the significance of virtue in stoic philosophy

the significance of virtue in stoic philosophy
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“The man who has virtue is in need of nothing whatever for the purpose of living well.” — Cicero

Stoicism was a school of philosophy established in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC. It gets its name from the Greek word stoa, which translates to porch. This is a nod to the location where Zeno initially imparted his teachings to students.

In the vast tapestry of human philosophy, Stoicism emerges as a timeless guide, offering principles that resonate across the ages.

According to this philosophy, the root of our troubles lies in our perception of things, not the things themselves. Stoicism instructs us that our “reasoned choice,” as coined by Epictetus, is the only aspect within our control. It emphasizes our ability to employ reason in choosing how we interpret, react to, and realign ourselves with external events.

In Stoicism, virtue or excellence (aretê) is seen as a set of values and qualities essential for living a good and fulfilling life. The Stoics held the belief that virtue is the only key to true happiness, and they earnestly sought to lead a life free of passions, recognizing them as disturbances and damaging to the soul.

At the heart of this ancient philosophy lie the Four Stoic Virtues—Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Temperance. These virtues, far from being abstract ideals, form a compass that directs us toward a life enriched with purpose, resilience, and goodness.

Whenever we encounter crossroads—be it in the workplace, at home, or within the community—adhering to these virtues is the pathway to a life marked by honor, glory, and excellence in every respect.

The virtues are closely connected and indivisible, yet each maintains its distinctiveness. Acting rightly often requires courage, and discipline relies on the wisdom to discern what merits choosing. Courage loses its value if not applied to justice, and wisdom's worth is questioned if it fails to foster modesty. Each virtue plays a vital role in leading a good life.

The Stoics revered these four virtues. For them, these were nothing short of extraordinary, and as per the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, “the touchstones of goodness.” In fact, the very term “the cardinal virtues" underscores their pivotal nature. Interestingly, “cardinal” in this context doesn't denote a religious role; rather, it originates from the Latin word cardos, meaning “hinge.” These are the ideals of central importance; they open the door to the good life.

Aristotle equated virtues to crafts and explained that they are things to acquire just as one acquires mastery of any occupation or skill. He wrote, “We become builders by building and we become harpists by playing the harp. Similarly, then, we become just by doing just actions, temperate by doing temperate actions, brave by doing brave actions.”

The call of Stoicism is not merely an intellectual exercise; it's a call to action. To truly embody the Four Stoic Virtues is to embark on a transformative journey, where philosophy meets the crucible of everyday life.

Each situation, every moment, provides a chance to showcase these expressions of human excellence. No challenge or problem exists that doesn't warrant the application of courage, moderation, justice, or wisdom.

Virtue, in essence, is a conscious act, something we choose for our better well-being and for the common good. It’s a daily undertaking, a continuous and recurring challenge that we encounter not just once, but constantly.

Goodness or evil? Hard way or easy way? Heroism or cowardice? Knowledge or ignorance? Maturity or naivety? Progress or stagnation? 

Ultimately, it's a choice that you have to make — again and again, throughout each day of your life.

I'm happy, excited, and immensely grateful to announce the release of my new book "The Virtue of Temperance: Volume I", the first book of the Handbooks for Stoics series.

"The Virtue of Temperance: Volume I" is not just a theoretical discourse; it's a practical guide to navigating the complexities of contemporary life. In this concise book, I provide actionable exercises and real-world applications that'll empower you to cultivate the Stoic virtues of self-control, discipline, and rationality in a world driven by excess and instant gratification. Through captivating narratives and poignant lessons, you'll discover how temperance is not a restraint, but a liberation—a path to embracing challenges with grace and resilience.

Get your copy here:

(Print book and audiobook coming soon!)