If you can find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, self-control, courage turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found but if you find all other things to be trivial and valueless in comparison with virtue, give no room to anything else, since, once you turn towards that and divert from your proper path, you will no longer be able without inner conflict to give the highest honour to what is properly good. It is not right to set up as a rival to the rational and social good anything alien to its nature, such as the praise of the many, or positions of power, wealth, or enjoyment of pleasures. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3.6
This week has been very eye-opening in reguard to the Cardinal Virtues. With Chuck Chakrapani’s method of chiseling away what is “not Wisdom, Courage, Justice and Moderation," they have taken a bit a a new role in my Stoicism this week. I’ve always been a bit dis-satisfied with the cardinal Virtues, because in their call to do them I have always been left with wondering, well, what should I do then?
Thanks to Chuck Chakrapani’s method, sometimes you just need to be told what not to do to make it clear. And so I am going to write (and remind myself this morning) what this method is about:
The Chisel Away Method
So, the focus is all on what not to do or not to be, leaving what to do or what to be left behind:
- For Wisdom, don’t be the fool
- For Courage, don’t do anything with fear
- For Justice, don’t be selfish
- For Moderation, don’t be excessive
Now, there’s a bit more to it than that. The way that Chuck builds a unique relationship of the latter three virtues to the first (Wisdom) is the most clarifying:
Don’t be the fool
The ultimate rule is: Stoics are not fools.
And so, looking at Courage, it would be foolish, then, to be afraid of something:
- That is not in your control
- That has not yet come to pass, effectively doubling your fear
- That does not affect your internal will
For Justice, it would be foolish to think that if you did not take care of your community, that it would be of any benefit to you; therefore take care of your communitie(s) for your own benefit.
For Moderiation (or Temperance), it would be foolish to think that managing more and more things (whether that be food, posessions, or indulgences) will be easier for you the more you obtain. Therefore, Moderation is somewhat essentialistic in nature, only have enough in your life that you can manage it, peacefully.
And so, you can see that all of the Cardinal Vitrues call you to Wisdom by not being the fool, to use your reason to finally find the reward of this call: Eudaimonia, or happiness.
The last thing I want to talk about is that, in my exeperience as a Stoic, I have found that the reward of not being the fool, or being a good person, is it’s own reward. I have reflected on exactly why I put myself through this, and it’s one simple thing for me:
When I look in the mirror, I’m happy with myself and who I am. That, I think, is the ultimate reward of being a Stoic, and why I work on it every day.
Draw up a list of what you think the most important qualithees are for living a good human life.
About a month ago I did exactly this, but it was less general e.g. a good human life, but was more specific to just me. This list was, in no parthecular order:
- I eat well
- I accept that throughout my life, I will fail
- I’m willing, e.g. adventurous
- I serve others over myself (this do not mean I do not serve myself, but my priorithees are in order)
- I am concerned more with the inmaterial than the material
- I do challenges (I find the more challenges I do the better I become)
- I am the hero (I know, cheesy, but this person wants to help out when no one else will)
- I am in control of my physical desires (lofty, I know)
- I do not seek out pleasure, but instead samples it when it comes my way
- I live in the present, never in the future (e.g. not afraid of the future)
- I speak very little (e.g. no idle chat, rambling)
- I avoid idle entertainments (e.g. as distractions or become absorbed in them)
This was the list I came up with one weekend, and as you can see not all of it is “Stoic,” but msot of it lines up with Stoic thought in one way or another. I still am not sure how I do challenges fits in though.
the last thing I guess I’ll say is that even though you can get really orthodox with it all, I think in most cases it’s okay to loosen up too. Even Seneca took luke-warm baths (as opposed to these austere cold showers you hear about from the Stoics) in his old age. I think the bulk of it has to do with, like I said this morning, all about how you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror everyday.
Note, my mid-day got busy and I did this during my evening exercises.
From what did we gain an understanding of virtue? From someone’s orderly character, his sense of what is appropriate and consistency, the harmony between all his actions, and his greatness of spirit in coping with everything. In this way, we came to understand the happy life, that flows on smoothly and is completely under its own control. – Seneca, Letters, 120.11
The heart of Stoicism, at least for me, is admitting that most of life isn’t under your control. We kind-of get tricked into thinking we can control things we don’t control because, sometimes things get stable, e.g. our jobs sometimes stay pretty steady, things go good for a while, all to be up-ended suddenly and we’re miserable. I think if you spend time noting down (accurately) what is going to last and what may not last and just keeping that list in front of you, you will at least not be fooled by momentary complacency (but my all means enjoy it while it lasts).
Negative Visualization (also called Fear Setting) is one of the best techniques for coping with things that will happen in your life. In addition to making that list, of the things that may not last, e.g. you losing your job, write out a little story (I like to write it out) about what would happen, and exactly what you would do next, and likely what would happen in the following days, months, years, etc. You’ll find that, in most cases, it’s not that negative at all, just un-nerving, and now you have a plan. And, all you have to do is employ virtue along the way as stability comes and goes.
If the Stoic isn’t the fool, I guess it would be really foolish to think that from time to time you may be called to cope with a change in your life. Pleasant things don’t last, they come and go. Pain and suffering doesn’t last either, it too comes and goes. Even your emotions have steady and unsteady times (your character is not your emotions by the way).
Yeah, the world is an up-and-down type of place, that’s for sure. I guess the best thing you can do is let it be one, and just worry about what you’re going to do in it.