The four virtues of Stoicism have been gaining momentum once more in recent years as the solution to the chaos and uncertainty that bedevils modern life.
Stoicism is a philosophy that teaches how to live a modest life devoid of negative influence from the outside of self.
It emphasizes the importance of living a virtuous life, one that is focused on personal development and the attainment of inner peace and contentment.
The Four Virtues of Stoicism – wisdom, courage, self-control, and justice – serve as guiding principles for individuals seeking to follow this philosophy.
These virtues act as a roadmap, providing the necessary framework to overcome challenges and achieve the ultimate goal of living a fulfilling life.
In this article, we will explore each of these virtues and their significance in Stoicism, providing a deeper understanding of this powerful philosophy and its practical applications.
The Origin of the Four Virtues of Stoicism
The four virtues of Stoicism were first introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato.
However, it was the Stoic philosopher, Zeno of Citium, who popularized these virtues and made them central to Stoic philosophy.
Zeno believed that these virtues were essential for living a good life and achieving inner peace.
He taught that wisdom was the foundation of all virtues, as it allowed individuals to understand the nature of the world and their place in it.
Courage was necessary to face challenges and overcome obstacles, while justice was important for treating others fairly and with respect.
Finally, temperance was needed to maintain self-control and avoid excess.
Today, they continue to be studied and practiced by individuals seeking to live a virtuous life and find inner peace.
The Four Virtues of Stoicism
When you look at the virtues of Stoicism, they look simple and seem to be the original and legitimate principles life should base on.
I say so because they are modest enough and promote healthy living both for the self and for the society the self finds himself.
When I came across this philosophy of Stoicism, I picked interest immediately because it served my craving for the simplest form of life, the life of wisdom, love, and justice not just for the self, but for humanity and nature.
Unfortunately, there is no way you can convince the world to see things from your own prism, the prism of clarity and harmony with the universe.
The stoics have virtues that guide their thoughts and actions toward building a good life and community.
Here are they:
The Virtue of Wisdom
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own”— Epictetus
Stoicism encourages us to find peace in the present moment and let go of things that are out of our control. One of the key virtues of Stoicism is wisdom.
According to the Stoics, wisdom is the ability to make the best decision based on past experiences and knowledge. You might call it higher intuition.
It is the ability to understand and align our actions with nature and reason.
It’s a dynamic process of learning and making informed choices. Wisdom involves using our reason and judgment to guide our actions.
Related: The Effects of Stoicism on Men
One of the main teachings of Stoicism is that things outside of our control cannot bring happiness.
Instead, true happiness comes from within, and wisdom is the key to unlocking it.
It’s the ability to understand how the world works and how we fit into it. By recognizing what is within our control and what is not, we can make wise decisions and avoid unnecessary suffering.
Wisdom also means accepting the inevitability of change and being open to new experiences.
As Epictetus, a famous Stoic philosopher, said, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”
This means that we must be willing to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow.
- Premeditation of Evils: One of the most popular Stoic practices for cultivating wisdom is the premeditation of evils. This involves imagining all the worst-case scenarios that could happen, and then preparing ourselves mentally for those situations. By doing this, we’re able to face challenges with a sense of calm and rationality, instead of being overwhelmed by anxiety or fear.
- Continuous Learning: In addition to the premeditation of evils, the Stoics also believe in the importance of continuous learning and seeking knowledge. We should be curious about new ideas and willing to question our beliefs. By doing so, we’ll be better equipped to make wise decisions in the face of uncertainty. Wisdom is an essential virtue of Stoicism. It’s the ability to make informed choices, understand the world around us, and find true happiness within ourselves. Through practices like the premeditation of evils and continuous learning, we can cultivate wisdom and live a more fulfilling life.
- Practice Self-reflection: A Stoic must practice self-reflection to improve oneself consistently. It is essential to examine your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and actions and determine how they align with your values and virtues.
- Study Philosophy: A Stoic must study philosophy to gain a better understanding of the world and themselves. Reading books and texts written by Stoic philosophers such as Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius can help gain a deeper understanding of Stoicism.
