This is a good, brief listen for a big education:
Stoicism claims that virtue is the only good and therefore the highest good.
Is there any evidence for this? People really do not live like virtue is the highest good. But, do they live as if the respect virtuous people? Do people live like they want to be known as good people? Yes:
Human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—like Amnesty International—provide a signaling service to their donors. Donors purchase this signaling service, paying for the ability to show the world they are prosocial, open, multi-cultural, compassionate, empathic, and politically liberal. The primary product on offer is a badge outwardly signaling that the wearer is a person who is associated with the broadly known values of the human rights NGO. For the donor, the benefit is prestige and status that comes with associating with the organization. The NGO, for doing its part, receives money, status, and authority.11The Virtue Economy by Suszie Mulesky
The NGO world is a crowded space. Donors have millions of charities from which to choose. An organization does not need to convince donors to change their minds to attract their donation. Instead, the NGO can convince donors that it represents their views and will provide assistance in signaling their commitment to these views and loyalty to their community.
Corporations have discovered the power of virtue-signaling. In a New York Timesarticle, Paul Sullivan writes, “Firms learn that as they help charities, they also help their brands.” For example, Subaru chose “well-known, noncontroversial charities,” such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Meals on Wheels. On the other hand, Discovery Communications, which produces Shark Week, began a wild tiger conservation program.
Companies also signal their virtues in advertisements. Gillette’s viral commercial “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” was a calculated virtue-branding effort destined to annoy some and attract others, a worthwhile trade for a declining brand. Amnesty International USA, in a rare endorsement of a corporation, tweeted in support of Gillette: “People are upset about the Gillette ad? Repeat after me: We want a world without #ToxicMasculinity.” The international Twitter account for Amnesty likewise supported the ad: “The [world] will be a better place without #ToxicMasculinity.” In a response to an NPR query, a Gillette spokesperson said, “No longer can companies ‘just advertis[e] product benefits.’ These days ‘brand-building’ also means taking a stand on important societal issues, controversial as they may be.”
A study on corporate social responsibility found that 87 percent of study respondents reported “they would buy a product because of something the company advocated.” However, if the company advocates (signals) the wrong cause, 76 percent said they would boycott the product. This consumer demand produces an incentive for companies to learn what their customers want to signal and enhance their brand through the power of signaling.12
We live like we know virtue is the most important thing, we just wish to be known for it rather than engage in it.
Understanding virtue is so crucial for true happiness and success that you should probably read this page even if you don’t intend to read anything else at Virtus et Potentia. Essentially a virtue is a good habit. But what is a habit and what does it mean for a habit to be good?
Introduction: Virtues are Good Habits
Virtue, without reference to morality, is a good habit.
A habit is a stable or persistent way of acting in the world, habits are like emotional base lines. They are not easily altered. The difference between a virtue and an emotional baseline is that one might be natural to who you are due to genetics (emotional baseline), but your habits are based on repetitive choices (conscious or unconsciously made).
What makes a habit good is whether or not it is fit for purpose.
Examples of habits fit for purpose:
If you want money, but have a habit of sleeping in and missing work that is very difficult not to do, then you have a bad habit on your hands.
If you want to make friends and have a tendency to listen carefully, tease effectively, give generously, and offer helpful advice, then you have good habits of friendship.
The result of possessing virtues/good habits is that with practice they give their possessor the ability to act in that fashion easily and well. So a man with the virtue of justice has no problem making restitution when he has wronged him by mistake. Similarly, a man with courage will act in spite of fear for noble causes as a matter of course, not merely because circumstances have become so dire than action is the only alternative to death.
This is why you want to develop virtue. In the lives of many people, success does not come easy so they resign to mediocrity. But according to a virtue theory of human development, you cannot have “easy success” unless you first imprint yourself with several virtuous habits.
Be The Oak
My favorite metaphor for virtue is the oak tree.
In your life you already have a will, a set of emotions, and rational powers. These are like an acorn.
