The 4 virtues of Stoic philosophy

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The man who has virtue is in need of nothing whatever for the purpose of living well.”- Cicero

Virtue is about goodness or morality. The stoics believed ‘the highest good’ in life is becoming a man/woman of virtue. They said any situation in life- be it a good one or a bad one can be dealt with virtues. So, it is quite important that we prioritize them. According to the stoics, there are 4 virtues that should govern our lives. These are:

  1. Wisdom
  2. Justice
  3. Temperance
  4. Courage

WISDOM:

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.” – Epictetus

It is easy to become knowledgeable especially during times like these when information is infinite. At the same time, attaining wisdom and becoming wise is difficult. Yet very important to be one. That is why the stoics kept ‘wisdom’ as one of the four virtues. As Epictetus said people are not disturbed by the ‘things’ that happen to them but by how they perceive those things that have caused them harm. Things are objective in this world. It is our added subjectivity that creates a problem. A wise person knows the difference. Wisdom might not get a lot of attention but the stoic philosophers knew its importance and did everything possible to become wiser every day. It doesn’t matter what we know. What matters is how we are applying into action what we already know. This is wisdom.

JUSTICE:

“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter. Cold or warm. Tired or well-rested. Despised or honoured. Dying…or busy with other assignments.” – Marcus Aurelius

Often times we all feel this world is not just. I used to believe the same and as I am getting older I am realizing this world is totally unjust where unfair things happen all the time. It was very hard to believe it but that’s the way this world works. In times like these it is more important than ever to put ‘justice’ at the top. Marcus Aurelius kept justice above other three virtues (wisdom, courage, temperance). It makes sense because there is no point of being a person who is wise, courageous and moderate in actions if he/she is not just and doesn’t treat people by fair means. We should all understand that we are all in this together and by treating everyone with justice we can keep the unity intact. Life is going to give many opportunities to harm and rebuke others. But we must never forget a beautiful line spoken by Rufus, to honor equality, to want to do good, and for a person, being human, to not want to harm human beings—this is the most honorable lesson and it makes just people out of those who learn it.”

COURAGE:

“Sometimes even to live, is an act of courage.”– Seneca

Life is meaningless if we are not brave and courageous. A courageous person can manage to do things that a talented person cannot who is devoid of bravery. Being scared is common. It is completely natural. Actually a little amount of fear is very helpful and motivates us to be more cognizant. But when it gets out of our control and we start succumbing to it then it becomes a big problem. No wars could have been won without courage. No big decisions can be taken without courage. Even life cannot be lived without courage. There are going to be moments in life when we will have to take a decision- to persist or to run away. The choice we make is going to shape our lives. We must always have courage to live our lives on our own terms. We must always have courage to hold on to our principles and values. We must always have courage to chase our dreams and goals. Courage is a beautiful tool. Its possession makes us life a lot more interesting and lively.

TEMPERANCE:

“As yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?”– Marcus Aurelius

Temperance is about knowing what is essential or in the words of Marcus Aurelius ‘necessary’. The modern times we are living in is run by a principle that “more is good”. So, we are chasing ‘more’ and then some ‘more’ and a bit ‘more’. This leaves us all discontent and dissatisfied. We are not happy and one of the biggest reasons is our relationship with abundant stuff. We have way more than we need to live  a decent life. Seneca said something similar, “You ask what is the proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, what is enough.” Abundance of material things is not the only thing that is adding suffering to our lives. Abundance of anything is not good- abundant emotions, abundant thoughts, abundant goals and ambitions, etc. Life is required to be lived in moderation. That’s the best shot to living a content and happy life.

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