- Recognize what you Can Control: A Stoic must recognize that there are some things they can control and some things they cannot control. By focusing on what we can control, we can direct our actions and lives more effectively, which ultimately leads to wisdom.
- Practice Gratitude: A Stoic must practice gratitude and contentment with what they have. Acknowledging and being thankful for the good things in life can make us appreciate and be mindful of the present moment.
- Keep a Calm and Rational Mind: A Stoic must keep a calm and rational mind in all situations. When faced with difficult situations or emotions, a Stoic should take a step back, reflect, and make decisions without being consumed by fear, anger, or other emotions.
The Virtue of Courage
“Don’t you know life is like a military campaign? One must serve on watch, another in reconnaissance, another on the front line. . . . So it is for us—each person’s life is a kind of battle and a long and varied one too. You must keep watch like a soldier and do everything commanded. . . . You have been stationed in a key post, not some lowly place, and not for a short time but for life.”— Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24.31–36
Courage is one of the most important virtues in Stoicism, a philosophy that has its roots in ancient Greece and Rome.
In the Stoic tradition, courage is the ability to face difficult challenges, both in our thoughts and in our actions, with steadfastness and determination.
It is an essential virtue for achieving inner peace, moral strength, and personal growth.
At its core, Stoicism is about cultivating wisdom and virtue as a path to happiness.
The Importance of Courage in Stoicism
According to Stoic thinkers like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca, the practice of courage is key to developing the other virtues and achieving a state of eudaimonia, or human flourishing.
Whether we are facing a physical or psychological threat, courage enables us to maintain our composure, overcome our fears, and act in accordance with our values and principles.
One of the key teachings of Stoicism is the distinction between what is within our control and what is outside it.
We cannot always control external events, but we can always control our response to them.
This is where courage comes in. When we face a difficult situation, we can choose to react with fear and despair, or we can choose to face it with courage and resilience.
By adopting a courageous mindset, we can avoid being overwhelmed by our emotions and instead focus on what we can do to make the best of the situation.
Courage also plays an important role in developing our moral character.
According to the Stoics, virtue is not just about doing the right thing, but about doing the right thing for the right reasons.
True courage is not just about facing danger or hardship, but about doing so with a sense of moral purpose.
When we act courageously in the face of injustice, for example, we are not just protecting ourselves, but standing up for our values and defending what is right.
The Stoics’ View of Courage
This is what it means to be a virtuous person.
Courage is essential for personal growth and self-improvement. To become the best version of ourselves, we must be willing to face our fears and overcome our limitations.
We must be willing to take risks and embrace challenges, even if they are uncomfortable or uncertain.
Courage gives us the strength and confidence to pursue our goals, even when the path ahead is difficult or unclear.
As a Stoic, cultivating courage is important because it allows us to overcome our fears and deal with difficult situations with a sense of resilience and conviction.
Here are some ways to cultivate courage as a Stoic virtue:
- Embrace discomfort: Stoicism teaches us to embrace discomfort and adversity, rather than run from it. This means exposing ourselves to situations that are uncomfortable or challenging and learning to deal with them with calmness and resilience.
- Accept what is Outside of Our Control: One of the core principles of Stoicism is understanding that there are certain things outside of our control and that the only thing we can control is our response to them. This means accepting situations as they are, even if they are difficult or upsetting, and focusing on our own actions and reactions.
- Practice Mindfulness: Being present and aware in the moment is an important part of cultivating courage. This means recognizing our thoughts and emotions and learning to view them with objectivity and detachment.
- Develop Self-discipline: Stoicism emphasizes the importance of self-discipline and self-control. This means setting goals, committing to them, and following through, even when it’s uncomfortable or challenging.
- Practice Visualization: Stoics often use visualization techniques to prepare themselves for difficult situations and cultivate a sense of courage and resilience. This may involve imagining worst-case scenarios and visualizing oneself successfully overcoming them with courage and determination.
The Virtue of Justice
“And a commitment to justice in your own acts. Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good. What you were born to do.”— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31
Stoicism is one of the oldest philosophical schools of thought in the world. It originated in Athens around the 3rd century BC and is still relevant today.
