In my second installment of the series on Stoicism I’m sharing a Stoicism philosophical principle I’ve been learning about and practicing. The principle of “living by Virtue”.
Achieving ‘virtue’ is the highest good. What the Stoics meant with ‘virtue’ was excelling in terms of our rational human nature. Basically, when you live according to virtue, you are living the Good Life.
Four Cardinal Virtues
Human excellence happens in different forms of virtue, more simply put, we can excel in different ways. The Stoics philosophers categorized different forms of virtue under four headings known as the the four cardinal virtues:
1) Wisdom or Prudence: Includes
2) Justice or Fairness: Includes
3) Courage or Fortitude: Includes
4) Self-Discipline or Temperance: Includes
When someone acts in accordance with the virtues listed above, they are able to progress towards the Good Life, or as they put it Eudaimonia, which is Greek for conducive to happiness — the ultimate goal of life.
Virtue... All Or nothing
The key to living the Good Life, is living according to virtue, or being ‘virtuous’.
In the Stoic view Virtue is an all-or-nothing package. You can only be virtuous if you practice all the virtues. An example might be, if you act courageously throughout the day and then get wasted at night, you are not truly virtuous (because you break the virtue of self-discipline with all the binge drinking).
What is the reward for living according to the virtues?
To the Stoics virtue itself is its own reward. You do something because it is the right thing to do. You act in agreement with nature, with reason, and according to the cardinal virtues for its own sake. It does not matter what you get out of it, since acting according to virtue is rewarding in itself as you are progressing towards the Good Life.
Doing the right thing should be enough, it’s in your nature and it’s each of our job.
Stoicism is about doing the right thing, it’s about the actions you choose to take and about who you are.
In many cases acting according to virtue brings further benefits for example the feeling of joy because you acted fairly. Caution, these benefits should be interpreted as a 'bonus’ and not the primary motive for virtuous action because they are not entirely under our control.
Always apply reason and try to do the right thing. Act according to the virtues wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline. The results of your virtuous actions are not entirely up to you and therefore should not be the motive for the actions in the first place.
Focus on what you can control, which is to act excellently in terms of your character.
This brings us to the next Stoic idea. Which I’ll be sharing tomorrow.
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