Every good choice you make is like choosing to water this acorn and give it fertilizer. Every choice you make at odds with your goals or your purpose in life (more on that another time), is like pouring poison on the seed or depriving it of water and soil. Eventually, as you train your desires with your reason, the tree grows so much that external impediments to success, power, or virtue simply become stimulus to further growth. This is similar to trees which need to be pruned or coastal trees which only grow stronger in the face of the harsh wind from the sea.
In classical thought there are several categories of virtues, some are moral and some are amoral. The two categories I’ll deal with are the intellectual and the moral virtues.
The Intellectual Virtues
The five intellectual virtues are listed and described below (btw, intellectual virtues are not necessarily possessed by intellectuals):
- Understanding/Sanity – This virtue is the power to understand first principles (cause and effect, number, non-contradiction, etc.).
- Science/Knowledge – This is the ability and habit of making inferences and drawing conclusions from principles and sensory data.
- Wisdom – While the word wisdom is often used as a synonym for prudence, in this
caseit is the ability to see things in context and relationship to one another with reference to values, consequences, and so-on.
- Prudence/Deliberation – Prudence in classical virtue theory is the habit of right choice. Prudence relies upon and builds upon the foundation of understanding, science, and wisdom for the purpose of making good decisions (decisions which move the man of action toward his goals). My own definition of prudence (because it builds upon the previous virtues) is “understanding the world, discerning good from bad, and acting accordingly.”
- Art/Know-How – Art is the virtue of “right reason about things to be made.” This is the virtue of the engineer, the chef, the gardener
andthe painter. Observe how little modern art is actually created under the guidance of reason.
Moral Virtue: The Cardinals
The next category of virtues are the moral virtues. What makes them moral is that they tend toward governing the customs of society for the purpose of the perfection of individuals and their increased happiness. A moral virtue is a habit that is fit for the purpose of human excellence and happiness:
- Fortitude – This is the virtue of action and endurance in the face of fear of great danger or death. In one sense it is presupposed by the other virtues, because one must pursue prudence, justice,
andtemperance in the face of many difficult obstacles. In another sense it is its own virtue in that pursuing the other virtues rarely puts us in the gravest of dangers.
- Prudence – Understanding the world, discerning good from bad (not just in moral, but especially in morals), and acting accordingly.
- Justice – This is the virtue of habitually giving others their due. It has to do with your relationships with others in regard to money, honor, duty, and friendship. Just men pay their debts, protect the weak, and ensure the well-being of their families.
- Temperance – This is the virtue of rightly using
the externalgoods such as food, drink, sleep, shelter, clothes, etc. It is the virtue of enough. A temperate man doesn’t sleep too much, avoids obsessing over being liked or loved, enjoys food but eats the right amount, and so-on.
Many people feel that they cannot be successful because they would have to become bad, be inauthentic (by going against their natural habits), or that their efforts are often thwarted. But if you shift your mindset toward making happiness your goal (it already is) and you begin to seek happiness by gaining the virtues then I submit to you that you’ll become happier and more successful. The problem is that you must pursue the virtues until they become virtues (hard to alter habits) and not mere occasional heroic actions. Here, I’ll try to give you tips from experience, modern literature, and the classics on how to do that.
 R. C Mortimer, The Elements of Moral Theology. (London: A. and C. Black, 1947), 100
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.), “Art is nothing else but the right reason about things to be made. And yet the good of these things depends, not on man’s appetitive faculty being affected in this or that way, but on the goodness of the work done. For a crafts-man, as such, is commendable, not for the will with which he does a work, but for the quality of the work.”
 Mortimer, 156.
