It is well-known that the Stoics hold there to be four cardinal virtues: courage (andreia), justice (dikaiosunê), moderation (sôphrosunê), and wisdom (phronêsis). In this, they inherit a position which was expressed by Plato or (his) Socrates.
There is therefore a question of whether the Stoics understand these virtues in the ways Plato did, or the ways we might today. One thing about Stoicism which is interesting is the ways that it challenges common understandings. The Stoics indeed thought that the majority of human beings tended to be decisively mistaken in many of their understandings, although we each have the seeds of the virtues and correct notions within us.
As Arius Didymus (in Stobaeus Anthology, II, 5b2) tells us, prudence for the Stoics for instance involves kathêkonta, appropriate actions, and a quite distinct Stoic philosophical notion. Courage involves “instances of standing firm” (tas hypomonas), justice concerns distributions (ananemêseis)—two more widely-accepted understandings. Yet moderation concerns our hormai or impulses to act and avoid different things, again a position which is arguably quite distinct to the Porch (for Aristotle, moderation preeminently concerns pleasures, hêdonai, for instance).
The Stoics also define many of the virtues as forms of “knowledge (epistêmê) of things and crafts”, in ways which don’t conform to Aristotle’s systematization (Stobaeus, Anthology, II, 5b). Indeed, some sources suggest that the Stoics believed knowledge of physics, logic, dialectic and even rhetoric (the art of public speaking) were virtues in ways which are distinct to the Porch.
Above all, there are in the surviving “doxographic sources”, Diogenes Laertius, Arius Didymus (in Stobaeus), and Pseudo-Andronicus, lists of what are called “subordinate (hypotetagmenon)” virtues, falling under the headings of the four cardinal virtues. In Diogenes Laertius, five are listed. In Arius Didymus, some eighteen are listed (six forms of wisdom, five of courage, four forms of justice and moderation). But in Pseudo-Andronicus’ work On the Passions (SVF III, 266-272) we get a list of some thirty-nine, with seven forms of moderation, seven of courage, seven of wisdom, and some nine forms of justice).
These lists have no equivalents in Aristotle or other ancient philosophers: Aristotle for instance lists around fourteen virtues, based upon the Nicomachean Ethics.
In what follows, I will first introduce the list of the forty-two virtues in Pseudo-Andronicus and the two additional forms of justice Arius Didymus adds, with translations of these which I’ve produced with the assistance of Rob Colter, and through cross-referencing with Long and Sedley’s translations of Stobaeus—since I’ve not been able to find existing translations (except into medieval Latin). Then I’ll offer a brief commentary.
The interest in this task, I think, is just how much more detail this extensive list of virtues gives concerning “how to be a Stoic”, than when we just demarcate the four principal virtues. The list of virtues as it were allows us to focus in on the different challenges, objects, and situations of life which the Stoics clearly considered, remembering their claim that for every such occasion, there will be a virtue we can call upon to respond to it optimally. There are over forty such occasions or subjects for the practice of different virtues in Pseudo-Andronicus. So, what the list allows us to glimpse is a very rich portrait of the different arêtai and, as it were, the way of life of the Sage, or anyone who makes a good deal of ethical progress.
I will be attentive to those Stoic virtues which, firstly, it seems to me are distinct to the Stoics, presupposing specifically Stoic philosophical ideas; and, secondly, those which are, if not “revolutionary”, then proffer significant challenges to more standard understandings of the virtues.
Some technical caveats before we begin
There are some technical complications which are worth mentioning before we commence, though (readers interested in the “meat”, please scroll down). For instance, definitions of five of the virtues are significantly different in Pseudo-Andronicus, as against Arius Didymus. Three other virtues’ definitions differ in less significant ways.
Pseudo-Andronicus gives two definitions of several of his forty-two virtues, like agchinoia (shrewdness), karteria (endurance), and great-souledness (megalopsychia) which are complimentary but not identical. He also lists some forms of excellence or competence as virtues, like military generalship, political leadership, and the ability to run a household, which not everyone will be called upon always to exercise.
Whereas Arius Didymus’ list identifies all forms of virtue as kinds of knowledge, in Pseudo-Andronicus we have 16 identified as hexeis, which we’ve translated as state or “habitus”, and two are forms of empeiria or “experience”, including eutaxia, a kind of moderation also listed as as a “knowledge” in Stobaeus. How much we are to make of these word-choices is I believe difficult to say with clarity, and would take us into large theoretical debates.
Finally, although Pseudo-Andronicus lists nine forms of justice, Arius Didymus lists two forms which Pseudo-Andronicus doesn’t. This would carry our tally to some forty-one virtues!
