I was very fortunate to win a mentoring call with Professor Chris Gill after the Courageous Paths to Flourishing online gathering held on Saturday, 1st October 2022. As my dad has been taking an interest in Stoicism and had a few questions of his own, he sat in on the Zoom call.
Chris is one of the founders of the Modern Stoicism organisation. He has done much to bring the philosophy back to prominence today.
During the call, Chris generously shared a draft of a chapter from his upcoming book, Learning to Live Naturally: Stoic Ethics and its Modern Significance, which comes out in February 2023.
Chris and I share an interest in the virtues. We talked about how people writing in ancient times defined them. Chris also related a conversation he had with Matthew Sharpe about a list of virtues in another ancient source, pseudo-Andronicus.
Chris’s view is that virtue can be defined as expertise in leading a happy life.
Part of this is something I had never considered: The four cardinal virtues map to different aspects of human life.
Justice relates to how we interact with other people. Moderation relates to our emotions. Wisdom relates to our thought. Courage relates to our actions.
Courage, in isolation, is not a virtue. Courage must coexist with wisdom, moderation, and justice. This is the concept known as the “unity of the virtues.” This isn’t an abstract concept though; it’s not a thought experiment. To live a full and rich life, we need to develop all four virtues in unity. A person who focuses only on their own emotions (moderation), while neglecting care for others (justice), is not living their full human potential.
This has practical implications for how we choose to focus in our daily life. It also serves as proof that virtue is the only good worth pursuing. If these elements define a flourishing human life, then external circumstances are irrelevant to that end.
It was a very enlightening conversation that I could have continued for much longer. I’m looking forward to reading Professor Gill’s upcoming book and learning more.
Scott Bennett is a furniture and product designer in Denver, CO. After graduating from Loughborough University in automotive engineering and an early career designing racecars, he went on to found Housefish, a manufacturer of modern furniture. He discovered Stoicism after a chance encounter with a bust of Marcus Aurelius in Chicago and is now an active member of the Stoic Salon and New York City Stoics.
Courageous Paths to Flourishing featured a 90 minute Coaching Courage session. Stoic coaches shared stories of courage and then led workgroups on guiding us how to coach ourselves to be more courageous. The coaches were Tim LeBon, Andi Sciacca, Scott Perry, Lydia Scratch, Dr Matthew Sharpe, Simon Drew, Linda Bebbington, Nona Maiorano, and Katie Stidolph. We also awarded a number of coaching calls to participants.