Virtue is Medicine for Humanity

Since naming my business, I occasionally run into a quizzical expression about what virtue has to do with integrative medicine.  Even worse than a speculation of irrelevance is the rare worry that I will use dogmatic definitions of virtue as a weapon against tender souls.   But consider virtue in the Aristotelian sense . . .


Virtue is the conscious, conscientious realization of happiness, through the practice of our rich and complex capacities for human excellence. 


Have you thought lately about your capacities to be excellent?  


How about your disposition to be the very embodiment of human flourishing? 


Aristotle often says that the virtue of Medicine is health.  He means that the professional practice of Medicine has its perfect goal in realizing and facilitating a healthy body.  But he is referring to health in a narrow sense—as a physical body with plumbing in working order.  It is not a stretch, given a holistic appreciation of being fully human, to say that the virtue of human healing is actually VIRTUE itself.  That is, healers and healing should aim always at human flourishing and happiness, through the practice of our capacities to be excellent in mind, body, and spirit.


Imagine how different the healing space looks when physician and patient are engaged in the art of knowing and practicing the virtue of a full humanity. Now that’s a medical prescription worth writing!


“To say that happiness is the supreme good seems a platitude, and some more distinctive account of it is still required . . . . the good for man is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect kind.  There is a further qualification:  in a complete lifetime.  One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day.  Similarly neither can one day, or a brief space of time, make a man blessed and happy.”  Nichomachean Ethics, 1097b22-23, 1098a17-22


Isn’t that lovely?  None of us has come into the fullness of our power.  “One swallow does not make a summer.”  So, take heart, and call upon Courage!  Our virtue is to be practiced over time, with perseverance and compassion.