controversial within themselves, so beyond this advice I think it's best to leave it to your discretion which virtues would make up those two characteristics.

Here are some activities that might help you improve your knowledge and sense of culture:


  • Begin Learning With What You Already Love, then Move On: Consider what your favored (and probably easiest) methods of learning are and do those activities with the goal of learning something new. Some activities to consider might be reading, viewing documentaries, going to museums or other learning centers, working on a new hobby, using the Internet, etc. Next, try some other forms of learning you may be less familiar with, such as taking classes or any of the above examples that didn't apply to you. In school they (hopefully) forced you to use all sorts of methods for learning, and while you shouldn't give up your best tactics for learning you do need to open your mind to new sources.
  • Do Things that Use the Knowledge You Picked Up: This is also a method of learning, but if you never apply the knowledge you learn, you won’t be able to receive the full satisfaction learning has to offer you. If you learn how to find and follow a blog online, you might want to make your own. If you learn about how your favorite desserts are made, you might try making homemade ice cream. If you read about the Civil War, you might want to share your new knowledge with others. While this activity might be more applicable to some subjects than others, you can usually find ways to act on new knowledge.
  • Take up Manners, Record your Successes: Read books or take a class on manners and acceptable behavior patterns for situations that are usually a problem for you (this could be behavior in the business world or even possibly in a marriage). Work on these manners so you have the choice of acting "refined" when it benefits you and those around you.
  • Work on "Civility": To most people around you this will mean self-control and refinement, so you may want to work on manners with the activity above and also work on the "Sternness" and "Discipline" virtues. Sternness in the Roman Virtues is mostly about self-control, and that is what you will need to be civilized, that is, to treat people with respect and kindness even when you don't feel like doing so, and also to never act or intimidate through anger.

Your Record

Whenever you are consciously rude to another person, or you are pretty sure that the slight against that person should have been avoidable, then mark yourself at "fault". If you take no opportunity to learn that day, even if just by reading a newspaper, then mark yourself at fault. If you unnecessarily offend someone with your manners, or act out of place in a formal gathering, then mark yourself at fault. Make some goals with help from the activities above. If you fail to make your goals or perform the activities, then mark yourself at fault.


Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.

Emily Post, American Authority on Social Behavior and Manners

As the soil, however rich it may be, cannot be productive without cultivation, so the mind without culture can never produce good fruit.

Seneca, Roman Philosopher

Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the coarse or centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.

Andre Malraux, French Historian, Novelist, and Statesman

Golden Mean


Recommended Reading

Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated — by Judith Martin

The tone may be a slightly Victorian, but this popular guide is a good read for anyone who wants to improve their manners.

Emily Post's Etiquette, 17th Edition (Thumb Indexed) — by Peggy Post

This book was written in 1922 by one of America's most renown experts in good behavior. This version was updated and rewritten for modern times by her great-granddaughter-in-law Peggy Post.

The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class — by David S. Kidder, Noah D. Oppenheim

This book is a bit like a secular version of those books filled prayers and spiritual quotes. It includes daily quotes from philosophy, history, literature, the fine arts, etc.

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.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. Albert Einstein