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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? (2 of 6)

- by Kelly Kinkade

       Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be able to read minds? It would be exciting, wouldn’t it? If you had the power to read minds, what would you do with it? Is there anybody’s mind you would not want to read? Probably not, but surely you would find some minds more interesting than others, right? And what if you ended up being able to communicate telepathically with some of your dearly departed relatives.

       This next point might shock you, but keep reading, and it will make sense. The power of telepathy is real. Whether you say evolution or God or Nature or aliens, something has put this power to read the thoughts of others into the human family; it is real; and you have already experienced it.

       We call this power to read minds, “conversation.” And “conversation” is the one word that captures the essence of Western civilization. Whatever trait you might like about another culture, no community can compete with the West in our tradition of conversation. The history of the West is a history of an ongoing conversation from one generation to the next. And we still connect with the thoughts of dearly departed heroes who thought great thoughts for us. No other culture can claim that its defining quality is a conversation like Western civilization can.  

       The dominant element of the Great Conversation is the Logos – a word you will hear a lot about here. But for now think of it as ideas. Since censorship is prohibition of the Great Conversation, all censorship is an attack on Logos and Western civilization.

       This is because in our civilization nothing is off limits for discussion. No idea is dismissed out of hand. Everyone is invited to speak their mind, including you. Our natural need and drive for conversation has led us to make laws protecting freedom of speech. It has led us to make technology such as movable type, the telephone, satellites, the internet, and many other Wonders of the World.

       Our Great Conversation dominates the world partly because it is the most exciting and interesting thing the world has ever heard. It also dominates the world because it benefits all cultures, whether or not they are part of the West. And in this way it is like an experience you might have had when you were young. Did you ever wake up and hear your parents or aunts and uncles or other adults talking? Maybe you started wondering what the adults talked about after they made the kids go to bed. Maybe you overheard words here and there and snuck closer to hear their secrets. Well, when something like that happens, you feel excited and confused at the same time. You hear words and ideas that you do not understand, but you know they understand what they are talking about, because it makes the adults laugh or cry, and you wanted to know why. But, you grew to understand and to share in adult conversation.

       Don’t be surprised if you feel that same excitement and confusion with what the Stoic School shares with you. After all, you will be hearing the most interesting, the most enjoyable, and the most beneficial ideas in history. That is why we call it the Great Conversation. And, these ideas will make so much sense that it will feel a little bit like we are just recalling something to your mind. It will be like déjà vu. It can be a little bit eerie, but it is just the sensation of your soul resonating as a tuning fork vibrates when it is hit by the particular vibration for which it was made, or when a particular radio signal hits an antenna that was made for that signal.

       In the next article, you will begin knowing new things about yourself and the West.

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