The four virtues: Stoicism (IM 753)

The four great works of four Roman stoics focus on four key central ideas which describe Stoicism. The four virtues are:

Courage: Courage is the opposing force of cowardice. Courage is not the elimination or fear, desire or anxiety, it is acting in the right way despite our fear, desire and anxieties. It is the ability to retain strength of character and our morals in the face of the fear and desire not to do so. Epictetus writes, “And they say that there is this difference between the mind of a foolish man and that of a wise man, that the foolish man thinks that such ‘visions’ are in fact as dreadful and terrifying as they appear at the original impact of them on his mind, and by his assent he approves of such ideas as if they were rightly to be feared, and ‘confirms’ them …. But the wise man, after being affected for a short time and slightly in his color and expression, ‘does not assent,’ but retains the steadfastness and strength of the opinion which he has always had about visions of this kind, namely that they are in no wise to be feared but excite terror by a false appearance and vain alarms”

Justice: Justice in Stoicism is broader than justice in our language and legal systems today. For the Stoics, justice is our duty to our fellow man, and to our society. It’s the morality behind how we act, specifically in relation to our community and the people within it. It serves to focus your actions towards the betterment of the whole, rather than just the self. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “What is not good for the beehive, cannot be good for the bees.”

Temperance: Temperance/moderation relates to self restraint, self discipline and self control. It is our ability to choose long term well-being over short term satisfaction.
It is the opposite of gluttony, greed, instant gratification, addictive behavior, laziness, and procrastination. Seneca wrote, “Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.”  

Wisdom: It’s an ability to define what is good, what is not good, and what is indifferent. The Stoics believed that virtue is good and vice is not. Virtue leads to happiness and vice pulls us further from it. Wisdom is simply our ability to know what is what, and in knowing we can guide our actions more deliberately.

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