The Stoic Virtues

The Stoic Virtues

The student who assays the Stoic philosophy for the first time is apt to be engulfed in the repetitions of the later followers of Zeno who concentrated on things in our power and things not in our power. By the time he has waded through the Stoic concept of physics and has come to grip with the metaphysics the detail of the argument, the frequent circular motion of the discourse and the obvious paradoxes and contradictions can engender a feeling of helplessness. Is there anything to be gained by filling the mind with such a complex dialectic which leads to so harsh and rigid a set of rules?(1 ¶ 1)

There is great gain to be found here, however. And in the twentieth century, a visit to the painted veranda of Athens might provide inspiration for a people who have an enormously advanced technology and methodology without an accompanying conviction respecting ultimate value and purpose.(1 ¶ 2)

Zeno, the acknowledged founder of the Stoic philosophy, was born about 340 B.C. in Citium, a city in Cyprus. He prospered as a merchant, but on a voyage ending in shipwreck he lost all his worldly goods. He turned to study and philosophy. Finally, convinced that the existing philosophic schools were not fulfilling their proper mission, he began to expound his own theories on the variegated porch (stoa) of the Poecile in Athens. The porch was adorned with the paintings of Polygnotus, depicting scenes from the Trojan War. Zeno taught his doctrine amid these pillars, it is said, for fifty0eight years. His followers were called the philosophers of the porch, hence, Stoics.(1 ¶ 3)

It is already commonplace to observe that, as a people, Americans have made astonishing breakthroughs in scientific and technological areas whereas, in the field of the humanities, an almost stationary positionh as been taken if there has not, indeed, been retrogression. We know a great many things about the physical properties of the world in which we live, and almost nothing about why we should seek this knowledge, what we are to do with it, and if there is, in fact, any purpose or value in life or in knowledge about life.(1 ¶ 4)

When we consider the physical sciences, man has reason to argue that enormous progress has been made since the Renaissance, notably in the last hundred and fifty years. When we consider what we know of ourselves and what we understand that will give us purpose and value, one can wonder if there isn't some truth in the assumption that man is a fallen angel and is presently on a descending path. Today, there is an overriding possibility that some highly emotional politician will press that button by means of which terra may become the nucleus in the formation of a nova.(1 ¶ 5)

The principal merit of the Stoics is that they glimpsed the value of human life and saw a purpose in life needing no justification. In contradiction to the Platonic and Sophist schools, which were preoccupied with society and the formation of successful working arrangements for groups of persons, the followers of Zeno saw in the individual the potential of perfection and encouraged self-discipline whereby the individual could attain personal virtue and peace of mind.(1 ¶ 6)

It is unfortunate that the writings of Zeno, the founder of the school, are lost to us. We are left to ponder the works of his followers, some of whom were prolific in the extreme. Chrysippus, who is principally credited with organizing Stoic philosophy into logic, natural science and ethics, is said to have written more than 700 major works although it is conceded that a number of his later efforts were merely revisions of earlier treatises.(1 ¶ 7)

I shall not concern myself with the natural science of the Stoics which in the present world would be viewed only as an intellectual museum piece, but shall confine myself to a portion of the ethical system and the merit I believe it contains.(1 ¶ 8)

Here, in the ethical realm, the Stoics performed a major service while engaged in perpetrating a monstrous disservice. Indeed, scholars have found so many things to criticize in the doctrine that it is not necessary for me to add to the weight of their judgments. And certainly I do not mean to try to reverse them. The Stoics were thoughtful pagans, but the data from which they worked was incomplete at best. What is marvelous is not their paganism, their superstition, their metaphysics nor even their natural science. What is magnificent and astonishing is the splendor of their ethical view. Their flirtation with mysticism preserved the concept of an interventionist anthropomorphic deity, and may have contributed to what remaining superstition and belief in magic and miracle is still with us. But their preoccupation with self-discipline, dispassionate objectivity, frugality, forgiveness and mercy produced the finest men of the centuries which saw the Stoic influence at its crest. My purpose is to extract from it the pearl of great beauty, the concept of a moral absolute.(1 ¶ 9)