Many scholars suppose that Jesus had a negative view of the nuclear family that was softened by the gospel authors (or that he was inconsistent in his teaching):
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:20-21)
This means something like how Matthew puts it: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:18-20)
Now, academics are more likely to have this view than normal people, and they do tend to resent those who do not have similar degrees, so it’s not surprising that they want Jesus to be as maladjusted and lonely as they are. But that aside, must Jesus’ view of the family be so inconsistent that the gospel authors made up sayings in which he endorsed the family? I think not. For instance, Musonius Rufus, a philosopher active around the time the gospels were being written, made similar points to Jesus, but in a lengthier and more obviously consistent fashion:
A certain young man who wished to study philosophy, but was forbidden by his father to do so, put this question to him “Tell me, Musonius, must one obey one’s parents in all things, or are there some circumstances under which one need not heed them?” And Musonius replied, “That everyone should obey his mother and father seems a good thing, and I certainly recommend it…
…Because surely all parents have the interests of their children at heart, and because of that interest they wish them to do what is right and advantageous. Consequently one who does what is right and useful is doing what his parents wish and so is obedient to his parents in doing it, even if his parents do not order him in so many words to do these things…
…And so you, my young friend, do not fear that you will disobey your father, if when your father bids you do something which is not right, you refrain from doing it, or when he forbids you to do something which is right you do not refrain from doing it. Do not let your father be an excuse to you for wrong-doing whether he bids you do something which is not right or forbids you to do what is right. For there is no necessity for you to comply with evil injunctions, and you yourself seem not unaware of this…
…If, then, my young friend, with a view to becoming such a man, as you surely will if you truly master the lessons of philosophy, you should not be able to induce your father to permit you to do as you wish, nor succeed in persuading him, reason thus: your father forbids you to study philosophy, but the common father of all men and gods, Zeus, bids you and exhorts you to do so. His command and law is that man be just and honest, beneficent, temperate, high-minded, superior to pain, superior to pleasure, free of all envy and all malice; to put it briefly, the law of Zeus bids man be good….
Now then, it would seem that Rufus explicitly says that the young should not obey their parents, particularly when the study of philosophy is on the line. But, he also says that he recommends obeying parents. He also says that obeying God is superior to obeying men (parents) but that because God wants what is best, so also to disobey parents in the name of what God wants and what is obviously and truly good, is ultimately obedience to both God and your parents who want the best for you. The point I’m making is that people, in Jesus’ era, were able to say that values existed that were greater in comparison to family, but that family was still a good. Jesus didn’t reject family, he simply rejected using your family as an excuse for wrong-doing. Just like Rufus thought philosophy would make you wise, and therefore a good son, even if doing the right thing put you at odds with your parents.
“It appears, Socrates, that you are the sort of friend to help me if I am in any way qualified to make friends: but if not, you won’t make up a story to help me.”“How do you think I shall help you best, Critobulus, by false praise, or by urging you to try to be a good man?  If you don’t yet see clearly, take the following cases as illustrations. Suppose that I wanted to get a shipmaster to make you his friend, and as a recommendation told him that you are a good skipper, which is untrue; and suppose that he believed me and put you in charge of his ship in spite of your not knowing how to steer it: have you any reason to hope that you would not lose the ship and your life as well? Or suppose that I falsely represented to the Assembly that you are a born general, jurist and statesman in one, and so persuaded the state to commit her fortunes to you, what do you suppose would happen to the state and to yourself under your guidance? Or again, suppose that I falsely described you to certain citizens in private as a thrifty, careful person, and persuaded them to place their affairs in your hands, wouldn’t you do them harm and look ridiculous when you came to the test?  Nay, Critobulus, if you want to be thought good at anything, you must try to be so; that is the quickest, the surest, the best way. You will find on reflection that every kind of virtue named among men is increased by study and practice. Such is the view I take of our duty, Critobulus. If you have anything to say against it, tell me.”“Why, Socrates,” said Critobulus, “I should be ashamed to contradict you, for I should be saying what is neither honourable nor true.”Xenophon’s Memorabilia 2.6.37-39 trans. by E.C. Marchant
Socrates was so useful in all circumstances and in all ways, that any observer gifted with ordinary perception can see that nothing was more useful than the companionship of Socrates, and time spent with him in any place and in any circumstances. The very recollection of him in absence brought no small good to his constant companions and followers; for even in his light moods they gained no less from his society than when he was serious.(Xenophon’s Memorabilia 4.1.1)
I suppose that should one make an effort to be such a man or woman as this, then one would have no shortage of friends.