Menu
header photo

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? (4 of 6)

- by Kelly Kinkade

So what does it really say about you that you are human? What are you? Who are you, really? To get the right answer, you need to answer the four questions: 4) What brought you into existence? 3) What are you made of? 2) What is your blueprint? 1) What are you here to do?

(4) What brought you into existence? What is like the workers who build a house? Your parents. This fact about humanity is important, because it gives rise to humanity's unique concept of social structures. Just as the painter of a masterpiece can be identified because the artwork matches the artist’s unique style, so too institutions and societies reflect in unique ways how their members feel about what a family is.

(3) What are you made of? What is like the marble in the house for you? Of course you are made of flesh. This is important, because it immediately unites you with every other human in certain limitations. In short, it means you are mortal. We are all united in mortality. We all grow old and die, unless a calamity avoids the growing old part. The mortality of our bodies unites you and me in what Stoics call the Economy of Mortality. The simple fact is that we all have limited time in life and limited resources. We must economize, not just our money but our time and energy as well. Whether you want to or not, whether you realize it or not, you and I both have to be smart in how we choose what to do with our time. This is common to mankind.

(2) What is like a blueprint for a house for you? Your DNA. Your DNA lays out everything about your form and proportions. You see, flesh sets the boundary for what humanity can do, but DNA is the boundary that nature sets on what you personally can do in life. You might not like to hear it, but the fact is it is not true that we can be anything we want to be. For example, whether or not a person can become an Olympic champion, say in the marathon, was determined by nature at the moment of that person’s conception. Your biology matters. Whether you were going to have to live with some diseases or deformities was written by nature on the molecules of your DNA the moment a sperm cell touched an egg. Science knows that genes matter. This is also why, when you go to a new doctor, you fill out a questionnaire about diseases members of your family have had, because you share DNA material with them, and this means you can share certain biological advantages and disadvantages with them. Doctors know that your biological blueprint matters. By your DNA, Nature decrees the form of your brain, and in so doing it judges one of us as worthy of being an Einstein and sentences the next in line to a life with certain mental handicaps. Your genes matter.

(1) What is your purpose? Why do you matter in the whole scheme of things? Why did nature make you? The West has always considered this the First Question; it is the most important question of the four. You can see why when you look at a building site. If its purpose is to build a dream home for retirement as in the ancient joke "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tavern," or a skyscraper, or a fast food restaurant it drives the other three aspects of the building. It is what our judicial system would call, "the moving party." It is the Logos that is indomitably entering the Cosmos. The purpose of the building drives the blueprint which drives the material that will be used which drives which workers can build the intended building.

Since your purpose in life is the most important question, the next article will consider it separately, to give it the clarity it deserves. Until then, find in yourself what you feel right now is your purpose for being on this earth? What makes you matter?

Go Back

Comment