So, there are many overlaps between what these “doxographic” sources report to suggest a common tradition. At the same time, as Diogenes Laertius explicitly says, there was clearly scope for disagreements on details, and even such basic issues as whether some virtues ought to be considered “theoretical” and others “practical” (which Panaetius upheld).
With that much said, herewith is the list of the virtues from Pseudo-Andronicus’ Peri pathôn, the two forms of justice listed by Stobaeus from Arius Didymus appended.
The list of Stoic Virtues in Pseudo-Andronicus
Pseudo-Andronicus SVF III, 264-273.
- Phronêsis: the epistêmê (knowledge) of what is good and bad and neither
- Sôphrosynê: the knowledge of what is choice-worthy and not choice-worthy and neither
- Dikaiosunê: the state/habitus (hexis) of being disposed to distribute fairly to each what is their due.
- Andreia: knowledge of what is dangerous and not dangerous and what is neither.
- Basilikê: the experience of directly ruling/leading many/a crowd/a population.
- Stratêgikê the theoretical and practical hexis concerning how to bring together/govern the military.
- Oikonomikê: the theoretical and practical state concerning how to govern/bring together a household.
- Politikê: the theoretical and practical state concerning how to govern/bring together a city.
- Dialektikê: the knowledge of how to dialogue
- Rêtorikê: the knowledge of how to speak well
- Physikê: the knowledge of things concerning nature.
- Euboulia: knowledge of expedient things [under phronêsis in Stobaeus; also in DL]
14a. Agchinoia (1): the hexis to [be able to] find what is appropriate or dutiful in what is near at hand. [for Stobaeus listed under phronêsis; also in DL]
14b. Agchinoia (2): knowledge to find what is appropriate on the spot. [as in Stobaeus]
- Pronoia: the state of being able to find a way to what is best in what might be practicable and useful. [not listed in Stobaeus]
- Eulogistia: the knowledge of what is becoming/taking place and what has been completed.
- Nounecheia: knowledge of what is worse and what is better.
- Eustochia: the successful knowledge of the target/aim (scopou).
- Eumêchania: the knowledge to find the way out of things.
- Austeria: the hexis according to which one neither brings others into association for pleasure nor accepts that form of association.
- Enkrateia: the state which is invincible, cannot be lessened, by pleasures. [in DL]
- Euteleia: thriftiness: the state of not being excessive in expenditures or preparations.
- Litotês: simplicity, plainness: the state of governing/leading present things or people.
- Kosmiotês: the knowledge concerning what is proper or fitting in motion and rest.
- Eutaxia: the experience of assigning courses either concerning actions having certainty or arrangements of actions.
- Autarcheia: the state of governing things which are necessary and through this being able to secure things appropriate to living.
- Eleutheriotês: the state, in giving up and accepting [things], of harmoniously returning [them to their places].
- Chrêstiotês: the state of voluntarily doing good actions.
- Dikastikê: the knowledge of judgments and corrections and offences.
- Eugnomosunê: [the state of] doing just things.
- Eusebeia: the knowledge of how to care for the gods.
- Eucharistia: the knowledge of to whom and when one should provide thanks and how and for what.
- Hosiotês: the episteme of providing faith/trust and adherence to just actions towards god.
- Eusunallaxia: fair dealing: the state in dealings [with others] of guarding/preserving what/who is just.
- Nomothetikê: the knowledge of things politically assigned towards upholding/preserving what is common.
36a.Karteria: endurance: is the lasting knowledge of having judged correctly. [in DL]
36b. Karteria: the knowledge of what is abiding/secure, what is not, and what is neither.
- Tharraleotês: the knowledge according to which we know that we are prepared
- Megalopsychia: the knowledge of being above [the things] which naturally happens (ginetai) to both wise and fools (phaulois).
38b. Megalopsychia: the knowledge of being above what befalls both the wise and fools. [in DL]
39.a. Eupsychia: the knowledge of the mind/soul providing it with invincibility.
39.b. Eupsychia: the good tone (vigor, elasticity) of the psyche towards the completion of its works.
- Philoponia: the well-accomplished knowledge of what is set before one (prokeimenon) and what is to be used up [through toil].
- Lêma: the state able to find what is immediately needed/handy (procheirous) for the completion of necessary things and to persevere in choosing what has/is according to logos.
- Megaloprepeia: the state which itself raises up (epairousa) those who have it and fills [them] with spirit/purpose/pride (phronêmatos).
Stobaeus [under justice]
- Eukoinônêsian: good fellowship: knowledge of equality (isotêtos) in community/society (koinônia)
- Aidêmosunê: modesty: knowledge which is cautious to avoid shameful fault/proper criticism [LS].
