It is quite hard to make a value list which will suit everyone. However, stoic training was meant for everyone. Here, we will make a list of the cardinal virtues and values of stoic philosophy.
In today’s world, most people are very busy with their jobs, family and social life. We understand that reading philosophy books can take some time and that full commitment is nearly impossible for those who are not philosophers.
Firstly, some stoic texts can be difficult to understand and it requires time and commitment to get to the core of their thoughts. This is the reason and purpose of this article, to close the distance between stoicism and non-philosophical audience.
Stoicism implies certain rules whose purpose is to change your lifestyle. We are aware that each of us follows different rules in life, so we will propose a general list of virtues and values, which can improve your wellbeing.
Starting with cardinal virtues
Wisdom is one of the Cardinal virtues. The main purpose of wisdom is to be aware of influences of the external world and activities of our mind and will. Zeno of Citium thought that Wisdom is the virtue which unites all other virtues and values one can have.
Wisdom stems from the knowledge of physics, from which we can come to conclusions that some things lie in our power (our mind, will, responses, control of emotions), and others are beyond our control.
The virtue of wisdom must be practiced. Early stoics believed that wisdom is achievable in old age and it served as an ideal of actual practice, yet later Roman stoics believed that virtue should be practiced every day. They emphasized virtue as a path not simply a goal.
Temperance is another cardinal virtue which is focused on our everyday conduct. Temperance, as Epictetus said, should be practised in order to master our desires. This virtue is similar to the Aristotelian “golden middle” rule.
If desires and ambitions are too big, they may crumble like a house of cards because of a simple breeze. Be careful and reasonable about what you desire, and don’t let desires overshadow your reason. If there is a lot of food on the table, don’t try to eat it all, be reasonable.
Curb your desire — don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.Epictetus
Sometimes, the most difficult thing to do is to conquer yourself. We need a lot of courage to change our unhealthy relationship with others and ourselves. One needs to be brave in front of a mirror and say “You are wrong!”.
Greeks thought a lot about hubris and its consequences. Their mythology is full of such examples. Courage is crucial when accepting one’s fate. Those who run from fate are not wise nor brave because at the end of the day they will eventually meet their fate even though they tried to avoid it.
Justice is also one of the cardinal virtues. To become just, one must have an objective perspective in order to obtain the view which pierces through truth. To act justly is to act according to our reason without the influences of situations and emotions.
Marcus Aurelius emphasized Justice as the main cardinal virtue. Following his reason, Justice comes from a clean mind and true heart. Revenge is not Just; it is driven by desires which seek fulfillment. Justice is the fulfillment on its own because it is free from hubris and Ego.
The goal of Justice is common good. Only with just acts can we build a community whose basis is respect, dignity and love – due to common understanding and empathy.
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
Transforming cardinal virtues into personal values
Stoic values follow from these cardinal virtues. That is, if one is truly virtuous then one’s values will arise from those foundations. Now, I will propose a list of basic stoic rules and values which can guide us in our everyday life.
- Live in accordance with nature, that is live by virtue.
- Focus on what you can control, that is your thoughts and emotions and will.
- Distinguish between good, bad and indifferent things.
- Action is always better than passivity. Think for yourself, that your life is in your hands
- Practice negative visualization. Detach your mind from external things as much as possible.
- Be compassionate. We are all reasonable beings. We have the same nature. Understand this and you will be able to understand your failures and the failures of others in a brighter tone.
- Don’t resist what happens to you. Love your fate – Amor Fati. Accept what the future holds and turn it into our advantage. Learn to adapt and you will appreciate yourself more.
- Meditate – talk with yourself, appreciate your triumphs in difficult circumstances. Reflect on troubles and find the source of your suffering from an objective perspective.
- Exercise – the stoic philosopher Cleanthes saw the body and mind as one. If our bodies suffer, so will our mind, and if our mind suffers it will be transmitted to the body. Exercise can help us to deal with unnecessary stress and negative energy.
- Train your mind. It is also like a muscle. If we don’t use it, it will become weak to external influences. The mind is exercised when exposed to others. Have healthy and interesting conversations or read. A good book can lead to mental expansion.