Will Durant says (The Life of Greece, p. 656): Stoicism was a noble philosophy and proved more practicable than a modern cynic would expect…. Actually, it created men of courage, saintliness, and good will like Cato the Younger, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius ….(1 ¶ 10)

Whitney J. Oates, in contrasting Stoicism with Epicureanism, finds both doctrines individualistic yet Stoicism more practical. The two systems are alike in that they attempt to give men peace and inner calm. But it is an extraordinary paradox that the hedonistic system should recommend an ascetic withdrawal from the world, a retirement into the garden, in order to gain that peace, while in contrast the Stoic system, a stern and rigid moralism, maintains that the peace must be found in the midst of the world's confusions for, after all, all men are brothers. (The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers, Modern Library edition, p. xxiv.)(1 ¶ 11)

Albert Schwegler, in his History of Philosophy (translated from the German by Julius H. Seelye), sums it up this way: The merit of the Stoic philosophy … is that in age age of social ruin it held fast to the moral idea, and by separating politics from morals, established the latter as an independent science.(1 ¶ 12)

Sixty years ago, R. Drew Hicks, fellow and lecturer, Trinity College, Cambridge, summed up his view of Stoicism in an early edition of the Britannica as follows: It was Stoicism, not Platonism, that filled men's imaginations and exerted the wider and more active influence upon the ancient world at some of the busiest and most important times in all history. And this was chiefly because before all things it was a practical philosophy, a rallying point for strong and noble spirits contending against odds. Nevertheless, in some departments of theory, too, and notably in ethics and jurisprudence, Stoicism has dominated the thought of after ages to a degree not easy to exaggerate.(1 ¶ 13)

The merit these and other scholars have found in the ethic of Stoicism, in the practical nature of that ethic, should summon a re-examination in the latter half of the twentieth century.(1 ¶ 14)

Today, only a few identify themselves with the Sophists, the Platonists, the Cynics, the Skeptics, or the Stoics. Today, it is all communism or socialism, or liberalism, conservatism or sometimes fascism. The argument today is not on moral values but on economic methods and political possibilities. There is little concern about the nature of man; there is considerable agitation over the question, Who gets to own how much of what?(1 ¶ 15)

It is paradoxical that the Stoic ethic, which in itself offered no understanding of economics and placed little value in material things, actually laid the foundations for modern capitalism by encouraging the formation of individual character sufficiently austere to make thrift and the accumulation of risk money possible and even meritorious.(1 ¶ 16)

The popular image of the capitalist as a man lusting to spend his money in new and gratifying ways is ripe for revision. The true capitalist is a Stoic, willing to deny himself virtually every luxury and even, at times, necessities, in order to accomplish a major investment or to hold his industry or business together against a running tide of competitive forces and hostile regulative measures. Without a compelling urgency toward frugality, thrift and endurance, modern capitalism could never have been born.(1 ¶ 17)

Man is always at his most vigorous as he begins his endeavors. And it is Stoicism that encourages the self-denial which makes beginnings possible. It stimulates that part of man which causes him to withdraw his energy from a hundred pleasurable pursuits so that it can be concentrated in the single objective; then, with zeal like a consuming fire, the energy can be released to conquer worlds. Thus, Stoicism is unworldly in its withdrawal, but worldly in its concentrations. There is a high-mindedness, a nobility, a singleness of purpose about it which will attract nearly everyone who longs for truth and who is willing to endure much to attain either inner assurance or capitalist objective.(1 ¶ 18)

Two of the most famous Stoics whose writings have come down to us are linked chronologically in the second century. Epictetus died and Marcus Aurelius was born in it. The outer circumstances of their lives were as sharply different as fate could arrange, for one was a slave, born into that condition (or possibly sold into it--sources differ); the other, the nephew and adopted son of an emperor who himself became the emperor of Rome. In the Stoic philosophy the beliefs of both men took root. And the writings they have left us, while differing in style, could otherwise have been written by either of them.(1 ¶ 19)

