107 Philosophy
107.014 Philosophy - Stoicism - 4 stoic virtues

Four stoic virtues

The Stoics wanted nothing more than to live virtuously, and they have a very specific definition of virtue.

Everything we face in life is an opportunity to live by our virtues. Even bad, scary, painful, humiliating situations, we get to practice our philosophy every day. If we act virtuously, they believed that everything good could follow - Happiness, success, meaning, reputation, honor, love.

Cicero: "The man who has virtue is in need of nothing whatever for the purpose of living well."

4 virtues

  1. Wisdom
  2. Courage
  3. Temperance
  4. Justice


Epictetus: "The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own."

For stoics, wisdom is the knowledge of what is good, evil, and indifferent. Wisdom informs action.

We have the ability to choose our actions and reactions.
Victor Frankl "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response."
In that space, we have the ability to use our learnings, experience, and desire to practice philosophy and use it - or act mindlessly, impulsively, irrationally.

Wisdom is harnessing what the philosophy teaches and using it in the real world.


Marcus Aurelius: "'If you seek tranquility, do less.' Or (more accurately) do what's essential - what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you'll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, 'Is this necessary?'"

Aristotle says this is the "golden mean" , that virtue is found firmly in the middle, between excess and deficiency. Excess and desire is synonymous with discontent and dissatisfaction. They are a self-defeating impulse.

Epictetus: "Curb your desire - don't set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need."

Seneca: "You ask what is the poper limit to a person's wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough."

Temperance is the knowledge that abundance comes from having what is essential.
Temperance can be used interchangeably with "self control".


Epictetus, Discourses 3.24.31-36: "Don't you know life is like a miliatary campaign? One must serve on watch, another in reconnaissance, another on the front line... So it is for us - each person's life is a kind of battle, and a long and varied one too. You must keep watch like a soldier and do everything commanded... You have been stationed in a key post , not some lowly place, and not for a short time but for life."

Epictetus was asked which words would help a person thrive. "Two words should be committed to memory and obeyed: persist and resist."

Courage is persisting in what you know is right against odds, against power, against normal reason. Even at the expense of your own life and reputation, even if futile, because it's the right thing to do.

Seneca's words to a deranged tyrant Nero when his soldiers came to kill him: "Nero and kill me but he cannot harm me."

Courage to face misfortune. Courage to face death. Courage to risk yourself for the sake of your fellow man. Courage to hold to your principles, even when others get away with or are rewarded for disregarding theirs. Courage to speak your mind and insist on truth.


Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31: "And a commitment to justice in your own acts. Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good. What you were born to do."

Marcus Aurelius thought that justice was the most important of the virtues, because the others are worthless unless executed with justice in mind. What good is courage if it is self-interested? What good is wisdom if not put to use in the benefit of others?

Stoics looked at justice not in the legal sense that we think of it today, but rather, in the broader scope of our interactions with other people. Cicero summed it up with the following points:
- That no one do harm to another
- That one use common possesions as common; private as belonging to their owners
- We are not born for ourselves alone
- Men were brought into being for the sake of men, that they might do good to one another
- We ought to follow nature as a guide, to contribute our part to the common good
- Good faith, steadfastness, and truth

Unjustice is explained by Cicero as anything that inflicts harm on another being. "For the most part, men are induced to inure others in order to obtain what they covet."

Sympetheia is a very buddhist philosophy and coveted by the Stoics, held dearly - the belief that mutual interdependece mong everything exists in the universe, that we are all one. Marcus said "What injures the hive injures the bee." Marcus' favorite stoic teacher, Epictetus, said "Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings." And Epictetus' teacher, Musonius Rufus, said "to honor equality, to want to do good, and or a person, being human, to not want to harm human beings - this is the most honorable lesson and it makes just people out of those who learn it."

  • Me
  • emotional-intelligence