At first sight, the list presents itself as confusing, with many similar sounding virtues. Some eleven of the virtues have the Greek prefix eu– meaning (roughly) “good”, two under courage share the prefix megalo-, roughly “great” or “large”. But it is well to recall that the Stoics hold that, ultimately, all the virtues are unified. So, we should expect such seeming overlap or complementary between different forms of wisdom, moderation, justice, and courage.
On the other hand, the idea of physics, logic, dialectic and rhetoric as virtues, as against kinds of theoretical knowledge or “skills” would take some unpacking.
So let’s drill down a bit, using the subheadings of the four cardinal Platonic-Stoic virtues to get our orientation.
It is one thing to invoke “wisdom” (phronêsis, sophia), or even to suggest that wisdom is the knowledge of how to live well, or, using some technical categories, knowledge of what to select and avoid. Pseudo-Andronicus’ list allows us to go deeper, or into more specifics of what the Stoic version will look like.
With eulogistia, we have a knowledge of what is taking place, and what has been completed: a situational awareness. Agchinoia, in both its definitions, highlights this ability (which, as a virtue, has to be cultivated) to assess what is going on “on the spot” or “near at hand”.
On the other hand, with eustochia, there is knowledge of what is the best target (skopos) for a person in a situation. Here, the Stoic distinction between a skopos, what we can control, and telos, what we might wish for if things we can’t control allow it is in the background.
Such a sense of what we want in a situation—as Stoics, to act consistently with virtue and nature—informs the ability “to find what is appropriate or dutiful”, that is, the kathêkonta, in any situation. We know that for the Stoics, what is appropriate for us depends both on the situation, and also what roles we play in it—as friends, lovers, parents, children, community or team members, etc.
There is also in nounecheia a knowledge of what is worse and better. Stoics are often presented critically as dogmatists, pulpit-thumping, joyless Absolutists, for whom there is right and there is wrong. Here we see that they explicitly allow a virtue which is “relative”, in the sense of being able to recognize the existence of multiple possible actions, with varying prospects of success and effects. There may be any number of appropriate actions possible in a situation for a person, and in such situations, there is still a virtue in choosing that which is better, relative to our skopos and our goals.
With pronoia—a word which in other settings means foresight, and even can be used to describe what we call “providence” or “fate”—we have a knowledge to find the best way to “what is best” or merely “practicable” and “useful”. In euboulia, we have the idea of what is beneficial or even expedient (sympheron)—again, hardly an “Absolute” idea.
Then we have eumêchania, which looks like a wisdom in finding your way out of tight spots, something akin to what we mostly recognize as “cleverness” or even “cunning”. But in the Stoic case, this virtue is nested within the search for what is beneficial, useful, and appropriate to us, the theoretically-informed understanding of “what is good and bad and neither”, as against cunning in its usual sense, which serves unphilosophical egoisms.
Justice is a Stoic virtue, which concerns distributions, yet it is the least talked about, even when we acknowledge its presence. It is the only one of the four virtues that directly invokes others, to whom and from whom the “distributions” will apply. The Stoics have a key role in shaping the natural law tradition in moral-political theory.
So, what does Pseudo-Andronicus’ list of nine forms of justice tell us, together with the further two from Arius Didymus, about what Stoic justice might look like, on the ground?
First of all, with chrestiotês and eugnomosunê, we have virtues which involve a lasting will to do just or good things: in the former, this will has shaped a hexis or lasting disposition.
But which things are these? There are two virtues which involve justice towards the gods—Stoicism’s theological dimension needs to be acknowledged. Then there is a virtue, eusunallaxia, which speaks to economic transactions, in which it preserves to dikaion, what is just, perhaps people who are just. Conning people is out, although there were disagreements in the later Hellenistic period about how much information a Stoic is bound to give others about market conditions, in order to make a sale.
With dikastikê, we have knowledge concerning offences, when people transgress ethical and even legal norms, and about how best to punish them. This was a great concern of the Stoics’ hero, Socrates, at least as he is presented to us in Plato’s Gorgias.
On the other hand, with eucharistia, we have a virtue about how we ought to respond to people who have behaved well, and benefited us. The text to look at here would of course be Seneca’s Of Benefits, as well as book I of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. This wonderful virtue tells us we need to know to whom we owe gratitude, why, and how. An excess of unwise good feeling means we would direct this towards folk who don’t deserve it, and one thinks here again of conmen who promise the world and deliver a harvest of nothing, or troubles.
