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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.

Is the US Declaration of Independence completely accurate?

by Marcus Aurelius -

What has history shown about the US Declaration of Independence?

Perhaps the most influential secular document since the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence is a remarkable expression of human nature regarding our yearning for freedom. Volumes have been written about its brilliance. Nevertheless, little is mentioned about any small errors. Why?

Simply put, history shows that there are a couple questions that the Declaration left for our generation to explore. The jury has been out for a long time, but the verdict has now come in.

The second sentence of the Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Has the history of Western civilization confirmed that all men are endowed with the unalienable Rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?”

No.

“Unalienable” is synonymous with “Inalienable” today. Both words mean “unable to be taken from or given away by the possessor.” What has the West discovered about all men’s right to life, liberty, and happiness? Can an individual give away his right to life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness?

Yes.

Let’s consider the two most dramatic examples. First, Western civilization has found that wars are sometimes necessary. Killing and conquering others is based on the claim that enemies have forfeited their right to life, to liberty, and/or to pursue what makes them happy. This is the Western doctrine of jus ad bellum or “just warfare.”

The second example is the Western concepts of civil law (jus civile) and natural law (jus naturale). Simply put, the West is based on the belief that civilization depends upon rule of law. Belief in the rule of law is founded on the recognition that some actions that people want to do are unacceptable. The whole point of law is to punish people who choose to do certain things. The West has always believed some people do things that must be punished with fines, imprisonment, or death.

That is the same as saying the West does not agree that all men have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. For example, Western civilization has always believed that certain crimes, such as murder, deserve taking away a criminal’s “right” to life. The West has always accepted that certain crimes, such as pedophilia, deserve taking away the criminal’s “right” to liberty and his “right” to lead the lifestyle of his choice. Prison is an institution the entire point of which is to take away a person’s “right” to liberty.

The Declaration also claims that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Really?

Are the just powers of government really derived from the consent of the governed? Even America could not live according to that ideal for “four score and seven years.” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address clearly contradicted this part of the Declaration when he said the Union would never perish from the earth, regardless of how adamantly many Americans did not consent to the federal government. Every criminal is not consenting to some law. The “Sovereign Citizen” movement is based on consent being the basis of governmental authority. Members of the “not my president” movement still are punished for violating the laws of a government to which they do not consent. Using lack of consent to delegitimize the just powers of the government does not work. Try it.

Claiming that the just power of government is dependent on the consent of the governed is simply a synonym for anarchy.

The US Declaration is part of Western history, but it is heavily infiltrated by certain fallacies of the Enlightenment such as the doctrine of tabula rasa. Meaning “clean slate,” tabula rasa claims culture and morality are social constructs. If that was true, lawlessness and evil could be corrected by education and training. This assumption in the Declaration was novel in Western history; it was a seductive idea, and America became a 241-year experiment to see if tabula rasa was true. Perhaps the best example that proves the Founders knew America was an experiment, is Benjamin Franklin’s words that the Constitution would produce a republic, “if you can keep it.”

Disciplined reason recognizes that the American experiment has proven the continual Western claim that tabula rasa is not the case. History and current events have proven that a few assumptions in the US Declaration of Independence regarding human nature are inaccurate, as the Stoic School and Western civilization have always claimed. We can do better. Let’s do better now.

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