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Vice is a practice or habit considered immoral, depraved, and/or degrading in the associated society. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault, a defect, an infirmity or merely a bad habit. Synonyms for vice include fault, depravity, sin, iniquity, wickedness and corruption. The modern English term that best captures its original meaning is the word vicious, which means "full of vice". In this sense, the word vice comes from the Latin word vitium, meaning "failing or defect". Vice is the opposite of virtue.
Vice is also a generic legal term for criminal offenses involving prostitution, lewdness, lasciviousness and obscenity. Illegal forms of gambling are also often included as a vice in law enforcement departments that deal with gambling as a crime.
Overview of religious views on vice
One way of organizing the vices is as the corruption of the virtues. A virtue can be corrupted by non-use, abuse or overuse. Thus the cardinal vices would be lust (non-use of temperance), cowardice (non-use of courage), folly (abuse of a virtue, opposite of wisdom), and venality (non-use of justice). See: The four virtues.
The Christian vices
Christians believe that there are two kinds of vice: those which originate with the physical organism as perverse instincts (such as lust), and those which originate with false idolatry in the spiritual realm. The first kind, although sinful, are believed to be less serious than the second. Some vices recognized as spiritual by Christians are blasphemy (holiness betrayed), apostasy (faith betrayed), despair (hope betrayed), hatred (love betrayed) and indifference (scripturally, a "hardened heart"). Christian theologians have reasoned that the most destructive vice equates to a certain type of pride or the complete idolatry of the self. It is argued that through this vice, which is essentially competitive, all the worst evils come into being. In Judeo-Christian creeds it originally led to the Fall of Man, and as a purely diabolical spiritual vice, it outweighs anything else often condemned by the Church.
Roman Catholic teachings concerning vices
The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between vice, which is a habit inclining one to sin, and the sin itself, which is an individual morally wrong act. Note that in Roman Catholicism, the word "sin" also refers to the state which befalls one upon committing a morally wrong act; in this section, the word will always mean the sinful act. It is the sin, and not the vice, which deprives one of God's sanctifying grace and renders one deserving of God's punishment. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that "absolutely speaking, the sin surpasses the vice in wickedness" . On the other hand, even after a person's sins have been forgiven, the underlying habit (the vice) may remain. Just as vice was created in the first place by repeatedly yielding to the temptation to sin, so vice may be removed only by repeatedly resisting temptation and performing virtuous acts; the more entrenched the vice, the more time and effort needed to remove it. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that following rehabilitation and the acquisition of virtues, the vice does not persist as a habit, but rather as a mere disposition, and one that is in the process of being eliminated.
Dante's seven deadly vices
- Pride or vanity — an excessive love of the self (holding the self outside of its proper position regarding God or fellows; Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor"). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, pride is referred to as superbia.
- Avarice (covetousness, greed) — a desire to possess more than one has need or use for (or according to Dante, "excessive love of money and power"). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, avarice is referred to as avaritia.
- Lust — excessive sexual desire. Dante's criterion was that "lust detracts from true love". In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, lust is referred to as luxuria.
- Wrath or anger — feelings of hatred, revenge or denial, as well as punitive desires outside of justice (Dante's description was "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite"). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, wrath is referred to as ira.
- Gluttony — overindulgence in food, drink or intoxicants, or misplaced desire of food as a pleasure for its sensuality ("excessive love of pleasure" was Dante's rendering). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, gluttony is referred to as gula.
- Envy or jealousy - resentment of others for their possessions (Dante: "love of one's own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs"). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, envy is referred to as invidia.
- Sloth or laziness; idleness and wastefulness of time and/or other allotted resources. Laziness is condemned because it results in others having to work harder; also, useful work will not be done. Sloth is referred to in Latin as accidie or acedia.
Examples of vices
Some vices recognized in various cultures of the world include:
The term vice is also popularly applied to various activities considered immoral by some: a list of these might include the abuse of alcohol and other recreational drugs, gambling, smoking, recklessness, cheating, lying and selfishness. It is also used in reference to police vice units who prosecute crimes associated with these activities. Often, vice particularly designates a failure to comply with the sexual mores of the time and place such as sexual promiscuity.
Behaviors or attitudes going against the established virtues of the culture may also be called vices: for instance, effeminacy is considered a vice in a culture espousing masculinity as an essential element of the character of males.
- Virtues and Vices, Aristotle, trans. H. Rackman, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, l992. Vol #285.
- In the Garden of Evil: The Vices and Culture in the Middle Ages. Edited by Richard Newhauser, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto 2005 ISBN 0-88844-818-X
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