Flourishing and the Unity of Virtues: Psychology Listens to Philosophy

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Lindsey Root Luna, Psychology; Dr. Heidi Giannini, Philosophy; Dr. Charlotte van-Oyen Witvliet, Psychology

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According to classical virtue theory, as articulated by Aristotle and subsequently Thomas Aquinas, virtue is necessary for eudaimonia (i.e., human flourishing; Fowers, 2012). Positive psychologists have defined virtues as character strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) and primarily studied them in isolation (e.g., the correlation between gratitude and well-being; Emmons & McCullough, 2003). In contrast with psychologists, philosophers have long examined virtues more holistically (e.g., Aristotle, 1999). In this view, all of the individual virtues coalesce as practical wisdom, which enables people to engage in virtuous responses in various contexts (Fowers, 2012). In light of this philosophical conceptualization, we plan to examine the interrelationships among virtues, evaluating a higher-order latent factor structure and its association with flourishing. Existing psychological measures of virtues of interest were reviewed and revised to more accurately track Aristotelian and Thomistic perspectives. Our virtues of interest were the cardinal virtues (i.e., temperance, courage, justice, practical wisdom) and other virtues relevant within positive psychology and a Thomistic perspective (e.g., forgivingness, gratitude). Data were collected using an online Qualtrics questionnaire (N = 170). We will then evaluate a higher order structure, using structural equation modeling (Mplus software). Preliminary correlation analyses among the individual Thomistic virtues (i.e., faith/spirituality, forgivingness, gratitude, hope, humility, patience) and flourishing revealed statistically significant relationships, rs = .24 - .52, ps < .017. Among the cardinal virtues, flourishing was correlated with justice (r = .41, p < .001), wisdom (r = .35, p < .001), and temperate attitudes toward food (r = .22, p = .029) and sex (r = .30, p = .002). We anticipate that a higher-order latent factor will correlate more strongly with flourishing. However, this study is largely exploratory given its interdisciplinary nature. Examining the utility of a higher-order latent virtue factor has the potential to shape the way we view and study the relationship between virtues and flourishing.


This research was supported by the Nyenhuis Convergent Scholars Grant at Hope College.

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