This short explainer will provide you with a straightforward understanding of what the Stoic virtue of Courage is and how you can apply it in your life.
Definition Of Stoic Courage
Stoic Courage comes from the Greek term “andreia” (ανδρεία). The definition of the virtue is thought to precede the Stoics and can be found in the teachings of Plato.
Plato’s definition of the virtue of Courage is as follows:
The state of the soul which is unmoved by fear; military confidence; knowledge of the facts of warfare; self-restraint in the soul about what is fearful and terrible; boldness in obedience to wisdom; being intrepid in the face of death; the state which stands on guard over correct thinking in dangerous situations; force which counterbalances danger; force of fortitude in respect of virtue; calm in the soul about what correct thinking takes to be frightening or encouraging things; the preservation of fearless beliefs about the terrors and experiences of warfare; the state which cleaves to the law.
These definitions are perhaps somewhat abstract and antiquated, but their practicality can be clarified by Courage’s subdivisions of endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness.
In his book The Quest for Character, the modern Stoic author Massimo Pigliucci provides the following succinct definition of his own which gives further clarity:
Emotional strength that involves the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of internal or external opposition; specific manifestations include bravery, perseverance, and authenticity (honesty).
What the Stoics Said
The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero, although not a Stoic himself, admired Stoicism and wrote extensively about its principles, particularly in his work On Duties where he has the following to say about Stoic Courage:
The soul that is altogether courageous and great is marked above all by two characteristics: one of these is indifference to outward circumstances; for such a person cherishes the conviction that nothing but moral goodness and propriety deserves to be either admired or wished for or striven after, and that he ought not to be subject to any man or any passion or any accident of fortune. The second characteristic is that, when the soul is disciplined in the way above mentioned, one should do deeds not only great and in the highest degree useful, but extremely arduous and laborious and fraught with danger both to life and to many things that make life worth living.
In essence, Cicero is saying that the courageous person will stop at nothing to act in the name of moral goodness (virtue).
Another Roman philosopher, Musonius Rufus, spoke of Stoic Courage in a lecture about why women should be allowed to study philosophy. His words, however, apply to everyone:
Now as for courage, certainly it is to be expected that the educated woman will be more courageous than the uneducated, and one who has studied philosophy than one who has not; and she will not therefore submit to anything shameful because of fear of death or unwillingness to face hardship, and she will not be intimidated by anyone because he is of noble birth, or powerful, or wealthy, no, not even if he be the tyrant of her city. For in fact she has schooled herself to be high-minded and to think of death not as an evil and life not as a good, and likewise not to shun hardship and never for a moment to seek ease and indolence.
Seneca, in his 85th Letter to Lucilius, reinforces Cicero’s notion that Stoic Courage is dependent upon knowing what is morally good and what is morally evil and acting accordingly:
If men knew what bravery was, they would have no doubts as to what a brave man’s conduct should be. For bravery is not thoughtless rashness, or love of danger, or the courting of fear-inspiring objects; it is the knowledge which enables us to distinguish between that which is evil and that which is not. Bravery takes the greatest care of itself, and likewise endures with the greatest patience all things which have a false appearance of being evils.
How Can I Practice Stoic Courage?
It’s worth remembering that Stoic Courage isn’t mere physical bravery, but a profound inner strength — a resilience we build that enables us to face life’s challenges with equanimity.
The Stoics believed that Courage wasn’t an isolated trait, but an integral part of living virtuously, and should be practiced in harmony with the other three cardinal virtues of Wisdom, Justice, and Temperance.
It’s equally important to remember that Stoic Courage is not about rash actions or recklessness; rather, it’s about aligning our will with reason and acting virtuously regardless of external circumstances.
In other words, it’s less about what you’re not afraid of and more about what you are afraid of but are willing to face.
On top of that, it’s about knowing what is worth fearing and what is worth facing. For the Stoics, the intention behind a display of Courage is important — there is little value, for example, in needlessly endangering oneself in order to appear courageous.
In his 85th Letter to Lucilius, Seneca emphasises this by refuting the suggestion that a courageous person is identified by their willingness to expose themselves to dangers:
By no means; he will merely not fear them, though he will avoid them. It is proper for him to be careful, but not to be fearful.
Stoic Courage shines brightest when life throws challenges our way. It’s the virtue that enables us to endure pain, loss, or setbacks and stand up for what’s right even when it’s unpopular or uncomfortable.
It isn’t about charging into battle heedlessly; it’s about cultivating resilience and wisdom, and knowing what the intentions are behind our courageous acts. As we face life’s storms, courage helps us to embrace adversity, accept our fate gracefully, and act virtuously — because true courage lies within the soul.
In summary, Stoic Courage isn’t a fleeting moment of valor or the state of being fearless; it’s a steady flame that illuminates our path toward virtue, enabling us to face and overcome the obstacles on that path.