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.”
“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 living 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 taking 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 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.