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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.

This is what non-Stoicism looks like

- by Seneca the Younger

Why have some cultures rejected Stoicism?

There are three main reasons: 1) they are weak when it comes to the Good, 2) they are strong when it comes to the bad, or 3) they are deceived into thinking Stoic Virtue is the bad.

1) Stoicism declares that strength is a good thing. Individually, familially, and nationally, it is more excellent to be strong than it is to be weak. Many cultures are lazy. This is similar to why most people are not athletic; they do not want the discipline and exercise routine required to stay in shape. This violates the Stoic Virtues of Temperance and Fortitude – eating too much and too little physical exertion. Cultures of entire continents have decided to take the path of least resistance. That is the opposite of Stoicism.

2) Some cultures, especially tyrannical ones, are strong for bad. They enjoy what is wrong. They enjoy what is unnatural. They feel they are powerful if they resist the irresistible powers of Nature. Corrupt cultures love injustice. They hate Justice. This is the opposite of Stoicism.

3) Other cultures are deceived into thinking Stoic Virtue is bad. These people have not developed their minds into an adult stature. They are convinced that law and order are tyrannical. They are unable to obey legal authority. Instead, they glory in resisting it, making themselves outlaws. They fantasize about a magical society where nobody needs to curb their desires and appetites except those who have praiseworthy desires and appetites. They believe their lusts can overrule biology and gender. They fool themselves into accepting that society will be better off being ruled by tantrums rather than rational deliberation. They confuse what is good with what is bad and what is bad with what is good. They glorify what is shameful and shame what is glorious. This is foolish. It is an attack on Wisdom. That is the opposite of Stoicism.

This is what non-Stoicism looks like.

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