The Freedom of Virtue: Navigating excellence in the art of living amongst a world of instant gratification

Tom Edwards & Cosimo Chiera

"Come on a journey with two travelers — not virtuous, just trying to be. Virtue is not for everyone and many people find their happiness in the green valleys of life. But for those of us with a little  chutzpah a summit looms high above and time is of the essence…"

What makes a person, no matter their background, intelligence, or resilience, stand out from the crowd, to display excellence in the art of living?

It was this question that led two friends — a behavioural neuroscientist turned counsellor and a mathematician — both experienced academics and educators, to embark on a journey of discovery. The answer they found is called virtue.

Virtue sits in the background of daily life, yet influences everything we say and do. It is about a person’s style and substance in spite of their physical strength or intellect. Virtue is for us all, not only for the strong and the smart.

So how do we attain a life of excellence in a world awash with instant gratification yet marred by anxiety and depression?

The authors argue our need to always feel comfortable, if not happy, has robbed us of achieving excellence in our own lives. Taking an evidence-based approach, they examine research findings from psychology, anthropology, and biology — while also touching on religion and philosophy — to identify six virtues which are foundational to our humanity and which orientate each of us to our ‘best-lived’ life. These foundational virtues are Courage, Diligence, Wisdom, Honour, Justice, and Kindness.

Cutting across cultural and religious barriers this unique book provides readers with practical tools in the daily art of living. Not only will mental health professionals, parents and teachers find this book of value but so will all those who seek to empower others.

Herein lies a clear path to a life of excellence through virtue. 

Praise for The Freedom of Virtue

"In the current context of culturally defined models of wellbeing, this book’s brilliant explication of the scientific basis for the virtues is most welcome.”

Assoc. Professor James Phillips, Auckland University of Technology

"This book is written with passion and warmth . I recommend it for parents, for teachers, and for all of us who recognise that our greatest task is to prepare the next generation to live well in the world we shall hand on to them.

Rev. Professor Philip Hughes, Alphacrucis College and author of Educating for Purposeful Living

"My daughter once declared at the tender age of 6 that she wanted to be a particular type of teacher —‘a teacher of happiness!’ This book takes me back to that moment — happiness in its purest form . It inspires, ignites passion and challenges us to take control."

Joe D'Amico, General Manager, Chisholm Institute (Dandenong Campus)

 Buy the ebook edition:

About the Author

Dr Tom Edwards has a PhD in Behavioural Neuroscience from Monash University, Australia where for several years post his doctorate he lectured. Upon realising that learning about the brain says little about our shared humanity, Tom went back to further study, gained a Master degree in counselling and shifted his research interests. He has since divided his time between teaching, seeing clients and research. He is currently an accredited supervisor with the Australian Counselling Association. Tom has published in respected international journals and spoken at multiple national and international conferences. More recently, Tom and his co-author Cos have set-up Natural Intelligence Pty. Ltd. ( as a way to teach professionals how to use virtue-based insights to optimise individual and corporate outcomes. Tom’s particular interest is the virtue of hope.

Dr Cos Chiera holds a PhD in Mathematics from RMIT University, Australia, and continues to provide tutoring services as an Associate of RMIT for both mathematics and engineering courses. He has lectured at multiple higher education institutions across Victoria. In the late 1990s through to the early 2010s, Cos took time out from academia to work in the corporate world. Starting as a project manager in Y2K projects he worked his way up to Chief Operations Officer (COO), specialising in start-up companies and business triage. Nowadays Cos splits his time between consultancy work, academia, lifesaving (during the summer season) and his family. Indeed, his wife and two daughters provided much of the inspiration for this book. Of particular interest to Cos is the metric of ‘Integrity’, especially as it applies to the virtues of diligence and honour.


Review published in the Independence Journal a publication of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia. 


By Michael Walker academic and counsellor, reviews The Freedom of Virtue: Navigating Excellence in The Art of Living Amongst a World of Instant Gratification.

Michael Walker has worked in schools, both as a counsellor and as a chaplain, for many years.  His specific area of practice is rural schools and socio-economic disadvantage.  He has published in the academic literature on both Transformative Learning and Narrative Therapy.  He also recognises a conflict of interest having a past scholarly relationship with Dr Edwards, co-author of this book.


What psycho-social framework can help us live lives of excellence? Drs Tom Edwards and Cosimo Chiera have identified six virtues that are both cross-cultural and timeless - and perhaps unexpected.  Using these six virtues they detail a robust virtue-based model for living a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling as opposed to the pursuit of fleeting happiness.

In Chapter 1 of The Freedom of Virtue Edwards and Chiera first compare and contrast morals, values and character with virtues, highlighting important differences in depth and scope.  They then take a cross-disciplinary approach to show the value of Courage, Diligence, Wisdom, Honour, Justice and Kindness as those six foundational virtues which define excellence in the art of living.  The authors have been careful to draw from multiple cultures, both East and West, in their analysis and include First Nations’ examples as well.  Whilst some foundational virtues (e.g. Courage, Wisdom and Justice) may sound familiar others, like Diligence and Honour, will be a genuine surprise to many readers.  Even the foundational virtue of Kindness has been shifted by the authors from empathy to compassion. 