In Epictetus we find the teacher, the ascetic. Here is a man whose observations were recorded for him by a faithful Boswell named Arrian. Epictetus, it is said, wrote not a word. The slave of an officer in Nero's guard, he finally obtained his freedom and, travelling to Nicopolis in Epirus, he established his Stoic school where he taught many years.(1 ¶ 20)

That Epictetus influenced Marcus Aurelius is not doubted; that the doctrine of Stoicism was probably spread more rapidly by the expanding Christian community than by either is evident. Christianity absorbed much from the Greeks and the contributions of Platonism and Stoicism are apparent although divergent.(1 ¶ 21)

But while Epictetus taught and lived a gentle, remote and scholarly life, Marcus Aurelius acted. No philosopher was ever plummeted into a more chaotic and perplexing cauldron than he. He was confronted with the impending collapse of a great society, the errors of which he inherited but could not control. Faced with barbarian invasion, economic ruin, internal revolution, state policies at odds with his own personal concept of virtue, he struggled manfully and with great personal calm until a plague virtually decimated the realm. While on a military excursion in Pannonia, March 17, 180 A.D., he died while stoically doing what he believed to be his duty.(1 ¶ 22)

The characters of these two men, forged in far different furnaces, were remarkably similar. Epictetus spoke with epigram and parable. He is a theorist, abstract, clear, cool as a mountain lake. Aurelius spoke directly of himself, not from theory but from actual application of Stoic principles. In spite of the vortex in which he lived, he remained a disciplinarian of himself. We read Aurelius and suddenly we know him; he is human, making effort, having his problems but committed to rigorous self-examination and correction.(1 ¶ 23)

Matthew Arnold speaks of Marcus Aurelius as perhaps the most beautiful figure in history. He is one of those consoling and hope-inspiring marks, which stand for ever to remind our weak and easily discouraged race how high human goodness and perseverance have once been carried, and may be carried again. (Essay on Marcus Aurelius, The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers, Modern Library series, edited by W. J. Oates.)(1 ¶ 24)

These are the best known of the Stoics for their writings have been most available. And, suddenly, after the death of Aurelius, the Stoic philosophy descended from the zenith and plunged below the horizon. Traces remain, but most who remember some of the Stoic principles do not know that they are Stoic and cannot identify the source; nor do they understand the framework of thought into which they fit and from which they were extracted. The ethics of Stoicism do not deserve oblivion. Although much of the philosophy can be discounted, the central theme is important and will prove of eternal value.(1 ¶ 25)

To encapsulate the philosophy: Stoicism is the belief in the supreme value of the individual person, the integrity of his will, the primacy of his own right judgment. In this sense, Stoicism is a system of values which elevates rational man to such an exalted position that all other things or conditions are viewed as valueless in comparison. The system of values has obvious draw-backs, including a down-grading of any and all kinds of material property. In a way it is ultra-submissive, almost a philosophy made for slaves rather than free men.(1 ¶ 26)

But there is a ring of steel in the flexibility which appears to be its chief distinction. The Stoic conviction of the value of the will, in contrast to the value of material things, creates the kind of character that can and does master the things of this world. Holding material goods in disdain, the Stoic will is disciplined, regular and resourceful. It sternly disapproves of pleasure for its own sake, but does not seek pain.(1 ¶ 27)

There is a modern school of economics which seeks to divide all property into two classes: primary and secondary. This school holds that ideas, the products of the mind, are the primary items of ownership, including life itself. Strength for this view could be found in Epictetus and Aurelius, if one will go beyond the product of the mind to the mind itself and evaluate reason and self-discipline to primary position. Yet Epictetus would have disclaimed possession of ideas as property and contended that the only real property over which any man had undisputed sway is the property of his will, his judgment, his reason:(1 ¶ 28)

But as things are, though we have it in our power to pay heed to one thing and to devote ourselves to one, yet instead of this we prefer to pay heed to many things and to be bound fast to many—our body, our property, brother and friend, child and slave. Inasmuch then as we are bound fast to many things, we are burdened by them and dragged down…. We must make the best of those things that are in our power, and take the rest as nature gives it. … What? Am I to be beheaded now, and I alone? Why? Would you have had all beheaded, to give you consolation?(1 ¶ 29)

