STOICISM & FREEMASONRY: The Four Cardinal Virtues

Within the last seven years since I was raised as a Master Mason, I learned a great deal about the important lessons embedded in all our lectures. Whether it be the Stewards’ Lectures, the allegory of the Middle Chamber, or the Charges. These were written and are part of the rituals for a reason. Treat it as a guideline to becoming a better person, at least that’s how I took it.

As someone who began practicing the philosophy of Stoicism, I cannot help but reflect upon all the many things I’ve learned about Freemasonry and draw some similarities. For instance, I’m sure we all know of the four cardinal virtues that every mason to this day attempts to perfect in their walk of life. They are FortitudePrudenceTemperance, and Justice. While in Stoicism the cardinal virtues are WisdomJusticeCourage, and Temperance.

Fortitude

For masons, fortitude is that noble and steady purpose of the mind or courage in the face of pain or adversity. It is how we build our character, improve our moral fiber, and strengthen our minds to manage the challenges of life. This is similar to Courage in Stoicism. It teaches us courage to face misfortune, courage to realize our own mortality, and courage to risk oneself for the sake of their fellow man. Stoicism teaches us courage to hold our principles and courage to speak your mind and insist on truth.

Prudence

For masons, prudence enables us to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictates of reason. Simply, it is a practice of good judgement, common sense, and the wisdom we acquire in our journey through life. Prudence is essentially the most exalted object that demands every Mason’s special attention, for it is the rule that governs all virtues. This is remarkably similar to Stoic’s virtue of Wisdom. The Stoics believed that virtue is good and leads to happiness. While vices pulls us further from it. Wisdom is simply our ability to know what is what, and in knowing, we can guide our actions more deliberately.

Temperance

For masons, Temperance is that due restraint upon our affections and passions and frees the mind from the allurement of all the vices and superfluities of life. When practiced and perfected, we will be able to abstain from all actions that may impair our faculties and perceptions. Temperance goes back to the very first instructions we learned as an Entered Apprentice: “to learn to subdue our passions.” It is very much similar to Stoic’s virtue of Temperance. It relates to self-restraint, self-discipline, and self-control. It is our ability to choose long-term well-being over short-term satisfaction. 

Justice

For Masons, justice deals with our rights and obligations towards other people. It means respecting others and fulfilling our obligations to them. It means expressing gratitude toward those who have done us kindness. Justice dictates fairness, honesty, morality, and neutrality in the treatment of all humankind more especially a Brother Mason. The exercise of this virtue motivates us to act towards others in a manner that we wish they would act towards us. To the Stoics, Justice expresses a similar sentiment. Justice for the Stoics is a duty to our fellow men and to our society. It is the morality behind how we act, especially in relation to our community and the people within it.

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