Stoic Virtues

“Your letter roamed, over several little problems, but finally dwelt upon this alone, asking for explanation: “How do we acquire a knowledge of that which is good and that which is honourable?” In the opinion of other schools, these two qualities are distinct; among our followers, however, they are merely divided. This is what I mean: Some believe the Good to be that which is useful; they accordingly bestow this title upon riches, horses, wine, and shoes; so cheaply do they view the Good, and to such base uses do they let it descend. They regard as honourable that which agrees with the principle of right conduct – such as taking dutiful care of an old father, relieving a friend’s poverty, showing bravery on a campaign, and uttering prudent and well-balanced opinions. We, however, do make the Good and the honourable two things, but we make them out of one: only the honourable can be good; also, the honourable is necessarily good. I hold it superfluous to add the distinction between these two qualities, inasmuch as I have mentioned it so many times. But I shall say this one thing – that we regard nothing as good which can be put to wrong use by any person. And you see for yourself to what wrong uses many men put their riches, their high position, or their physical powers. …

These deeds and others of the same sort have revealed to us a picture of virtue. I will add something which may perhaps astonish you: evil things have sometimes offered the appearance of what is honourable, and that which is best has been manifested through, its opposite. For there are, as you know, vices which are next-door to virtues; and even that which is lost and debased can resemble that which is upright. So the spendthrift falsely imitates the liberal man – although it matters a great deal whether a man knows how to give, or does not know how to save, his money. I assure you, my dear Lucilius, there are many who do not give, but simply throw away and I do not call a man liberal who is out of temper with his money. Carelessness looks like ease, and rashness like bravery. …

We have separated this perfect virtue into its several parts. The desires had to be reined in, fear to be suppressed, proper actions to be arranged, debts to be paid; we therefore included self-restraint, bravery, prudence, and justice – assigning to each quality its special function. How then have we formed the conception of virtue? Virtue has been manifested to us by this man’s order, propriety, steadfastness, absolute harmony of action, and a greatness of soul that rises superior to everything. Thence has been derived our conception of the happy life, which flows along with steady course, completely under its own control.”
– Seneca, Moral letters to Lucilius

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
– Proverbs 16:32

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
― Socrates

“The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are “just” because law makes them so. Thus, in order to make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only necessary for the law to decree and sanction it. Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find defenders not only among those who profit from them but also among those who suffer from them.”
– The Law, Frédéric Bastiat

Virtues are the attributes that I seek to cultivate in myself through habit, both for the betterment of myself and the world I live in. Living a life of virtue can be a challenge, while live a life of vice is easy – that alone is a signal to me of what is proper behavior. When I find myself tempted to take the easy path, I need to examine both the path and my motivation to ensure that I am making a virtuous choice.

I will live the virtue of self-restraint by reminding myself that my desires will lead me astray if I let them, by remembering the words of Seneca that vices can masquerade as virtues – especially pride, and to the extent that I do indulge my emotions, to always remember the maxim of “restraint in all things”.

I will live the virtue of bravery by acting when action is called for, and restraining myself when it Is not. It is not bravery to take foolish risks, act without thought, take risks for the purpose of reward or recognition, or to do my duty. Bravery comes from overcoming my fear of harm to my physical or emotional self, and to take the actions that I believe are correct regardless of whether anyone is ever aware of them. Also, I will remember that what is called bravery today is in latin “fortitudo”, and that true bravery is endurance and fortitude against adversity without complaint.

I will live the virtue of prudence by thinking before I act, considering not only the immediate results of my actions but also their derivatives. I will remember that wisdom comes from acknowledging that what I don’t know is even more important than what I think I do know, and that all knowledge is at best a poor language for describing reality – it is not reality itself.

I will live the virtue of justice by remembering that the core meaning of justice is fairness and the settlement of debts, not a blind adherence to rules or laws. Stoic justice at its heart about fairness and the golden rule, thus I will seek just solutions in all my interactions with others, and will remember that justice has and continues to be perverted into a means of enslaving others.

I believe that happiness comes from living a virtuous life – not from health, prosperity, fortune or any other external condition, in other words, my happiness comes from what I do, not from what I have.

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