And here is advice to guide the most stringent believer in private property of all sorts: What then must a man have ready to help him in such emergencies? surely this: he must ask himself, What is mine, and what is not mine? What may I do, what may I not do?(1 ¶ 30)

Then the central theme of Stoic moral supremacy over the affairs of the world: I must die. But must I die groaning? I must be imprisoned. But must I whine as well? I must suffer exile. Can any one then hinder me from going with a smile, and a good courage, and at peace?(1 ¶ 31)

A taste of this Stoic self-control is reported by the careful Arrian:(1 ¶ 32)

It was in this spirit that Agrippinus used to say--do you know what? I will not stand in my own way! News was brought him, Your trial is on in the Senate! Good luck to it, but the fifth hour is come—this was the hour when he used to take his exercise and have a cold bath—let us go and take exercise. When he had taken his exercise the came and told him, You are condemned. Exile or death? he asked. Exile. And my property? It is not confiscated. Well then, let us go to Aricia and dine.(1 ¶ 33)

The employment of the rational faculties is elevated: To the rational creature that which is against reason is alone past bearing; the rational he can always bear …(1 ¶ 34)

But is it not intolerable to hang oneself?(1 ¶ 35)

At any rate, when a man comes to feel that it is rational, he goes and hangs himself at once. In a word, if we look to it we shall see that by nothing is the rational creature so distressed as by the irrational, and again to nothing so much attracted as to the rational.(1 ¶ 36)

And the use of the independent will in the line of controlling one's self and adhering to the path of duty is illustrated:(1 ¶ 37)

Priscus Helvidius too saw this, and acted on it. When Vespasian sent to him not to come into the Senate he answered: You can forbid me to be a senator; but as long as I am a senator I must come in.(1 ¶ 38)

Come in then, he says, and be silent.(1 ¶ 39)

Question me not and I will be silent.(1 ¶ 40)

But I am bound to question you.(1 ¶ 41)

And I am bound to say what seems right to me.(1 ¶ 42)

But if you say it, I shall kill you.(1 ¶ 43)

When did I tell you that I was immortal? You will do your part, and I mine. It is yours to kill, mine to die without quailing; yours to banish, mine to go into exile without groaning.(1 ¶ 44)

Of one thing beware, O man; see what is the price at which you sell your will. If you do nothing else, do not sell your will cheap.(1 ¶ 45)

What is important to the Stoic? Moral progress would be the answer as Epictetus expressed it:(1 ¶ 46)

What does virtue produce?(1 ¶ 47)

Peace of mind.(1 ¶ 48)

Who then makes progress? … Will you not show him what virtue really means, that he may learn where to seek for progress? Miserable man, there is only one place to seek it—where your work lies. Where does it lie? It lies in the region of the will; that you may not fail to get what you will to get, nor fall into what you will to avoid; it lies in avoiding error in the region of impulse, impulse to act and impulse not to act; it lies in assent and the withholding of assent, that in these you may never be deceived…. If you would tremble and mourn and seek to escape misfortune, progress is of course impossible.(1 ¶ 49)

The Stoic's view of politics and government in general is disdainful yet penetrating. Here is Epictetus on the foibles of those who seek political favor:(1 ¶ 50)

I know what was said to me by a man older than myself who is now in charge of the corn supply in Rome, when he passed through here on his way back from exile; he ran down his former life and made great professions for the future, saying that when once he was back he would have no other interest except to live out the rest of his life in peace and tranquility….(1 ¶ 51)

And I said to him, You will not do it; as soon as you sniff the air of Rome you will forget all your professions….(1 ¶ 52)

Well, what did he do? Before he came to Rome, a dispatch from the emperor met him, and as soon as he got it he forgot all he had said and has gone on adding to his heap ever since….(1 ¶ 53)

What conclusion do I draw? do I say that the creature man is not to be active? Heaven forbid! But what is it that fetters our faculty of action? …(1 ¶ 54)

