Friday, March 17, 2023

Virtue in Violence: The Moral Foundations of Military Character

Presented by Rafael Triana, Ph.D.

6:00 PM to 6:30 PM socializing

6:30 PM to 7:30 PM presentation

7:30 PM to 8:30 PM Q&A

Gratis unless you would like continuing education credits, (pending) in which case the fee is $12. Please send your check to Dr. Sheorn


Enter Meeting Number:  527-999-5540 (no password needed)


Keyhill Sheorn, MD  [email protected]

3801 Commodore Point Place, Suite 200

Midlothian, VA 23112  804.240.1095

About our speaker

Rafael Triana, Ph.D.

As a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, Dr. Triana served as Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Leader for two tours of duty in the Viet Nam War. He was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service in combat. He is a first-generation Cuban American raised in New York inner city Hispanic “barrio.”

Dr. Triana is a Psychoanalyst and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Currently, in private practice, he provides treatment for a broad range of psychiatric disorders. His theoretical area of interest is in the application of contemporary neuro-psychoanalytic theory and neuroscience research in the treatment of late adolescents and young adults as well as in veterans who have experienced combat trauma.

In 2021, after 35 years of service, he retired from the faculty of the University of Virginia where he served as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences and Senior Staff Clinician in Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), in the Department of Student Health and Wellness.

In 1995, in his position as Division Head of Mental Health services, he merged three mental health services and developed standards of practice as well as an APA approved training program for the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and became the first Director of the service. At CAPS, along with clinical practice, he provided a range of seminars and supervision to psychology and social work interns and post-doctoral candidates.

In the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, he provided supervision and a range of clinical seminars and special topics for psychiatric residents as well as providing CEU workshops for mental health clinicians.

As a consultant, he works with mental health professionals, families and parents on issues of mental health, psychodynamics and human development. In addition, he provides clinical supervision and consultations as well as presentations on issues pertaining to military service, combat, and veteran status.

In the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, he was the faculty Director for Medical Spanish and Culture.

In addition, he has supervised first-year and second year candidates in the China-America Psychoanalytic Alliance (CAPA) training program via tele-video.

He received a master’s and Ph.D. degree in Clinical Social Work from Smith College School of Social Work. Dr. Triana also holds B.A. in Drama and M. A. in Religious Studies with a concentration in Buddhism from the University of Virginia. His education includes a four-year fellowship in the Mental Health Division at Yale University Health Services, and completion of psychoanalytic training at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis where he had served as affiliated faculty in the New Directions writers’ program.

He also graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked as a professional actor in New York City.


Although modern warfare has been radically transformed, the ultimate ancient question a soldier faces, and one by which society judges the military ethos, is can violence be virtuous? A critical question that takes the form of a moral oxymoron leading to cognitive dissonance that can engender ambivalence, confusion, misunderstanding and bias, overt and implicit. Due to numerous unpopular wars (for some unjust wars) and military interventions during the post WWII era, national attitudes toward the military have fluctuated, from the heroic to ignoble most egregiously during the Viet Nam War era. Currently, the US military faces the largest drop in recruitment in 50 years. In the U.S., 0.004% of Americans are currently serving in the military and less than .07% are veterans, a decline from 18% in 1980, a decline that is predicted to continue.

This presentation is not to condemn or romanticize war. It is an explanatory commentary on the moral principles embodied in military life. The presentation will include a discussion of the Constrained and Unconstrained “Moral Visions” that result in incompatible conclusions about war and the origins of violence. To facilitate this discussion the works of Thomas Sowell, Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker will be considered. To elucidate a framework for understanding the underlying principles in the formation of military character, Virtue Ethics (Aristotle and Rousseau) and Phronesis (“Practical Wisdom”) will be outlined.


Objective 1: Warfare brings with it extreme adversities and complex fluid life and death situations requiring immediate response and always demanding discernment. Because of the military’s historical and contemporary emphasis on character formation, Military Character can best be understood by Virtue Ethics rather than rule based or utilitarian ethics. Rule based and utilitarian ethics tend to aim at the minimum standards and thereby less able to address the exigencies of war. It will be demonstrated that Virtue Ethics also explains required consensual exceptional acts of courage innate to combat. Embodied in virtue ethics is the question “Whom should I be” versus “What is the right thing to do”.

Objective 2: Aristotle’s three form of wisdom and knowledge the Episteme (science knowledge), Techne (technology and skill) and Phronesis (ethical behavior and character), and their role in the formation of military character be discussed. In addition, Rousseau’s historical perspective on character formation and education will be presented: “The question is no longer whether a man is honest, but whether he is clever. We do not ask whether a book is useful, but whether well-written. Rewards are lavished on ingenuity, while virtue is left unhonored.”

Objective 3: Along with the application of ancient philosophies for understanding military ethics, the presentation will include a discussion of a range of the neurobiological processes, a “sublimation” neurobiological process, underlying military culture training in the formation of character.

Objective 4: According to Dawkins “Selfish Gene” hypothesis, human nature is genetically directed for self-centered survivalist behavior dominated by narcissistic strivings with a proclivity for violence as evidenced by hunter gatherers tribal societies and annals of history. Although in agreement with view, this presentation will offer an alternative more optimistic evolutionary perspective for understanding violence and war.


Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Penguin Books

Christopher Boehm (2012). Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism and Shame. Penguin Books.

Roger Crisp ed. (2003). How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues. Oxford Press.

Jonathan Haidt (2012). The Righteous Mind: How Good People are Divided By Politics and Religion. Pantheon Books

Jonathan Haidt and Selin Kesebir (2010). Morality. In S. Fiske, D. Gilbert & G. Lindzey (Eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition. Hobeken, NJ: Wiley, Pp 797-832

Stephen Hall (2010). Wisdom From Philosophy to Neuroscience. Alfred A. Knopf, New York

Steven Pinker (2002). The Blank Slate; the Modern Denial of Human Nature. Penguin Books

Steven Pinker (2011) The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Penguin Books.

Matt Ridley (1996). The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and The Evolution of Cooperation. Penguin Books

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1750). Discourse on Arts and Sciences: Has the restoration of the arts and sciences contributed to refining moral practices?

Thomas Sowell (2002). A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. Basic Books