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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.

On Consulting Others

 - From our social media

Question:

Why do humans find it comforting to rely on the wisdom of the crowds?

Our Answer: 

The Stoic School has perhaps the most developed teaching on this question and its related issues.

An ancient rhyme is used to address this question. We teach that people must rely on the wisdom that comes from a combination of (1) Ethos, (2) Pathos, and (3) Logos. However, people must not rely on (4) Eros for wisdom.

1) Ethos

The “wisdom of the crowds” comes under ethos, which includes credibility. Stoic logic does not consider it necessarily fallacious to appeal to the authority of masses. Even the scientific community requires research to pass the test of peer-review. It is a natural human need to consult with others on important things because we are mortal, which means we have limited knowledge. Nature made us social creatures, and one of the benefits of being a social animal is that consulting the community gives us access to a collective wisdom that is greater than our limited individual wisdom. This is part of what we call Philia love.

2) Pathos

Nevertheless, ethos alone is rarely a reliable guide for finding wisdom. Pathos and logos are also needed in most cases. Pathos is a special type of emotion. In human relations, doing what we know will make a kith or kin rejoice is usually a wise choice, because it binds us together in stronger bonds of friendship and good faith. In contrast, it is mostly the wrong choice to do what we know will make our friends or family suffer emotionally, because it alienates us from one another, causing enmity and bad faith. An American expression we use for this concept is, “respect what those close to you like and dislike.” This is part of what we call Storge love.

3) Logos

Logos includes logic. This is what allows you to “weigh ‘the wisdom of the masses’ on the scales of your reason.” This is the primary generator of creativity. Many times a scientist or musician or artist “thought outside the box” and came up with an entirely new way of looking at the world. This creativity comes from considering something logically with a logic that is deeper than what the masses are using at the time. This is part of what we call Agape love.

4) Eros

Conspicuously missing from the Stoic School’s decision process is what we call Eros love. This is reproductive love. It includes sexual attraction and infatuation. It is good and natural - in perpetuating society. But, eros is treacherous when it comes to relying on it to find the wise thing to do. People are not truly enlightened by eros; they are made fools by it.

Eros is the love we mean when we say, “Amare et sapere vix deo conceditur,” (The gods never let us love and be wise at the same time).

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