They do notihng all day long except vote, dispute, deliberate about a handful of corn or an acre of land, and petty profits of this sort. Is there any resemblance between receiving and reading a petition such as this: I beg you to let me export a little corn, and a petition such as this: I beg you to inquire from Chrysippus how the universe is governed and what position the rational creature holds in it; inquiry too who you are and what is good for you, and what is evil?(1 ¶ 55)

Epictetus is never more incisive than in his advice concerning the treatment of tyrants: The tyrant, for instance, says, I am the mightiest of all men.(1 ¶ 56)

Well and what can you give me? Can you enable me to get what I will to get? how can you? Can you avoid what you will to avoid, independent of circumstances? Is your impulse free from error? How can you claim any such power?(1 ¶ 57)

Tell me, on shipboard, do you put confidence in yourself or in the man who knows? And in a chariot? Surely in him who knows. How is it in the other arts? Exactly the same. What does your power come to then?(1 ¶ 58)

All men pay me attention.(1 ¶ 59)

Yes, and I pay attention to my platter and work it and polish it and I fix up a peg for my oil-flask. Does that mean that these are superior to me? No, but they do me some service, and for this reason I pay them attention…. For who pays regard to you as a man? Show me. Who wishes to become like you? Who regards you as one like Socrates to admire and follow?(1 ¶ 60)

But I can behead you.(1 ¶ 61)

Well said. I forgot, of course, one ought to pay you worship as if you were fever or cholera, and raise an altar to you, like the altar to Fever in Rome.(1 ¶ 62)

What is it then which disturbs and confounds the multitude? Is it the tyrant and his guards? Nay, God forbid! It is impossible for that which is free by nature to be disturbed or hindered by anything but itself. It is a man's own judgments which disturb him. For when the tyrant says to a man: I will chain your leg, he that values his leg says, Nay, have mercy. But he that values his will says, If it seems more profitable to you, chain it.(1 ¶ 63)

Do you pay no heed?(1 ¶ 64)

No, I pay no heed.(1 ¶ 65)

I will show you that I am master!(1 ¶ 66)

How can you? … You are master of my dead body, take it.(1 ¶ 67)

Do you mean that when you approach me, you pay no respect to me?(1 ¶ 68)

No, I only pay respect to myself; if you wish me to say that I pay respect to you too, I tell you that I do so, but only as I pay respect to my water-pot.(1 ¶ 69)

And on the question of obtaining fame and immortality through high office, Epictetus has short and pithy counsel:(1 ¶ 70)

Today one spoke to me about the priesthood of Augustus. I told him, Fellow, leave the thing alone; you will spend a great deal on nothing.(1 ¶ 71)

Well, but those who draw up contracts will record my name.(1 ¶ 72)

Can you be there when men read it and say to them, That is my name, and even supposing you can be there now, what will you do if you die?(1 ¶ 73)

My name will remain.(1 ¶ 74)

Write it on a stone and it will remain….(1 ¶ 75)

Freedom is viewed as the absolute dominion of the individual over his own will. This is the inner realm, which should be governed and over which no invading force has any power whatever: For he is free, for whom all things happen according to his will and whom no one can hinder.(1 ¶ 76)

What then? Is freedom the same as madness?(1 ¶ 77)

Heaven forbid! Frenzy and freedom have nothing in common.(1 ¶ 78)

But, you say, I want everything to happen as I think good, whatever that may be!(1 ¶ 79)

then you are in a state of madness, you are out of your mind. Do you know that freedom is a noble thing, and worthy of regard? But merely to want one's chance thoughts to be realized, is not a noble thing; it comes perilously near to being the most shameful of all things…. Are we to say then that in this sphere alone, the greatest and most momentous of all, the sphere of freedom, it is permitted me to indulge chance desires? By no means: education is just this--learning to frame one's will in accord with events.(1 ¶ 80)

The weakness of the Stoic philosophy is found in the area of property ownership and economics, generally; the strength is found in its depth of human understanding. While the Stoic character makes possible the development of capitalism, it is paradoxical that the Stoic system of values holds economic goods and material property in very low regard.(1 ¶ 81)

