In a previous post, we discussed the Four Virtues of Stoicism – Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Self-Control. This post and the next three will focus on each of the Four Virtues in more detail, beginning with the most important for Stoics and for attorneys.

Wisdom is the cornerstone of Stoic thought. Plato’s students, editing a collection of philosophical definitions, define wisdom (prudentia in Latin and phronêsis in Greek) as:

The ability which by itself is productive of human happiness; the knowledge of what is good and bad; the knowledge that produces happiness; the disposition by which we judge what is to be done and what is not to be done.

Speusippus, Definitions

Thus, to a Stoic, Wisdom is the knowledge required to determine what is right, what is wrong, and what is neither right nor wrong but indifferent. Stoicism obligates one to act in accordance with nature. By this a Stoic means that one must use reason to determine what is right and what is wrong, and then act accordingly. Wisdom is the virtue by which a person fuses all of her accumulated knowledge and brings the entire package to bear when determining the next course of action.

Stoics believe that most things are indifferent. For instance, when put to use for solving the problems of the world, great wealth may be a positive influence in someone’s life. However, when a person forgets his ethical code to amass that money, the same great wealth certainly harms the person and almost always ends with harming society. Therefore, wealth is neither good nor bad; it is just indifferent. Wisdom is the virtue that allows a person to make sure that most of the indifferents in her life can be positive, or a “preferred indifferent,” and few of the indifferents in her life can be negative, or a “dispreferred indifferent.”

Recall when you were a newly sworn-in attorney. Every time you worked with a more experienced attorney, you were often amazed at how quickly he identified the core issue and the fact that likely provided the solution to that issue. As time wore on, though, you may have started to recognize your own speed improving. You started to recognize situations repeating themselves in your work. You knew how you attempted to resolve those situations, including what resolutions worked for your clients and what resolutions did not. You may have found that most real-world issues our clients bring us are more like a hamburger and less like a Kobe fillet. Initially, every situation provided a chance to amass knowledge, and now every situation provides a chance to practice the virtue of Wisdom by applying that amassed knowledge.

Just as Wisdom is the cornerstone of Stoic thought, Wisdom is also the cornerstone of what we do everyday. So much of our day is either applying our knowledge to a unique set of circumstances or accumulating additional knowledge by facing a new situation completely. 

So, how do you practice the virtue of Wisdom? Let’s talk about it in the comments. 

Next up will be a discussion of another of the Stoic virtues near and dear to our attorney hearts: Justice. In the meantime, I’d like to know if this blog is bringing you any value. I’d also like to know if there are any concepts you would like me to tackle. You can add them to the comments below or email me at [email protected].