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The Four Virtues of Stoicism

While there is much to be learned about the philosophy of Stoicism, here we are going to discuss its four central virtues and how they can be applied to our modern lives.
The Four Virtues of Stoicism

In the past few years, Stoicism has gained a lot of popularity in pop-philosophy and self-development circles, and for good reason. For many people, the philosophy of stoicism has provided a foundational framework for dealing with the difficulties of modern life.

Popularized by people like Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss, William Irvine, and more, it has become a well known school of thought which has helped many people navigate the messiness and confusion that plagues our time.

While there is much to be learned about the philosophy of Stoicism, here we are going to discuss its four central virtues and how they can be applied to our modern lives.

Wisdom

“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.” Epictetus

If you’re at all familiar with alcoholics anonymous, you may have heard the common phrase called the serenity prayer, which goes:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

The virtue of wisdom in Stoicism is about just that—knowing what you can and cannot change. In Stoicism, this concept is referred to as the Dichotomy of Control.

The Dichotomy of Control is a concept that involves a clear separation in our minds of the things we have control over and the things we do not. This is quite a powerful concept when put into practice, as it allows us to focus on the actions and circumstances that we have power over and to put aside those that we do not.

Ultimately, wisdom comes from knowing the difference and acting on this.

However, sometimes there are things which we have partial control over. For instance, when it comes to something like a job interview, we only have control over how well we prepare with the knowledge that’s available to us. In this instance, it’s important to separate the circumstances from our actions and realize that we only have control over our intentions.

Temperance

“‘If you seek tranquillity, 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?’” — Marcus Aurelius

Aristotle describes a concept called “The Golden Mean,” which refers to achieving a virtuous balance in the way we live our lives. He explains that in the instance of courage, we have two extremes, both of which should be avoided. On one end, we have cowardice and on the other end, recklessness. Both of these are failures in living a virtuous life.

This is where the virtue of temperance comes in. With temperance in our actions, we never allow ourselves to do anything in the extreme. In essence, we temper our desires and actions in such a way that we find balance in everything we do.

Oftentimes, as Marcus Aurelius says, doing less can be more beneficial if we are intentional with our actions and cautious of anything that disrupts our balance and tranquility.

Courage

“Of the virtues, some are primary, while others are subordinate to the primary virtues. Courage deals with acts of endurance [hupomonas]. . . To courage are subordinated perseverance, intrepidness, great-souledness, stout-heartedness, and industriousness.” — Arius Didymus

To the Stoics, courage was not simply an absence of fear in an individual, but rather a virtue that promoted “right action” in all of our endeavors. While acting “rightly” does involve facing fear, it also involves much more than just that.

Courage involves the strength to seek the truth even when it is incredibly difficult. It is about enduring our duty to ourselves and our society, having the strength to resist material shallowness, and living in line with the other three virtues.

If we look at the etymology of the word, we see that it is made up of the latin “cor,” which means “heart” and the suffix “-age,” meaning “act of” or “function.” Therefore, courage is ultimately an act of the heart—an act that comes from a foundational place of strength and goodness.

Justice

“There is but one thing of real value - to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger in the midst of lying and unjust men.” — Marcus Aurelius

While courage is about the strength to do what’s right, justice is about seeing what’s right and acting in a way that aligns with this.

It is no secret that we live in an unjust world. Everyday people die or experience misfortune that they do not deserve. However, if we can see the world clearly and still have the courage to envision what it can be, we can strive for justice in our own actions and promote a fairer, more just world.

Conclusion

These four virtues are the foundation of Stoicism and should be a part of all of our lives. Having an ideal to strive for—a clear sign post to compare our trajectories to—will not only help us live a better life for ourselves and those close to us, but it will also improve the world as a whole.

So, let us take these four pillars and strive to live them truly every day. On days that we fail, let us remember that we can always try again the next day and the day after that.

References

https://dailystoic.com/temperance-is-the-most-important-virtue/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5617966-a-guide-to-the-good-life?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=1WcZeMqQis&rank=1

https://medium.com/stoicism-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life/the-components-of-courage-for-the-stoics-83a8ed83b5c1

https://dailystoic.com/justice-the-most-important-virtue/