Chapters 2 through 7 outline each foundational virtue in turn.  These chapters start with relatable stories from everyday life.  Through examples the foundational virtues, which operate in the background of life, become recognised for their contribution to a life well lived.  Using gender-balanced stories, such as the courage of two female rock climbers in the Atlas Mountains, or the diligence of Marie Curie, the authors demonstrate the reality of each foundational virtue in people’s lives.  Usefully, care has gone into clearly defining each foundational virtue.  For example, the difference between heroism, bravery and courage (pp. 46-48) is teased-out with surprising consequences. Finally, the authors show how each foundational virtue can be developed and grown. Importantly in their chapter on Honour the authors describe how to grow a healthy honour culture as opposed to what sometimes gets reported in the media. In addition, scattered regularly throughout the book are useful activities and points to consider that allow the reader to reflect on their own experiences.

Chapter 8 concludes the book by pulling all the foundational virtues together into an integrated model and touching on the implications of this.  Without glossing over personal imperfections, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela are given as apt examples of people who had grown in multiple virtues by later middle age. 

The implications of The Freedom of Virtue are significant for those who lead school communities, for teachers, welfare staff and for students. For example:


1.     For students, the value of Diligence is easily recognisable as the academic success that sustained hard work and attention to detail brings

2.     Shifting from Diligence to Honour, schools should be much more deliberate about how students ‘win their glory’ and ‘earn their honour’ as respected members of the school community. This language dramatically shifts conversations about self-esteem to self-respect and reframes teenage risk-taking behaviour. It also makes membership of the School Representative Council, for example, an honoured position with all that it entails

3.     From a teacher’s perspective consider difficulties in classroom management when the ‘group honour’ (i.e. social cohesion) among misbehaving teenage boys is strong. For these boys maintaining honour with their friends by playing-up is more important than losing honour by being obedient or conscientious, even if it gains the respect of the teacher. By becoming aware of how group honour works teachers can begin to change classroom dynamics and engage all students

4.     Virtues also have implications for school leaders being primarily about community and culture.  As values tend to change over time with community standards it’s possible to find school values that are no longer relevant. However, the enduring nature of the foundational virtues allows a school to build a culture on solid, if not timeless, foundations. A school which becomes virtuous can then begin to receive its honour in the community.


The Freedom of Virtue brings a fresh approach to living a fulfilling life. It is grounded in research and analysis, but explains complex ideas in a useful and easy to read way. The impact that this book is going to have is only just beginning to emerge, but its significance is already obvious. Imagine the impact upon family, school and community life if everyone started to live motivated by virtue?




Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Authors' Note and Disclaimer
  • Authors' Preface
Chapter 1 - The foundational virtues
  • What makes for excellence in the art of life?
  • Character, morality and virtue: Similar but different
  • If you look, you'll see virtues everywhere
  • What virtues do we have today?
  • Virtues in the ancient world
  • The virtues of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and
  • Islam
  • Western virtues
  • Asian virtues
  • So which virtues are the most important?
Chapter 2 - Courage
  • Courage: Are we sure we know what it is?
  • Studying Courage
  • Hazel Findlay and Emily Harrington: Rock climbing super-stars
  • Mawson: A man on the edge
  • What have we learnt about Courage?
  • Philosophical enquiries into Courage
  • The psychology of Courage
  • Heroism, bravery and Courage
  • Fear
  • Perseverance
  • Moral courage is different
  • Can Courage ever be a bad thing?
  • Building Courage
  • Finding courageous people
  • Developing Courage
  • In conclusion
Chapter 3 - Diligence
  • The unseen virtue
  • The benefits of Diligence: School success, career achievement and longevity
  • If the psychological trait of Conscientiousness is so valuable what holds us
  • back?
  • Two factors which hamper Conscientiousness in children: Family of origin and bullying
  • One big problem that thwarts Conscientiousness: Procrastination
  • The dark side of Diligence
  • Burn-out
  • Perfectionism
  • Growing Diligence in healthy ways
  • In sum

Chapter 4 - Wisdom

  • Moving from smart to wise
  • But first, what not to do in life…
  • Misadventure


  • Folly
  • Foolishness
  • So what then is Wisdom?
  • Wisdom as a philosophical enquiry
  • The psychology of wise decision making
  • So how do we learn to be wise?
  • Living wisely
  • Thinking wisely
  • Reflecting wisely
  • Acting wisely
  • Bringing the three domains of Wisdom together
  • Moving to the next level…


Chapter 5 - Honour

  • From me to us…
  • Why don’t we talk of Honour anymore?
  • Opening the door to Honour
  • Bedouin honour culture
  • Calabrian-Australian honour culture
  • How the professionals look at Honour
  • The dynamics of Honour
  • Glory comes before Honour
  • The snakes and ladders of living in an honour culture
  • Dishonour
  • Growing in Honour
  • Personal Honour
  • Group Honour
  • As we move on…


Chapter 6 - Justice

  • Justice holds back chaos
  • But what is just?
  • A just society
  • Justice for people
  • What if merit defined Justice?
  • The psychology of Justice
  • A specialised topic: Forgiveness
  • How to grow in Justice
  • A final word


Chapter 7 - Kindness

  • Kindness is life at its best
  • What does it mean to be kind?
  • Ordinary Kindness: Good deeds and altruism
  • Extra-ordinary Kindness: Compassion is the key
  • Compassion eclipses empathy
  • The purpose of compassion
  • How do we grow in Kindness?
  • Developing generous people
  • Developing compassionate people
  • Finally, be a blessing to others


Chapter 8 - In the pursuit of excellence: Using multiple virtues

  • A brief recap
  • When virtues come together we find excellence
  • Career success: Maximising just two foundational virtues
  • Achieving excellence in the art of living: Maximising three or more
  • foundational virtues
  • Future dreaming
  • Five stepping-stones to virtue
  • Final thoughts