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Virtue is Strength

If you had to define virtue in one word it would be “strength.” In English we use the same root word when we say virility. Virility means a special kind of power. So does virtue.

The Stoic School teaches that strength is a good thing. This is basic to human nature and Nature in general. Nature rewards the strongest in a species with survival and progeny. Nature is a place of struggle. The earth is a place where all animals must exert constant activity to live and must exercise great strength to get ahead. Those who lose their energy fall behind and perish. 

Human society also rewards athletes of great strength or speed. You don’t find yourself wishing you were weaker, do you? 

But, the Stoic School teaches about a strength more powerful than muscles.

First, think about an army. History shows that the most athletic soldiers do not always win. A smaller army with better strategy and equipment often defeats a larger force. Why? Second, a runner or boxer who has beaten a certain opponent previously might lose to him during the Olympics because the opponent trained harder and kept a stricter diet. Third, a weaker army can rout a greater one when the stronger flees the battle field.  Fourth, The ancient play The Suppliants by Euripides illustrates a special kind of power. In the play, the women have no physical power to retrieve the bodies of their dead loved ones who were killed in a battle, because the victors wanted them to rot in the open and be eaten by animals, so what mysterious strength empowered the mothers, wives, and daughters to win?

Our cultural grandparents called the first kind of strength “Wisdom,” the second “Temperance,” the third “Courage,” and the fourth “Justice.”

1) Wisdom is “being smart,” “thinking things through,” “making good decisions.” 

2) Temperance is self-control, self-discipline, and the ability to choose the difficult path that is good rather than the easy paths that are bad.

3) Courage means fortitude, bravery in the face of danger and pain, and risking personal safety, wealth, and reputation in the interest of something more noble.

4) Justice is doing the right thing, recognizing a higher morality than even human laws, and successfully harmonizing with Nature rather than only reading and talking about it.

The Stoic School teaches that the purpose of human life is Virtue. 

Even in human society, Nature requires constant energy to live, to be healthy, to be wise, to control yourself, to be brave, and to be fair to all.

An evidence that Nature intends mankind to be virtuous is that Nature gave humanity the potential for all these strengths. We know of no other creatures with the potential to develop the four Cardinal Virtues as we mean them here. Nature has attributes that can only be understood by those who practice wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice. We live in Nature more and more only as we grow in Virtue more and more. 

Another indication that Virtue is our purpose in life is that virtues bind us in stronger friendship with our fellow citizens, our friends, and our family. We are political animals. Nature provides no other species with a social structure anything like human society. There are no other species with commerce, technology, musical instruments, clothing, conversations, etc. anything like human society. But, along with our need to socialize in our uniquely human way, we see that virtue is what binds us together in the bonds of good faith necessary to produce thriving human societies. Individuals who practice Virtue are bound with their friends in stronger bonds of friendship and are praiseworthy among their countrymen. Those who practice vice suffer in their public and private relationships.

We call Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice the Cardinal Virtues. They remind us of the cardinal directions North, South, East, and West. With only four directions you can get from wherever you are to wherever you need to be in two-dimensional space.  In life, you need a different dimension of directions – virtues.

With the Cardinal Virtues, you can get from any circumstance you are in to where you need to be. The four virtues form a coordinate system that surely navigates you through your entire life, with “magnetic north” being the Good. Whatever crisis or reversal befalls you, the way to maintain happiness and to get where you need to be is always a combination of these four virtues.

The mother of all the virtues is Gratitude. All virtues are a combination of Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice, and those Cardinal Virtues come from Gratitude. Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice are the natural response to gratitude for what Nature has done for us, what our friends have done for us, and what our country has done for us.

What is the Essence of Western Civilization? (3 of 6)

- by Kelly Kinkade

Currently, the oldest known recorded joke is from the Stoic School and is one the Stoic School still uses to teach new students. We call it, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tavern." Here is how it goes: 1) Epicurus (the Epicurean), 2) Diogenes (the Cynic), 3) Pyrrho (the Skeptic), and 4) Zeno (the Stoic) were on vacation. The four were coming out of a tavern and on their way to the next tavern. As fate would have it, they walked through a meadow where many people where making a lot of noise and moving around in unnatural ways. The four decided to have a little competition. Each one would try to find out what was being built; but they could not ask any questions; they could only observe and listen.

After a few minutes, the philosophers came together to hear what each one claimed it was that was going on. 1) Epicurus said, “I saw the finest marble money can buy. Clearly, it is a demonstration of the pleasing beauty of marble.”  2) Diogenes said, "I saw teams of carpenters and masons. Clearly it is another pretentious product of their trade societies to show off their work as being superior to what others can do.” 3) Pyrrho said, “I saw diagrams with geometric shapes and proportions.  Clearly, it is a demonstration of a mathematician’s theorem; but, as we can just as clearly see, Epicurus and Diogenes have taken a contrary opinion that is just as likely right as mine.”

Finally, 4) Zeno said, “I followed the consul and his wife as they walked around and talked. Their conversation revealed that they are building their dream house where they will retire after public life, which the consul promised his wife upon entering public life. Clearly, we are all correct but only in a part. Each of our answers must be put together if we are to give a complete account of what it is we see.”

So, Zeno won the competition and Diogenes kept asking, “What’s a house, guys?” (part of the humor is that Diogenes rejected nearly all social conventions and would not live in a conventional house, choosing instead something small that looked like a dog house, which is why others called his philosophy “Cynicism,” which was understood to mean “dog like”).

This story illustrates what it means to answer the question, “What is it?” And the most interesting question you can ask is, “What is Western Civilization?” You see, early on, our ancestors learned that to know yourself, to understand the world, to grow stronger, to wield your potential, and to create a difference, all you have to do is look at important things a certain way.  What we call the Stoic Way of looking at important things is just looking at anything from four angles.

With the house, the four philosophers saw 1) the substance of the house – marble. Then they saw 2) what was bringing the house into this world – the workers. Then they saw 3) the dimensions and proportions of the house – the “blueprint.” Finally, they saw 4) the purpose of the building – a retirement dream home, which was the fulfillment of a promise. 

But, we are not discussing houses, are we? Frankly that would not be worth your time. We are really discussing "What is Western Civilization?", which means we are really discussing you; and that is worth your time.

As we apply this story to you, you will feel an eerie deja vu as you unlock powerful things deep inside yourself that you didn’t put in there yourself – that have been there your whole life waiting on you to summon them to action. That is a huge part of what Western Civilization is – head and shoulders above every other culture, the West teaches you about yourself and how you can be the happiest.

Our next article will apply the Stoic way of looking at things to you. Until then, try to think for yourself, 1) What is your substance? What material are you made of? What is like the marble for the house? 2) What brought you into reality, like the workers were doing for the house? 3) What is like the blueprint of the house for you? And, what the Stoic School considers the most important question for you, consider 4) What is your purpose in life that you are here to do?

In the Stoic School’s next article in this series, you will be surprised when we tell you the answers to those four questions in your life. And you might very well be shocked by where that will lead you very quickly.

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