Eleutheriotês, “liberality”, is a difficult one to understand. It seems to involve things which we should let go or give back. As a form of justice, it is implied that what one “should” give back will involve things which properly belong to others, or which they can better use. More widely, liberality tends to refer to expenditures, in particular by those wealthy enough to have disposable income which they can use more or less well, for competing causes.
With nomothetike and, in Arius Didymus, eukoinônêsian is extremely important. This “knowledge” is of equality (isotêtos) in community/society (koinōnia). How wide this community is, is unclear: koinōnia might only imply a small group of people. How equality is to be understood is also impossible to say, on the basis of this definition. But the Stoic commitment to fundamental equality of all human beings, as in possession of logos, is clear.
Nomethetike’s definition speaks of things that are common or indeed, community (koinōnia) itself. Supporting courses of action which destroy communities is inconsistent with Stoicism.
Moderation in Aristotle concerns bodily pleasures. And the reference is here in the Stoic ideas too.
With enkrateia, self-control (literally) or “continence”, in older translations, we have a virtue which means we cannot let pleasures diminish us. What seems intended here is the arch-post-Socratic idea that a person who is governed by their own want for pleasures is no less a slave than politically dominated people. Indeed, since our desires are internal, we can never escape them, unlike political tyrants.
In austeria, we should not associate with others solely on grounds of the pleasures, particularly sensuous, they might furnish us. This sounds (indeed) “austere” to us, but a comparison text might be those sections of Epictetus’ Manual, wherein he gives us advice on things like feasting, talking, gossiping, laughter, and sex.
Aidêmosunê is a knowledge which is cautious to avoid what is shameful: that is, to fall into vices. The placement of the virtue by Arius Didymus under moderation suggests that the vice in question which would attract shame concern being led by the nose by one’s desires and bodily pleasures, as well as desire for money and power, as what can procure them.
Euteleia specifically concerns money, and the link with eleutheriotês (under justice) is clear. One should not spend too much, relative to what? Relative to one’s specific roles and targets (agchinoia) and what is expedient (euboulia) to achieve one’s targets (eustochia). Autarcheia involves ordering or governing things such that we achieve what is necessary and secure things “appropriate to living”. Such a virtue speaks against anxiety and desire concerning things which creatures like us do not need or need to flourish.
Under moderation, we also have kosmiotês, a virtue for ordering what we actively do, and when we are at rest: a virtue which points to the need to make boundaries between work and play.
Eutaxia, ordering courses of action well, is a planning virtue, or so it seems to me. Marcus Aurelius (eg: Meditations, VIII.36) asks us to break big tasks into small tasks, as a means to allay stress. With this form of moderation, we have come a long way from anything like Aristotle’s more widely-known understanding of sôphrosunê.
The forms of courage, I would contend, are in many ways the most interesting, and most distinctively Stoic. Stoicism is of course known for being what we call a philosophy of “resilience”, and indeed, all forms of courage involve responding to adversities or things which are difficult.
Philoponia is a telling virtue. It is love of hard work (ponos), if need be, in order to do things which we have chosen to pursue (see eustochia).
With lêma, we have something that doesn’t immediately shout out “courage” for us, but something closer to agchinoia (a form of wisdom) and eutaxia (a form of moderation): a virtue to find what is needed right now, to complete things which are necessary (see autarcheia). Interestingly, however, it involves persevering in choosing things that are reasonable or have Logos, a key Stoic term.
Courage is of course never fully courage unless it takes in wisdom. Wisdom is ultimately about choosing what is best for the kinds of creatures we are, as creatures having Logos.
But, beyond these definitions, it is fascinating that each of the forms of courage involves a kind of reflective stance: that is, one which positions oneself, one’s actions and mind, in the larger world. We might have expected this reflectivity more in forms of phronêsis, where the forms of knowledge, as we’ve seen, involve concern for appropriate, expedient, ongoing, completed, better and worse things and courses of action.
Under andreia, we have a lasting knowledge, or perhaps a willingness to stand by, what we have chosen (karteria). Tharraleotês involves a courageous knowledge that we are prepared for whatever happens—a virtue which is difficult to conceive outside of a Stoic framework, for which things we can’t control are all considered to be “indifferent”.
Such a revaluation of all values means that a Stoic who has made progress will over time reasonably develop a sense of confidence that, whatever happens, “they’ve got this”. If someone thinks money or fame is needed to be happy, they may have an inflated sense of confidence—but fundamentally, their state of mind will depend on things they can’t determine.
