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Civic Virtue

  1. Bert van den Brink

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee587

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

van den Brink, B. 2013. Civic Virtue. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


To act virtuously is to act competently in light of standards set by a certain role. To act virtuously in a civic context is to act competently as a citizen or member of a political community (Dagger 1997: 14; see Citizenship). Etymologically, civic virtue is about showing virtus (strength, excellence) for the civitas (both citizenship and political community). What counts as strength or excellence of the citizen is historically variable and determined in practice by the specifics of given political arrangements and reigning ideologies and political theories (see Political Ethics). In modern constitutional democracies (see Democracy), emphasis is on virtues such as judicial impartiality, respect for individual rights (see Rights) and personal autonomy, justice (see Justice), personal integrity, social and political participation, public reasoning, reflective judgment, and toleration (Macedo 1990; Galston 1991; Dagger 1997). In premodern city-states there is a similar stress on deliberative and participatory virtues but for a much smaller citizenry, which consisted of men of status and sufficient means. In premodern political theory we find less emphasis on the virtue of the toleration of ethical difference (see Toleration) but detailed focus on questions of the good life (Aristotle 1995). In addition, we find reflection on military virtues, the virtues of noble leadership, virtù (“manliness”) (Machiavelli 1997), and sacrifice for the common good.


  • legal and political;
  • politics;
  • citizenship;
  • liberalism;
  • virtue