Virtue ethics holds that being good is more about who we are than it is about what we do, that character is primary in ethics. According to virtue theory there are certain character traits that it is good for us to possess, virtues. There is, however, some disagreement as to precisely what character traits should appear on the list of virtues.

From as far back as Plato, four virtues were identified as of foremost importance: courage, temperance, prudence, and justice. From these four, all other virtues were thought to spring. Because of their importance, these came to be known as the cardinal virtues.

Church tradition has adopted and extended this view. To the four natural virtues, three theological virtues have been added: faith, hope, and charity. Together, the seven are known as the heavenly virtues.

There are also seven contrary virtues, each opposing one of the seven deadly sins. By exercising these virtues, one is supposed to avoid falling into those sins. The contrary virtues are humility (opposing pride), kindness (opposing envy), abstinence (opposing gluttony), chastity (opposing lust), patience (opposing anger), liberality (opposing greed), and diligence (opposing sloth).