Stoicism has served as a moral compass for many people. It emphasizes personal ethics, self-control, reason, and logic.
Stoics believed that Justice is an essential virtue that leads to a harmonious society.
Importance of Justice
Justice is not just about fairness, but it is also about integrity, honesty, and respect for others. It revolves around the idea that every person is equal, and should be treated accordingly.
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said that justice requires us to be impartial and fair-minded in all our dealings.
According to Stoicism, true Justice comes from being wise and reasonable.
A wise person knows what is right and wrong, and they seek to live in harmony with nature.
Justice demands that we strive to do what is right, even when it is difficult.
We should treat others with respect and dignity, no matter what their stature or position in society may be.
The Stoic View of Justice
Stoicism also teaches that Justice is universal. It is not limited to any particular group, race, or culture.
It is a principle that applies to everyone, regardless of their differences.
Justice is about treating all people equally, regardless of their financial status, education, or social standing.
Stoics recognized that Justice does not always come easy. It requires a lot of courage and discipline to do what is right, especially when we are faced with adversity or challenges.
But it is important to remember that the rewards of Justice are many. When we act justly, we earn the trust and respect of others.
We also promote respect for the rule of law and ensure that everyone has an equal chance to live a fulfilling life.
- To cultivate justice as a Stoic virtue, it is important to start by examining one’s own biases and prejudices. This requires a willingness, to be honest with oneself about one’s own beliefs and perspectives and a commitment to questioning these beliefs and perspectives when they are found to be unjust or unfair.
- One way to cultivate justice as a Stoic virtue is to practice empathy. This involves developing a deep understanding and appreciation of the experiences and perspectives of others and using this understanding to inform one’s actions and decisions.
- Another important aspect of cultivating justice as a Stoic virtue is to develop a strong sense of morality and ethics. This involves developing a clear understanding of what is right and wrong and using this understanding to guide one’s actions and decisions.
“‘If you seek tranquillity, do less.’ Or (more accurately) do what’s essential—what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.24
The philosophy of Stoicism has been around for centuries, but its tenets continue to provide valuable guidance for living a fulfilling life.
One of the primary virtues espoused by Stoicism is temperance, which is about self-control over one’s desires and impulses.
This virtue is essential to a stoic’s ability to maintain their character and avoid negative consequences that come from unrestrained behavior.
The Importance of Temperance
A stoic would argue that indulging one’s desires is ultimately self-destructive.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and give in to impulses, but the consequences of this behavior can be devastating.
The stoic believes that indulging in every whim is a shortcut to self-destruction.
Instead, they strive to recognize and control their desires to enable their reason and wisdom to guide their actions.
In Stoic teachings, temperance is about taking a balanced approach to life. It’s about finding the right amount of something, whether it’s food, drink, or any other pleasure.
Excessive consumption or indulgence leads to negative outcomes, while temperance enables us to enjoy the things we love without negative consequences.
The Stoic View of Pleasure
Stoic teachers believed that pleasure and happiness are not the same things.
Pleasure is a physical sensation, a superficial feeling, whereas happiness is a much deeper feeling, a state of complete contentment and satisfaction.
While pleasure is not inherently bad, the Stoics emphasized that it is fleeting and temporary, and true fulfillment and happiness come from living a life based on virtue and reason.
Related: The Core Principles of Stoicism
The stoics viewed temperance as a virtue that places one in control of their habits and behaviors.
They argued that living a life of temperance promotes a sense of self-respect and self-esteem.
When you can control your impulses and desires, you develop a stronger sense of self-worth and confidence.
Temperance can be applied to any area of your life where you find yourself indulging too much.
From food to alcohol to social media, we all have our vices, and learning to control them can be a powerful way to elevate ourselves and improve our mental and physical well-being.
For example, if you find yourself consuming too much junk food, reducing your intake and making healthier choices can help you feel better physically and mentally.
Or, if you have a tendency to overspend on unnecessary and unproductive things, learning to manage your finances and curb your spending can help you develop a stronger sense of financial responsibility and security.
