The Stoic Path To Virtue

The argument and meaning of the Stoic path

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

Do you dream of switching places with a successful person? Do you only strive after externals? Or would you be happiest if you were the person you aspire to be, in every single moment of your life?

The Stoics bet the last one is most important. They believed that virtue was the only good.

Everything else is conditionally desirable. They are not worth sacrificing character for.

Understanding their argument for their claim is crucial.

In brief, the Stoics argued that what is good must be so intrinsically. Its goodness cannot depend on anything external. The idea is sound. If something depends on another, then it’s not what ultimately matters.

However, many candidates for the good are not intrinsically good. For example, pleasure is not good when sought for bad reasons. The pleasure of the sadist is simply not good at all. So, it cannot be what is ultimately good. The same answer goes for money, power, or status. 

What is good? Virtue. It is good no matter the circumstance. Everything else is indifferent. It is how we use them that matters.

What are the practical implications of this philosophy?

Never compromise virtue for any external gain. Understand that goodness is always within reach. 

The first message is a serious and demanding one. Virtue isn’t worth trading for anything, because nothing else is even in the same ballpark!

The second message is an optimistic and deep one. Whatever situation we’re in the good is at hand. All we need to do is seize it.

Virtue is a noble, but abstract word. Can it really be all there is to happiness? For the Stoics, yes. 

​​Objective judgment, now at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very moment. Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events. That’s all you need.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 9.6

🎯 Action

Reflect on what virtue, excellence of character, means to you and how you’ll exhibit it today.

🧘 Join me for a free workshop on Stoicism and mindfulness (we actually hit a registration limit last week, I’ve increased it again, so if you couldn’t sign up last week, you should be able to now).

💬 Marcus Aurelius’s quote above touches on the three Stoic disciplines. Learn more about those here.

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