Goodness, virtue, rectitude, morality are comparable and very general terms denoting moral excellence.
Goodness is the broadest of these terms; it suggests an excellence so deeply established that it is often felt as inherent or innate rather than acquired or instilled. Of all these terms it is the only one applied to God <the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth —Exod 34:6 > When applied to persons it usually suggests such appealing qualities as kindness, generosity, helpfulness, and deep sympathy.
Virtue (see also EXCELLENCE ), though often coupled with goodness as its close synonym, is distinguishable as suggesting acquired rather than native moral excellence and, often, a greater consciousness of it as a possession; usually the term implies either close conformity to the moral law or persistent choice of good and persistent rejection of evil.
Since virtue often specifically implies chastity or fidelity in marriage, rectitude is frequently employed in its place when moral excellence acquired through obedience to the moral law and self-discipline is implied. But rectitude differs from virtue in often having reference to motives, intentions, and habits and not merely to character, and sometimes also in placing greater stress on such stern qualities as uprightness, integrity, and probity. All of the preceding words refer directly or indirectly to the moral excellence involved in character.
Morality may come close to virtue and rectitude in denoting a quality of character.
In this sense the term often specifically suggests a moral excellence that arises from fidelity to ethical principles as distinguished from one that arises from obedience to the divine law or the moral laws enforced by religious teachings.
But morality, unlike the other terms, commonly denotes a code of conduct.
From this sense derive applications, on the one hand, to behavior, whether morally excellent in terms of ordinary ethical standards or quite the reverse, that accords with such a code and, on the other hand, to the propriety of behavior as weighed by such a code.