For all that, the concept of forgiveness runs high.(1 ¶ 82)

… why are we angry with the multitude?(1 ¶ 83)

They are thieves, he says, and robbers.(1 ¶ 84)

What do you mean by thieves and robbers?(1 ¶ 85)

They are gone astray and know not what is good and what is evil.(1 ¶ 86)

Ought we then to be angry with them or to pity them? Only show them their error and you will see how they desist from their faults. But if their eyes are not opened, they regard nothing as superior to their own judgment.(1 ¶ 87)

What! you say. Ought not this robber and adulterer to be put to death?(1 ¶ 88)

Nay, say not so, but rather, Should I not destroy this man who is in error and delusion about the greatest matters and is blinded not merely in the vision which distinguishes white and black, but in the judgment which distinguishes good and evil? If you put it this way, you will recognize how inhuman your words are; that it is like saying, Should I not kill this blind man, or this deaf one? For if the greatest harm that can befall one is the loss of what is greatest and a right will is the greatest thing in every one, is it not enough for him to lose this, without incurring your anger besides? Man, if you must need harbour unnatural feelings at the misfortune of another, pity him rather than hate him; give up this spirit of offense and hatred; do not use these phrases whic the backbiting multitude use.(1 ¶ 89)

And again—Why then are we angry? Because we admire the material things of which they rob us. For only cease to admire your clothes, and you are not angry with him who steals them; cease to admire your wife's beauty, and you cease to be angry with the adulterer. Know that the thief and adulterer have no place among things that are your own, but only among things that are another's and beyond your power. If you let them alone and count them as nothing, you have no one to be angry with any more.(1 ¶ 90)

I have set down in the foregoing some of the most pungent and meaningful statements attributed to Epictetus by Arrian, his self-appointed amanuensis.(1 ¶ 91)

It is worthy of note that what we often think of as Christian forbearance and fortitude, Christian values, and so on, actually derive from Stoicism, which had its birth in the third century before Christ. But Stoicism has its drawbacks. There is, as Matthew Arnold observed, little of joy in the philosophy. It is a stern and unyielding task-master, and it is difficult to clasp it to our bosoms with a glad cry.(1 ¶ 92)

Yet, when we come to Marcus Aurelius, the last of the great Stoics, we find in him the warmth, as well as the humility, that exalts even as it gladdens the heart.(1 ¶ 93)

Perhaps the most famous of the Emperor Aurelius's writings are found right at the beginning of his first book of meditations wherein he is rejoicing in the fact that he has adopted the virtues as his guide for life. George Washington, our first president, has left us a booklet, engaging as it is ingenuous, in which he sets forth the precepts of good behavior in company. It is a charming recitation of manners and morals which is a revelation of the eighteenth century. But Aurelius is equally demanding of himself and at a greater depth of character. Summarized here are the qualities which Aurelius claimed for himself and for which he obviously struggled as a youth.(1 ¶ 94)

  1. Good morals and the government of his temper.(1 ¶ 95)

  2. Modesty and a manly character.(1 ¶ 96)

  3. Piety and beneficence. Abstinence from evil deeds and evil thoughts. Simplicity in life far removed from ostentation.(1 ¶ 97)

  4. Gladness in having avoided public schools and joy in having had good, private tutors.(1 ¶ 98)

  5. A disinclination to take sides politically. Endurance in labor. To desire little for himself. To work with his own hands. Not to meddle in the affairs of others. An unwillingness to listen to gossip or slander.(1 ¶ 99)

  6. Not to be concerned with trifles. Not to believe in superstition. Not to breed quails for fighting. To endure the freedom of speech of others. To have become familiar with philosophy. To have studied with diligence.(1 ¶ 100)

  7. Not to be led astray by the Sophists. Not to write speculatively nor to make brash and hortatory speeches. Not to seek praise by showing off that he practiced self-discipline, or benevolent acts. Not to engage in rhetorical display. Not to walk about inside the house in outside garments. To write simply and directly. To be easily disposed to reconciliation with those who have wronged him, verbally or otherwise. Not to read superficially, but to seek deep understanding in books.(1 ¶ 101)

