Virtues guide the way.
Topics in this post:
- Virtues and Citizen Do Good.
- What these virtues are all about.
- Ancient wisdom for modern times.
- The four virtues.
“If you have been told that someone speaks ill of you, do not defend yourself: Instead reply, ‘If they knew the rest of my faults, they wouldn’t have mentioned only those.” – Ancient wisdom and timeless humor from the Stoic Philosopher Epictetus, Enchiridion 33
Why is this a part of Citizen Do Good?
Citizen Do Good celebrates the virtues required to conduct an audacious experiment like self-rule. Virtues are also required to understand and respect the power and limits of freedom so that we may work together to form a more perfect union. Holding these virtues as if self-evident is the foundation that establishes common ground for our common good. We support the idea that we should let virtues guide the way.
Virtues represent an ideal state or a definition of excellence. A set of stretch goals to work on for our lifetimes – perhaps never attaining them and never ceasing the attempt. Although we are drawing on ancient wisdom as the foundation, through to today, even Google results present the first definition of virtue as, “behavior showing high moral standards. “So why not let virtues guide the way?
Virtues guide how we aim to act and think to better ourselves by our own measure. We do this through practical steps that are taught by a school of philosophy called Stoicism. We use this idea to personify how businesses and governments and any other groups of people should behave. Virtues are points of guidance, like the global positioning system (GPS). We rely on them to inform our best decisions in the toughest moments.
What’s this virtue thing all about?
Someone near and dear to me might describe this as using common sense. Virtues guide the way to what most people may automatically know in the back of their minds.
Almost by intuitive instinct, most of us have a vague sense of virtue baked into our moral code. Something that is often applied to our decisions. For instance, doing what’s right when it is the most difficult of all options. Or accepting fair losses like a good sport. Or being honest even when it could cost your personhood or freedoms.
These are just examples of situations that demand virtue. Some also see this as demonstrating a strong character. One that is built with choices guided by virtue, rather than allowing impulses like greed, anger, and lust to control their choices.
Ancient wisdom for a modern time
A more structured way to think of virtue comes to us from ancient wisdom. Our ancestors have left us a school of thought for how best to think. They propose a set of methods for improving how we consider and make decisions to improve one’s experience of life and community. The methods use practical means and virtues are one component of such systems.
Although there are several flavors of these schools, Stoicism seems the most practical. It provides a useful framework using ancient wisdom for modern life – your modern life.
It is a personalized, custom-fit model that meets you where you are and helps you take yourself where you need to go. Since the beginning, these schools of thought have been more or less non-organized. They consist of loose groups of independent thinkers. Each one added their own wisdom back to the annals of knowledge in the best ways they can.
The four virtues
Here we feature a description of the four cardinal virtues from Stoicism. These come to us from a book called “The Beginner’s Guide to Stoicism Tools for Emotional Resilience & Positivity” by Matthew J. Van Natta. A book that I found concise and helpful as a place to start my own Stoic journey. The list of virtues contained in there is borrowed from philosopher Pierre Hadot.
Here I present descriptions for each of the four virtues in a quotation, followed by my own annotation for each.
- Wisdom – “The science of what ought or ought not to be done.” A guide to thinking well and making measured and reasoned decisions.
- Courage – “The science of what ought or ought not to be tolerated.” A guide to conquering fear and anxiety.
- Justice – “The science of what ought or ought not to be distributed.” A guide to fairness, forgiveness, and the spirit of mutual cooperation.
- Temperance or Moderation – “The science of what ought or ought not to be chosen.” A guide to controlling desires, mitigating excesses, and managing indulgences for the better.
A Stoic is one who practices Stoicism and they believe they don’t control the world around them, only how they respond to it.
They strive to only act on what is under their control – otherwise, precious time is wasted. They strive to respond with virtue in mind: Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Temperance.
Ultimately, practicing the power of living virtuously benefits you and those around you. Those benefits, like interest, are compounded over time. So don’t delay. Get started now and let virtues guide the way.
Ancient wisdom from Stoicism has influenced many fields. For example, modern psychology borrows from the Stoics for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and you can see the influence in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer which was made famous by programs like Alcoholics Annonomys:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
If you care to explore more, here are two free resources to keep exploring philosophy’s take on these cardinal virtues:
- The Highest Good: An Introduction To The 4 Stoic Virtues is a perspective from The Daily Stoic.
- The Cardinal Virtues | Guiding Principles for Daily Life is a post by the Perennial Leader Project that provides another take on the topic.
In case you’re looking for a more scholarly article, check out the meat on this bone from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.