An Analysis of the Virtue of Tact

Merriam-Webster Defines “Tact” as “a keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense.” Although this is a good description of the concept of tact, there is plenty of room for elaboration on what purpose it serves as a virtue.


Interestingly, while every virtue should have a breaking point at which a virtue turns into a completely different concept. At first, it could be argued that like wisdom, tact doesn’t have a breaking point, but when given thought, it is definitely possible that tact can have extremes of being too tactful when thought of as an abstraction. Closely examine the definition, notice how it is defined as doing or saying the correct thing to maintain good relations or avoid offense, that doesn’t necessarily mean that what you do or say has to actually be a sign of positive change or adaptation. It can fit the idea of a “Yes man,” or someone who blindly says whatever someone else (usually someone in a place of authority) wants to hear, regardless of what the actual truth is. There are many times when it is important to be tactful, but there is the rare situation which needs honesty, no matter the consequences and ramifications.


There are many times when two virtues collide with each other. Most of the time, the two virtues that collide more often than the other can rarely be interpreted to act as opposites to each other. Looking back at our first example, if someone dear to you asks a question to which an honest response could be very damaging to your relationship. In that situation, you would have two choices, betray your own loyalty to that person by being as honest as possible, or be dishonest and tell that person what you think they want to hear. In this situation, one can replace loyalty with tact, and one would have the same dilemma – Tact vs. Honesty.


We could also inspect the idea of a virtue having an opposite vice as a guideline of right and wrong, and while the opposite of courage is cowardice, there are multiple interpretations of what the opposite of tact can be. For example, while you could surmise that the opposite of tact is brutal honesty, as when a friend or family member may be in a time of turmoil, maybe it is less important to examine just how bad the situation they are in is, and better to lend your support in hard times, or maybe it can be dishonest harassment, actively lying in attempt to worsen the damage of the situation, rather than mitigate it.