The Pursuit of Virtue

The ultimate goal of stoicism is the pursuit of virtue. But what is virtue? By definition, virtue is the embodiment of moral excellence. Virtues, in hand, are the traits or characteristics that determine moral excellence. The ancient Stoics had a few virtues that they considered essential:

  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Temperance
  • Justice

These are all honorable virtues. Some of them may even be in line with what you consider moral, or ‘virtuous’.

Defining morals is a foundational aspect of embodying virtue. Without clearly defined morals, it’s far easier to waver to external events. And the standard characteristics of morality may be enough to get you started. Maybe even just the four above are enough for you to live virtuously.

But what if they aren’t? What if these standards don’t completely resonate with you?

Alternatively, you can define your own set of virtues to stand for. After all, what point is there to life if you’re unable to create your own path?

Idolized Virtue

In our youth, we’re taught to believe that the ones we look up to are the embodiment of morality. We idolize these figures, so it only makes sense that we’d want to be like them. And generally, there’s nothing wrong with that. Oftentimes these idols are indeed virtuous. That’s probably part of the reason we idolize them.

But no two people see through the same lens. Your story may be similar to theirs, but it’s still your own. So what if there was an alternative? One not based on our idol’s idea of right and wrong, but rather our own?

The answer is simple in theory but takes time in practice. Instead of being influenced on what to think, decide how to think.

Paradigm Shift

This is where stoicism presents an opportunity. The principles are rooted in focusing internally on the things you have control over.

It starts with a shift in your thought process. It’s common to shape who you are and what you believe based on what you think others want you to be. Everyone has done it at some point. A job interview. A new group of friends. You want to fit in. But it’s a dangerous habit if left unchecked. The more you mirror the ideas of others, the sooner you lose your sense of self.

But therein lies the problem. We’re taught as a society to be afraid, to seek acceptance. We’re taught to fit in. But this idea fails to account for one very important human characteristic. Individuality. No two people are the same.

That’s not to say there aren’t some generally accepted moral principles. There are ideas of virtue that are arguably universal. Kindness. Courage. Respect. These and probably more could be considered virtuous across cultures.

So you’ve decided to reevaluate your perception of virtue. Now what?

Living virtuously sounds like a solid approach to life, but the execution is another thing entirely. The more virtuous you try to become, the more people around you will test you. Because human beings are not naturally virtuous.

We’re all subconsciously driven by pleasure and satisfaction. Dopamine is the chemical we have to thank for this.

Seeking Pleasure

Dopamine contributes to feelings of satisfaction and pleasure, as well as our inclination towards desire. Dopamine creates reward-seeking loops, otherwise known as addictions. For example, the more attention or approval you get from others, the more you seek it.

This is a major focus of study in relation to social media. Social media companies have profited largely off of these reward loops, at the cost of your most important assets – your attention and your time.

But it’s not all bad. Dopamine also has the power to do a lot of great things. It’s responsible for curiosity and the pursuit of new information. Also, things like ambition and motivation can be tied directly to dopamine.

It all comes down to how you use it.

If the standard ideas of virtue or morality don’t entirely resonate with you, consider these renditions. Some are in line with the classics, while others provide a modern context. Regardless, I hope you find some value.

Sense of self.

Getting to know yourself is one of the most important aspects of life. It’s become all too common to base one’s self or sense of self-worth on the ideas of what others want them to be. Partially because we’ve been conditioned to do so, but it’s also easier that way.

It’s a difficult endeavor getting to know yourself – because it means you have to face your own flaws. It’s easier and more comfortable to embody the opinions others have of you. But the feeling of clarity and confidence you’ll achieve by understanding who you are and embodying that will be unparalleled.


Technology has simultaneously produced the greatest evolution and deterioration of a society in observable history. Never before have people been more connected with, and equally disconnected from, one another. The paradox of this technology is we think it’s providing us pleasure, where in reality it creates misery.

Instead of remaining constantly tethered to technology, reconnect with the world around you. Connect with nature. Spend time with loved ones. Be present in the moment. The more genuine interactions you have with others, the better your life becomes. Your time and attention are things you’ll never have more of, and never get back.

Be true.

Start with being true to yourself. The more honest you are with yourself, the easier it becomes to attain growth and progress. Next, be true to those around you. Sincerity and authenticity will pay dividends in any relationship you have. Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s an opportunity for connection.

Practice fortitude.

Fortitude is having the strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity. The key here is strength of mind. This shift in your mindset makes it so previous ‘problems to deal with’ become ‘obstacles to overcome’. Conquer your mind and the rest becomes simple.

Think objectively.

Events that happen in life are objective by nature. There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in nature. The crux of human beings is that we apply our perceptions to these events. The things that happen in life, for example, are nothing more than a story we tell ourselves. Without perception, we’re one and the same.

Accepting and acknowledging things objectively, as they are, is imperative to personal growth. This allows you to create your own opinion of events, rather than viewing them based on the narrative others have created.


In summary, it all comes down to you. Who you are and who want to be. The difference is derived from how well you know yourself, and your desire to improve. Enjoy the process and know that you’re only as limited as you allow yourself to be.

Life is a series of choices, and every single person has the power to choose their action. Virtue is nothing more than guiding principles that assist in the pursuit of good.

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