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From Virtue to Duty: The Victorian Application of Patience and Humility to Social and Intellectual Life

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Chapter Summary

The responsibility to behave with patience and humility was adaptable to all individual circumstances. William Whewell observed in Elements of Morality that "Virtue and Duty differ, as the Habit and the Act". Virtue emerged from a deep and universal part of our nature. Duty was the application of virtue to an individual set of circumstances. The malleability of virtue to specific duties had important practical consequences. It allowed the Victorians to construct divisions of labor and hierarchies of authority on a seemingly stable moral foundation. Patience and humility mattered so deeply because they underwrote the constellation of individual duties that made social and intellectual life possible. The fact that virtue, patience, and humility could appear distinctly feminine presented a challenge. Darwin in the Descent codified the orthodox Victorian dichotomy of the male and female character into the language of biology.

Keywords: duty; humility; patience; virtue; William Whewell



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