A “vice” is a habit or behavior that is considered morally wrong or depraved according to societal norms. It is often also considered a social taboo.
Vices tend to be related to lack of self-control and restraint. This can lead to harm to oneself or others.
Examples of vices include dishonesty, greed, envy, and wrath.
Vices are the opposite of virtues. Virtues are moral habits (versus vices, which are immoral habits). Unlike vices, virtues are viewed as good or desirable because they are constructive and prosocial. Examples of virtues include honesty, courage, and kindness.
What is a Vice?
The concept of vice is as old as, at least, the Ancient Greek philosophers.
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all explored concepts of vice and virtue in their writings on morality and moral philosophy.
For instance, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics presents a view of moral virtue as a mean between extremes, with vices representing the excess or deficiency.
In Christian theology, vices are often seen as sins or behaviors that separate individuals from God.
Christian vices are associated with the “Seven Deadly Sins”:
- Lust – Wanting what someone else has
- Gluttony – Over-consumption beyond our reasonable needs
- Greed – Selfish desire, especially for wealth, power, and possessions
- Sloth – Desire to do what’s easy instead of what’s good
- Wrath – Uncontrolled feelings of rage, anger, and hatred
- Envy – Resentfulness of others for their lot in life
- Pride – Self-adulation and over-inflation of ego
Importantly, vices are culturally-constructed. Different cultures and societies have different ideas of what a vice is, at different times. For example, in Protestasnt Christianity, desire for personal wealth is seen as a virtue, whereas medieval Catholocism saw it as a vice.
Greed is an intense and selfish desire for something. This could include selfish desire for wealth, power, or even food.
In contemporary understandings, we often consider greed to refer to inability to share or fairly divide resources. For example, a child may greedily hoard all the food at the dinner table, despite the fact it’s far more than they can eat.
A greedy person is never satisfied with what they have. They may constantly seek more, regardless of how it impacts others around them in a world of finite resources.
A billionaire hoards all his wealth, and dedicates his life to hoarding even more wealth, with disregard for the fact his business underpays workers and his neighbors are suffering in hunger.
Envy is a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
Envy often derives from an internal sense of inferiority to others. We may desire to possess what others have because we desire to have the social status and possessions of others.
This vice can lead to harmful behaviors, such as spreading gossip and sabotaging others. It often causes us to engage in deceitful actions to obtain what someone else has without actually earning it the hard way.
Example of Envy
A man envies his brother’s wealth, so he goes to his brother’s boss and tells him lies and rumors in order to get his brother fired.
Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste.
Gluttony is most commonly associated with over-eating. While this is certainly true, it’s not the only form of gluttony. For example, a person who hoards sports cars in their garage may be also accused of being gluttonous.
It can also take the form of excessive screen time or workaholism, causing imbalances in one’s life.
Gluttony in terms of food can lead to negative health outcomes, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Example of Gluttony
A person develops an insatiable desire of junk food and disregards any possible negative effects on their health or relationships. They slip into a habit of eating so much that they become overweight and develop a disease of obesity. (Please do note that not all obese people are gluttonous).
Pride, in the sense of pride as a vice, is an inflated sense of one’s personal status or accomplishments.
A negative side-effect of pride is that it might lead to arrogance or contempt for others. For example, a person who is overly proud of their achievements may fail to empathize with others who haven’t achieved as much as them.
Pride can cause a person to reject criticism and act narcissistically. They may refuse to admit mistakes and disregard the feelings of others – boasting in the face of the poor.
While a healthy sense of self-esteem is positive, pride becomes a vice when it results in superiority complexes and the belittling of others.
Note that pride may also be used as a defiant way to reclaim an identity that is historically marginalized and derided, such as gay pride – which isn’t generally considered a vice.
Example of Pride
A man’s business becomes extremely successful. He starts to believe he is extremely clever, and fails to acknowledge that support he got from family and friends, and the luck of timing in his business. He lacks humility.
Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work. It may manifest as laziness or a lack of ambition.
However, sloth may also take the form of apathy toward one’s own responsibilities, relationships, or personal growth.
This vice can lead to a variety of negative consequences, including poor performance at work or school, strained relationships, and a lack of personal fulfillment.
Note that, as with many vices listed here, it may be a sign of a mental health issue rather than something within one’s power. Symptoms of depression, for example, may come across as slothfulness.
Example of Slothfulness
A man, with a wife and young children, sits around all day eating chips and watching television while his wife minds the children, vacuums the floors, mows the lawn, and goes to work.
Wrath, or extreme anger, is an uncontrolled feeling of hatred and rage.
This vice can severely damage relationships, lead to legal troubles, and have serious mental health implications. It’s generally undersood as an inability to control our emotional responses.
Wrath often leads to destructive actions, impulsivity, and violence towards others. It may be a manifestation of a person’s inner sense of lack of power, stunted emotional growth, or failure to achieve self-control.
Example of Wrath
A man has anger management issues, lashing out at others, especially when driving. He honks his horn, tailgates, and yells at others. This wrath catches up with him one day when he gets himself into a car accident.
Lust is an intense desire for physical, especially sexual, gratification.
While sexual attraction is a normal part of human experience, lust becomes a vice when it leads to obsessive sexual thoughts, objectification of others, infidelity, or sexual misconduct.
This vice can harm personal relationships and, in extreme cases, lead to actions that harm others.
Example of Lust
A young man, who generally considers himself to be a good and kind person, is consumed by lust for a woman he works with. She tells him she is uninterested, but he continues to pursue her, until finally he loses his job for making others in the workplace uncomfortable.
Vanity is excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.
This vice can lead to an obsession with self-image, a lack of focus on substantive personal qualities, and poor judgment of others based on surface appearances.
Vanity may come across as an inability to accept constructive and valid criticism, a lack of empathy for people less fortunate, and a constant need for affirmation and attention.
Example of Vanity
A woman is so obsessed with looks, glitz, and glamor that she fails to see the true qualities in others. She finds herself constantly dating attractive but also vain people, and therefore, her relationships seem never to work out.
Avarice is an inordinate desire to gain and hoard wealth.
This vice pushes people to extreme lengths to acquire more assets, often at the expense of ethical considerations or personal relationships.
Avarice can lead to fraud, theft, and corruption, causing societal harm.
Example of Avarice
A man is so desperate to get rich that he decides to come up with a ruse to convince people to give him money in exchange for reading their fortunes. He knows he cannot tell the future, but he is consumed by avarice – the lust for money.
Despair is the loss or absence of hope. Many of us may see it as a natural response to hopeless circumstances, but in many moral codes, we should never despair and always carry on regardless.
Although despair can be a reaction to personal circumstances, it becomes a vice when a person continuously dwells on their perceived failures without making any effort to work on self-improvement and growth.
This vice can lead to self-neglect, isolation, and a general negative affect. This may in turn hinder personal growth and progress, leading a person further into the hopelessness they have created for themself.
Example of Despair
A man sees his brother has more money than him, and rather than admiring the brother’s work ethic and trying to learn from him, the man falls into despair, feeling sorry for himself and assuming he will never be able to achieve that even if he tried. This becomes the man’s self-fulfilling prophecy.
List of Vices (A to Z)
Vice, the opposite of virtue, refers to negative, destructive, and morally wrong traits in a person. Many religious and philosophical traditions explore how vice can lead to antisocial and self-destructive behaviors, and generally are not good for the individual or society. Hence, cultures often develop taboos about vices to try to discourage them and lead person toward more socially acceptable norms of behavior. What is considered a vices does, however, change across cultures and eras, depending on the prevailing worldviews at the time.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]