With the Stoic virtue of temperance, anyone can achieve balance and achieve a fulfilled life.
Overcoming Challenges in Cultivating the Four Virtues of Stoicism
While it may seem straightforward on paper, actually living the Stoic life is not without its challenges.
Here are some tips on how to overcome obstacles in cultivating Stoic virtues.
1. Recognize the Challenge
The first step in overcoming obstacles in Stoic virtue cultivation is recognizing the challenge.
It’s essential to realize that the practice of Stoicism is not an easy path to follow.
It requires hard work, self-discipline, and a willingness to face discomfort and adversity.
2. Identify the Obstacles
The next step is to identify the specific obstacles that you might face in cultivating Stoic virtues.
It could be negative self-talk, a lack of discipline, or even the challenges of daily life.
By identifying these obstacles, you can better understand how they are affecting your progress and come up with targeted solutions.
3. Practice Self-reflection
Self-reflection is a crucial aspect of Stoic philosophy. It helps you look at yourself objectively, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and develop strategies to overcome obstacles.
Take time to reflect daily and assess your thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
4. Focus on what’s Within your Control
One of Stoicism’s central teachings is the dichotomy of control. It suggests that some things are within our control, while others are not.
Focus your energy and efforts on what’s within your control and let go of what’s not.
This approach will help you avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety and focus on your personal growth.
5. Develop Resilience
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and adapt to change. It’s a crucial quality for Stoics as they face inevitable challenges in their pursuit of virtue.
Developing resilience requires practice and patience, but it is essential to achieving success in cultivating Stoic virtues.
6. Cultivate Healthy Habits
Cultivating healthy habits can help you stay focused and disciplined in your pursuit of Stoic virtues.
Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and practice mindfulness.
These habits will help you stay physically and mentally strong and better equipped to overcome obstacles.
The four virtues of Stoicism – wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation – have been the backbone of Stoic philosophy for centuries.
These virtues have proven to be applicable in various life situations, and have helped individuals to lead a life of purpose and contentment.
Wisdom is essential in making rational decisions, and it involves the ability to differentiate between good and evil.
Courage is an indispensable virtue that allows individuals to overcome fear and adversity.
Justice is a fair and just distribution of goods and services, and it promotes social harmony and peace.
Moderation is the key to avoiding excesses and leading a balanced life.
In today’s fast-paced society, the virtues of Stoicism are more relevant than ever before.
Practicing these virtues can help individuals cope with the pressures of modern-day life, and provide them with a perspective that enables them to navigate life’s challenges with dignity, grace, and fortitude.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Four Virtues of Stoicism
What are the four virtues of Stoicism?
The four virtues of Stoicism are wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.
What is wisdom in Stoicism?
Wisdom in Stoicism is the ability to make rational decisions and to fully understand the nature of reality.
What is courage in Stoicism?
Courage in Stoicism refers to the ability to act in accordance with one’s principles, even in the face of fear or adversity.
What is justice in Stoicism?
Justice in Stoicism involves treating others fairly and with respect, and actively working to promote the common good.
What is temperance in Stoicism?
Temperance in Stoicism involves self-control and moderation in one’s actions and desires.
How can I practice these virtues in my daily life?
Practicing the virtues of Stoicism involves actively applying them in your thoughts, actions, and interactions with others. This can involve engaging in self-reflection, setting goals to work towards, and intentionally practicing things like gratitude, honesty, and forgiveness.
Why are these virtues important in Stoicism?
The four virtues are a cornerstone of Stoic philosophy, as they are seen as essential for living a fulfilling and meaningful life. By cultivating these virtues, Stoics believe that one can develop an inner resilience that allows one to better navigate the ups and downs of life.
Adolescent and Adult Psychologist
Pyo Merez (PsyD) is a certified adolescent and adult psychologist who has been on the frontline of helping adolescents and adults with mental health. An expert in cognitive and developmental psychology - social relationships, cultural contexts, and individual differences. He is also a speaker and panelist on issues bordering on budding young people.