Character Strengths and Virtues" book - Understanding Character: School for Champions

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"Character Strengths and Virtues" book

by Ron Kurtus (15 January 2012)

Dr. Christopher Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania co-authored the academic textbook Character Strengths and Virtues, which is an extensive handbook and classification of character.

In the book, they look at the historical views of virtue and then use them to help classify what they call character strengths. Their classification is based on a perspective of positive psychology.

Questions you may have include:

  • What are the historic views on virtue?
  • What are the character strengths related to these virtues?
  • How does the fit into our viewpoint?

This lesson will answer those questions.


Peterson and Seligman studied the virtues that were part of the major spiritual and philosophical traditions throughout history. They looked at Confucianism and Taoism from China, Buddhism and Hinduism from South Asia, and the religions of ancient Greece, Judeo-Christianity and Islam from the West. From these studies they concluded that the following six items were universal core virtues:

  • Wisdom and knowledge
  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Transcendence

Since these virtues seemed universal across many cultures, they felt the virtues were built into the human psyche and could form a basis for a list of positive character traits.

Character Strengths

Peterson and Seligman took each of the virtues and assigned character traits taken from their studies to the virtues. They felt that this was a good way to arrange and organize the character traits.

Wisdom and knowledge

These virtues are cognitive strengths concerning the acquisition and use of knowledge and result in the character strengths of:

  • Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
  • Curiosity and interest in the world
  • Open-mindedness, judgment, and critical thinking
  • Love of learning
  • Perspective and wisdom


Courage is a virtue that consists of emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, resulting in the character strengths of:

  • Bravery and valor
  • Persistence, industry, diligence, and perseverance
  • Integrity, honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
  • Vitality, zest, enthusiasm, and energy


Humanity consists of interpersonal strengths involving helping and befriending others, resulting in the character strengths of:

  • Love
  • Kindness and generosity
  • Social intelligence


Justice consists of civic strengths for a healthy community life, resulting in the character strengths of:

  • Citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty
  • Fairness, equity, and justice
  • Leadership


This virtue concerns protecting against excess, resulting in the character strengths of:

  • Forgiveness and mercy
  • Humility and modesty
  • Prudence, caution, and discretion
  • Self-regulation and self-control


Transcendence is a virtue that concerns strength that forges connections to the "larger universe" and provide meaning, resulting in the character strengths of:

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
  • Humor and playfulness
  • Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith


The items that Peterson and Seligman defined as universal core virtues are their interpretation of values that ancients considered important for a good life. They rearranged and combined some virtues to fit into their model.

The list of character strengths is based on a psychological perspective. Some of these character strengths do not really fit into our definition of character. For example, love is an emotion. Optimism and humor seem more like personality traits than character traits. Also, does leadership really relate to fairness?

But still, the listing is still a good basis for understanding of character.


The book Character Strengths and Virtues by Peterson and Seligman provides an historical view of virtue, which they use to categorize what they call character strengths. Their classification is based on a perspective of positive psychology. It is a good point of reference for our definition of character traits.

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(Notice: The School for Champions may earn commissions from book purchases)

Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman; Oxford University Press (2004) $75.00

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