  8. Freedom of the will and undeviating steadiness of purpose. To also seek reason. To be always the same either in joy or sorrow, in pain or pleasure. To receive favors from friends without either showing humbleness or letting them pass unnoticed.(1 ¶ 102)

  9. A benevolent disposition. To look after the interests of friends. To tolerate the ignorant. Never to show anger or other passion but to be free of passion. Also, to be affectionate without noisy display.(1 ¶ 103)

  10. To be free of fault-finding. And in conversation, when another has used an incorrect word or expression, to deftly introduce the correct word or expression without correcting the one in error.(1 ¶ 104)

  11. To recognize the envy, duplicity, and hypocrisy that tyrants practice.(1 ¶ 105)

  12. Never to take refuge in the excuse of lack of time when called upon for assistance or correspondence.(1 ¶ 106)

  13. To listen when friends find fault, even when they are in error. To speak well of teachers and to be truly fond of one's own children.(1 ¶ 107)

  14. To love one's kind, truth and justice, to understand equality of rights, to favor a policy which respects the freedom of the governed. To seek consistency, a disposition to do good, to be generous and optimistic, to be candid both with friends and enemies, not to dissemble.(1 ¶ 108)

  15. Self-government. Cheerfulness, sweetness and dignity. To refrain from complaining. To show no amazement or surprise, to refrain from haste and never to procrastinate. To refrain from falsehood. To be humorous in an agreeable way.(1 ¶ 109)

  16. Mildness of temper. Unchangeable resolution. No pride in honors bestowed. Readiness to listen. Release of friends from social obligations. To make thorough investigation before forming a conclusion. To manage expenditures well. To check applause and all flattery. Not to seek favors by giving gifts. To be neither flippant nor pedantic. To honor philosophers. To be easy in conversation. To take reasonable care of one's health without being obsessed by fear of ill health. To recognize exceptional skills and talents in others and to give them due credit for their attainments. To look to what ought to be done and not to the reputation one might win for doing what ought to be done. To avoid excessive interest in buildings, food or clothing. To be neither harsh nor implacable, but to be vigorous and consistent in an orderly way with great steadiness.(1 ¶ 110)

Throughout the foregoing, Marcus Aurelius displays the most solemn gratitude, not that he has attained to virtue, but that he has been taught these virtues which he is striving to acquire. There is some repetition and this rendition, for purposes of brevity, has not been more than a broad summation; but it will serve.(1 ¶ 111)

To get a real taste of the sweetness of Aurelius, here is a quotation: Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. to act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.(1 ¶ 112)

Epictetus is the master teacher, a trifle unearthly, yet practical enough. Aurelius is the master scholar, putting the precepts of his teachers to use and being grateful for them as he seeks to manage the burdens thrust upon him by the high office he held and the demands of a rigorous self-discipline. In these two men, the high and the low, the emperor and the slave, the full range of the Stoic vision has play.(1 ¶ 113)

In our own time and country, we cannot afford to let the Stoic qualities of character move into eclipse. What is significant and of lasting value is the emphasis upon the individual, the recognition that it is not the things of the world that matter, but man's judgment and control of himself in the presence of the world that does matter. If individual men can be made right, society, a mere gathering of men, will be right of necessity. The emphasis, in the face of our gigantic riddles of the twentieth century, is of necessity upon the individual.(1 ¶ 114)

Plato and many others of various schools of thought, ancient and modern, have sought to subordinate or even to eclipse the individual in favor of a perfect or a perfectable society. The method has been related to organization, structure, procedure, the modus operandi. Let us turn to the Stoics and see with them that all these things are secondary.(1 ¶ 115)

We can, perhaps, join with Emerson in his essay, Politics, when he said: Hence, the less government we have, the better; the fewer laws, and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal government is the influence or private character, the growth of the individual; the appearance of the principal to supersede the proxy; the appearance of the wise man, of whom the existing government is, it must be owned, but a shabby imitation.(1 ¶ 116)