Megalopsychia is again another virtue which, I’d contend, one needs to have a Stoic position to approach. It is a knowledge of what befalls wise and unwise people alike. And what are such things? Well, externals: money, fame, power, reputation, health and illness … everything we can’t control. To be above those things here means to be able to evaluate them, as if from above, as not necessary to live well. But such a consideration of externals as “indifferents” is distinctly Stoic, as well as Cynic, position in the ancient philosophies.
The same of course then applies to eupsychia, the sense of “invincibility” one would need to be above or indifferent to externals to even countenance—since these things can always go against us. And then there is megaloprepeia, a hexis which again raises up (epairousa) its possessor, and fills them with a sense of their true worth—and this is an interesting word, phronêmatos, that is used here, which in non-Stoic sources (like Aeschylus) is associated with hybristic pride. The Stoic use of it to define a virtue suggests that the Sage would be worthy of feeling such a sense of themselves.
The good Stoic life, as it emerges from the definitions
So, what can we say of what the Stoic life would look like, if ideally, it would embody these over forty different virtues?
It would not be “more of the same”. Following Socrates, the pursuit of money, fame, beauty, power, and the bodily pleasures would become indifferent to the Stoic: at most preferred, but only in moderation, and governed by their larger sense of what is necessary for a good human life, what is expedient or useful to the targets they have chosen, and what is appropriate, given their places and roles in relation to other human beings.
They would be canny in different circumstances, attentive to things and situations around them, and able at need to quickly identify and pursue what is needed, and even how to get out of a tight spot. They would not be dogmatically inflexible, even as they would resiliently stand by what they have adjudged to be just, even despite adversity. But they would realise that in many circumstances, there are more than two options, and a whole range of better and worse pursuits. They would be patient and considered enough to divide, schedule and plan their actions, to the extent any of us can, but always awake to the things that are beyond their control.
They would not necessarily be a teetotaller, or kill-joy, but they would enjoy bodily pleasures in moderation, never participating in activities they deem shameful, or cultivating excesses which produce forms of dependency on externals which they know cannot provide lasting happiness.
To their knowledge of when, who, what, and why to be grateful to those deserving, they would acknowledge that some forms of action are shameful, avoiding themselves, and not shrinking from appropriately punishing them in others. They would respect others as fundamentally equal to themselves, and scrupulously avoid becoming involved in unfair or sneaky dealings with others, which have the predictable effects of destroying fellowship. For them, koinônia, community, is something which needs to be promoted and preserved, not exploited for private gain, and “the devil take the hindmost”.
For all of these reasons, as one can imagine, they would have a strong sense of confidence, that whatever befalls them, they will have resources to respond as wisely as possible, and without falling into distress. They might well experience the “good passion” of “caution”, given the world is full of fools. But they will sense that they are meaningfully “invincible”, in the sense of Socrates’ claim that “the good man cannot be harmed”—their body, of course, and their external goods, but not their mind, soul or psyche (the faculty of choice).
They will be above what befalls wise and unwise people: adversities will still present themselves, and difficult choices, but they will have harvested a Stoic sense that what happens outside of them, and even to them at the hands of fate and other people, does not determine who they are, and what they most highly value.
They will hence persevere in choosing things which they deem according to reason or Logos, at the same time as the descriptions of phronêsis assure us that they will remain awake to what is happening, and the way fortune is subject to unpredictable reversals which each need to be taken into deliberative account.
Will they be excessively proud and self-righteous, as people have charged, since at least the days of Saint Augustine and the Church Fathers? They will have a sense of invincibility faced with things they cannot control, and a stable sense of the abiding worth of the way of life they have chosen, but they will also live relatively simply, and be moved by a just sense of gratitude to others, and also to nature or the gods. They will not assent to pride or a sense of value for anything they merely happen at some times to possess, let alone for forms of worth which are attributed to them falsely by others.
Such a way of life is meaningfully very different from the lives our societies mostly promote for us, and there is no two ways about it. The very attraction of Stoicism, it can be argued, comes in no small measure in the ways that, like Socrates, it asks us to fundamentally question what we value, what is good and worth pursuing, and why.
Of course, bits and pieces of Stoic wisdom can be spliced off, to enable people to pursue the same things our societies promote—wealth, power, followers, beauty, fame … But one more valuable thing which is furnished us by having at our disposal the long list of Stoic virtues in Pseudo-Andronicus and Arius Didymus is how it allows us to show how partial, selective, and ultimately non-Stoic such selective appropriations of the philosophy will be.
Matthew Sharpe teaches philosophy in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Stoicism, Bullying, and Beyond and coauthor of Philosophy as a Way of Life: History, Dimensions, Directions. His website is https://matthewsharpe.podia.com/, and his blog, on Stoicism, philosophy, and psychological subjects is Castalian Stream – Medium.