The cardinal virtues

Virtue was the only thing worth seeking in the eyes of the Stoics. It

is through Virtue we come to live in accordance with nature and

find 'Euthymia' - 'Peace and contentment.' The four cardinal virtues

of Greek philosophy are Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Temperance.

They lead to what Cicero called Summum Bonum’ - the highest

good. 

Wisdom

 

Wisdom doesn’t lie in books; it lies in you. Wisdom is knowing what

is good, what is evil and what is indifferent. It is knowing what to

avoid and what to seek. The wise person will not do anything they

may regret; they will be dignified, consistent and upright in all they

think, say and do. 

 

A large part of wisdom is how you act upon the other virtues, for

example displaying courage in the right manner or practising self- 

restraint to discipline yourself not punish yourself; being kind and

fair but not naive. Wisdom is knowing how to practice virtue correctly. 

Questions to get you started

 

Can you consider yourself wise? 

  • If not how can you take steps towards wisdom today.

 

Over the course of my life so far, has my ignorance proven more powerful than my wisdom? 

 

Answer and expand: 

  • Do I know what is good?

  • Do I know what is bad?

  • Do I know what is indifferent?

 

  • What should I seek? 

  • What should I avoid?

Quotes to inspire

 

Without wisdom, the mind is sick - Seneca. 

 

Nobody can lead a happy life or even a bearable one without the pursuit of wisdom. - Seneca. 

 

Know the true nature of good and bad, and the proper bounds of our desires and aversions and also of our motives to act or not to act. - Epictetus. 

 

Justice

 

The Stoics firmly believed we were social creatures and one aspect of living in accordance with nature was to live for the common good. They were some of the first people to think of humanity as one global family, tearing down the barriers of nations, race and gender. 

 

What is the point of being courageous or disciplined, embracing your fate and mastering all other aspects of Stoic thought if you are not just? If you use attributes gained from these exercises to unjust ends? Many terrible people have shown courage or discipline in history. 

This is why, for many, justice was considered the virtue of virtues; because if we don’t live for the common good or for the melioration of humanity, what was it all for? 

 

Questions to get you started

 

True strength lies in kindness and acting for the common good, how can I be strong today? 

 

In what way am I not just? 

  • Do I make hurtful comments for pleasure?

  • Am I selfish?

  • Do I smile at the misfortune of others? 

 

If I were to look back on my life, was I selfish, pursuing only personal gain? 

Quotes to inspire

 

What is worthy of our striving? This alone. A mind ruled by justice. Deeds directed to the common good. Words that never lie. A composition welcoming all that happens. - Marcus

 

Anyone who wants to enjoy a genuine reputation disobliged to fulfil the obligations demanded by justice. - Cicero.

 

Show compassion to those still in the dark - Marcus. 

Courage

 

You will have most likely heard the saying ‘what would you try to achieve if you knew you could not fail.’ 

 

Stoicism is famed for being a philosophy of action, and more often then not action requires a dose of courage; the courage to face your inner demons and to be a better person, courage to overcome adversity, courage to spurn pleasure, courage to follow the right path even though it looks hard, cold, and lonely at times. 

Without courage, we will always be afraid; we will never achieve that which we wish to. Without courage, our reflections and meditations will be nothing but empty words, left to be forgotten. 

 

As Vincent Van Gough said ‘What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything’?

 

The more you display courage, the more comfortable you become with taking action. 

 

Questions to get you started

 

Do you say you will do things, but never do them through fear of failure? 

  • How can you summon from the dust the courage to act? 

  • If fear of failure didn’t prevent you from taking action, over the next 4 weeks what do you think you could attempt or achieve? 

 

Do I look my fears in the face, and see them for what they are, not what I imagine them to be?

 

Do I see my fears as obstacles or merely stepping stones, that once climbed will take me to greater heights? 

 

Quotes to inspire

 

There are those too who suffer not from moral steadfastness but from inertia, and so lack the fickleness to live as they wish, and just live as they have begun. - Seneca

 

Have courage as your defence against distress and fear - Cicero

 

You have power over your mind not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength - Marcus Aurelius

 

Temperance

 

When the Spartans asked the Oracle of Delphi what would be their downfall, the answer was greed; to succeed and thrive they needed to exercise discipline and self-control. The Spartans are remembered today a legendary people famed for their discipline and frugal lifestyle, and are recognised as some of the greatest warriors to ever exist. 

 

We don’t like being told no. But hearing no is exactly what we need, if exercised correctly we can gain far much from hearing NO, than being told YES. Especially in todays consumer and material-obsessed culture of more, more, more. As soon as we have something, a new shinier version comes out and we are no longer satisfied; we must have more. Fashion, technology, food, whatever the fad may be, we live in an age of unbridled desire. Nothing is ever enough. 

Temperance (or self-restraint and discipline) to modern eyes it is often seen as an act of denial, or self flagellation; this, however, could not be more inaccurate. Temperance is the antidote to greed and the destructive nature of desire. Temperance is the making of people and nations, whereas greed and desire are their downfall.

 

Discipline and self-restraint are the foundations upon which everything else is built. It was revered with such importance that at (Delphi alongside Know Thyself) there was another inscription - 'Meden Agan'  meaning 'nothing in excess.'

 

Instead of wishing for more, be thankful for what you already have. Those who chase pleasure are the least likely to catch it and many more people have been ruined by having too much than by having too little.

 

The Nordic nations have a concept call Lagom which roughly translates to, ‘just the right amount’, ‘perfect balance’, or ‘in moderation’. The Nordic nations are also known to be the most peaceful and content on earth; it is no coincidence. 

They also have another saying when it comes to Lagom, which sums of the concept of Temperance perfectly, ‘Enough is as good as a feast’. If you aren’t happy with what you have in life now, when will you be? 

 

Ironically as well, those who practice temperance and the discipline of their desire, often report that they eventually, gain more pleasure and contentment from spurning temptation and not giving into desire than they could ever have if they had yielded. 

 

So take a moment and be thankful for what you already have in life, it could be a lot worse. 

Begin to discipline your body and mind, give up little things to begin with, coffee for a week or chocolate, stop gossiping or watching sports and instead read. Discipline and temperance will not cage you, but set you free. It will show you how little you need to be happy and content. 

 

Questions to get you started

 

At this moment in time what is stronger, my reason or my desires? Do you have good or bad self-control?

 

How does it feel after indulging in your desires? How does it feel to exercise self-control and resist impulse? 

 

What harmful vices or indulgences can you give up today? Coffee, chocolate, gossiping, procrastination? 

How will giving these things up help you? 

 

Quotes to inspire

 

Cling to this plan of life: Indulge the body enough for good health, be somewhat strict to prevent it from being disobedient to the spirit. Food should appease hunger. Drink Quench thirst, clothing project you, house keep out the elements. Spurn all that is necessary.  - Seneca.

 

People who know no self-restraint lead stormy and disordered lives - Seneca

 

It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more. - Seneca

 

His heart is full of tranquil calm for ever. And anyone who is self-control, unwavering, fearless, undistressed, the victim of no cravings or desires. - Cicero.