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Posted: December 10th, 2022

The Stoic theory of virtue and living a good life

The Stoic theory of virtue and living a good life

The Stoics were a school of ancient philosophy that taught that virtue is the only good and the highest good. They believed that virtue consists of four main qualities: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. By cultivating these qualities, one can live a good life, regardless of external circumstances. In this article, we will explore the Stoic theory of virtue and how it can help us achieve happiness and excellence.


Wisdom is the knowledge of what is good, evil, and indifferent, and how to act accordingly. It is the ability to use reason to guide our choices and actions, and to avoid being misled by emotions, opinions, or false beliefs. Wisdom also involves being aware of our own ignorance and limitations, and seeking to learn from others and from experience. Wisdom helps us to understand ourselves, the world, and our place in it.


Courage is the quality of facing difficulties and dangers with confidence and resilience. It is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it. Courage also means standing up for what is right, even when it is unpopular or risky. Courage helps us to endure hardships, to overcome obstacles, and to pursue our goals.


Temperance is the quality of moderating our desires and impulses, and avoiding excesses and extremes. It is the ability to control our passions and appetites, and to act in accordance with reason. Temperance also means being content with what we have, and not being greedy or envious. Temperance helps us to live in harmony with ourselves, with others, and with nature.


Justice is the quality of being fair and impartial, and respecting the rights and dignity of others. It is the ability to treat everyone according to their merits, and to give everyone what they deserve. Justice also means being honest, loyal, and benevolent, and contributing to the common good. Justice helps us to live in harmony with society, with the laws, and with the divine.

Living a good life

According to the Stoics, living a good life means living in accordance with virtue. This means that we should always act rationally, morally, and consistently, regardless of what happens to us or around us. By doing so, we can achieve happiness (eudaimonia), which is not a feeling or a state of mind, but a way of life. Happiness is not dependent on external things, such as wealth, health, or fame, but on our own character and actions. As Epictetus said: “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not.” (Enchiridion 1)

The Stoics also taught that living a good life means living in accordance with nature. This means that we should accept everything that happens as part of the natural order of things, which is governed by a rational and providential force (logos). By doing so, we can achieve peace of mind (ataraxia), which is a state of calmness and tranquility. As Marcus Aurelius said: “Everything harmonizes with me which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early nor too late which is in due time for thee.” (Meditations 4.23)


The Stoic theory of virtue offers us a practical and inspiring guide for living a good life. By cultivating wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice, we can become better people and achieve happiness and excellence. By accepting everything that happens as part of nature’s plan, we can attain peace of mind and harmony with the universe.


– Brennan T (2015) The Stoic Theory of Virtue. In: Besser-Jones L & Slote M (eds) The Routledge Companion to Virtue Ethics. Routledge.
– Holiday R & Hanselman S (2016) The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom Perseverance And The Art Of Living. Portfolio Penguin.
– Irvine WA (2009) A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy. Oxford University Press.

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