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In spiritual terminology, piety is a virtue. While different people may understand its meaning differently, it is generally used to refer either to religious devotion or to spirituality, or often, a combination of both. A common element in most conceptions of piety is humility.
The word piety comes from the Latin word pietas, the noun form of the adjective pius (which means "devout" or "good"). Pietas in traditional Latin usage expressed a complex, highly valued Roman virtue; a man with pietas respected his responsibilities to other people, gods and entities (such as the state), and understood his place in society with respect to others.
The Latin term in turn may derive from "Piodasses", an ancient Greek transliteration of the Indic Prakrit term "Piyadasi", meaning "beloved of the Gods", a term by which the Indian Maurya Emperor Ashoka the Great referred to himself in the Edicts of Ashoka (3rd century BC).
Piety in modern English usage can refer to a way to win the favor or forgiveness of God, According to some, this type of piety does not necessarily require the spiritual piety, while others refrain from distinguishing the two.
It is also used by others to refer only to external signs that result from the spiritual aspect of piety. That is, according to some, if one is "truly" pious (in the spiritual sense), the natural and inevitable result of it will be religious piety. By this definition, then, piety can be either genuine, in that it springs from spiritual piety, or false, in that it is an attempt to exhibit the signs of piety for their own sake, or for some other reason, (such as propitiation or public esteem).
Piety can be demonstrated by position or state of mind, such as prayer the most famous Piety hand position is Christian Joining of Hands and Muslims bowing down to prayer.
- Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates seeks a definition of piety.
- pietas, the Roman virtue
- filial piety, a Confucian virtue