When we think of courage, we often think of war, disaster, tyranny, and the people who show heart and determination in situations like these despite the seemingly overwhelming pressure not to.

However, courage can happen just as often in the comings and goings of everyday life. For you and me, it could be at work when we see something we don’t agree with or in our personal lives when we stand our ground.

To the Stoics, courage and our ability to display it, is one of the four virtues that were believed to lead to a life of happiness, or what they called eudaimonia.

In Stoicism, courage represents moral and psychological strength, resilience in the face of pain or grief, and a commitment to act in the right way even, or especially, in the face of fear.

By the end of your read I hope you will have learnt the following:

  • Understand the Stoic definition of courage as a virtue for personal growth, ethics, and an important ingredient in a happy life.

  • Strategies to develop courage in the face of both everyday challenges and significant hardship.

  • Find out how courage relates to the other virtues of wisdom, justice, and temperance to form a holistic Stoic approach to life.

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Stoicism, Courage, and the Cardinal Virtues

In Stoic philosophy, the cardinal virtues—wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage—are kind of like a compass that we can look to when we’re unsure how to act.

The virtues are a sort of manual that provides guidance when we’re under pressure, confused, conflicted, or simply looking to develop into a better person. At any time, we can turn to the Stoics and their philosophy of virtue and get a rough feel for how we should handle ourselves at any given time.

Today our focus will be on courage, but you can follow the links above to any of the other virtues if you’re curious.



Defining Stoic Courage

Generally speaking, courage, as a virtue, is not just about boldness or daring but also encompasses inner strength, moral resolve, and the determination to live virtuously regardless of external pressures.

These pressures could be social, financial, spiritual, or physical.

For the Stoics, courage is the virtue that enables us to confront our fears, uncertainty, and discomfort, whether physical or psychological.

It’s the strength to remain undaunted by threats to our physical well-being, social standing, or moral values.

If we are able to put aside our fears and reservations and act in a way we believe to be right, we have acted with courage.

The Different Types of Courage

Courage manifests in various forms:

  • Physical Courage: Bravery in the face of physical harm or life-threatening situations.

  • Moral Courage: The resolve to do what is right, regardless of social backlash or personal consequence.

  • Psychological Courage: Resilience against despair, maintaining composure under stress, or during life’s setbacks.

  • Endurance and Perseverance: The ability to persist through trials, a resilience to long-term difficulty, and tenacity in pursuing long-term goals.

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Stoic Courage in Daily Life

So, we know what the Stoics meant when they spoke about courage, but how does it apply to daily life?

In this day and age, living with courage is probably not going to mean jumping between your family and a pack of wolves or standing in a shield wall next to your countrymen, but there are still plenty of opportunities to display this virtue, even though the times have changed.

Courage could mean embracing the courage to be honest, to stand up for others, or to make difficult choices in our personal and professional lives.

Everyday courage is about consistently acting in alignment with our principles and not allowing external pressure to come between us and our values.

If we allow ourselves to bend to these pressures, we also allow life to chip away at our virtue. This can damage the way we see ourselves, how much we respect ourselves, and drag us further away from the Stoic ideal of eudaimonia.

The Dichotomy of Control and Stoic Courage

The Stoic principle of control is, to me, one of the most useful tools in the Stoic toolbox when learning ways to more frequently act with courage.

Simply speaking, we control very little in life.

We can’t control other people, the weather, the economy, the passing of time, traffic, or anything else external to us. We only have the power to control our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.”


By taking full responsibility for what we can control, we are better able to stand up for what is right. After all, the only person who can make us act is us, and the only person who can stop us from acting is us.

“You can bind up my leg, but not even Zeus has the power to break my freedom of choice.”

– Epictetus

The Intersection of Stoic Courage and Wisdom

Wisdom is the virtue that governs all other virtues. It allows us to determine right from wrong, fair from unfair, and good from evil.

For example, if we are not wise, we might fight for a cause that does more harm than good, we might stand up for a person who is in the wrong, or we could find ourselves arguing a point we believe to be fair or just only to find out that we didn’t understand it.

Wisdom makes sure that our other virtues are aligned with reason and logic.

A courageous Stoic acts not just with boldness, but with an understanding of the right course of action derived from rational discernment.

Overcoming Fear with Stoic Training

To develop courage, the Stoics suggest various exercises:

  • Voluntary Discomfort: Deliberately exposing oneself to uncomfortable situations to build resilience.

  • Premeditatio Malorum: The premeditation, or negative visualization, of potential adversities to lessen the impact of fear.

  • Reflection on Role Models: Contemplating the lives of individuals who exemplify courage to inspire and guide our actions.

  • Mindfulness and Presence: Practicing being fully present to deal with the current moment, rather than being distracted by hypothetical future fears.

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Conclusion: The Power of Stoic Courage

Adopting Stoic courage fundamentally alters how we interact with the world, and it helps us act in alignment with our values and principles despite our fears or pressure not to.

Courage, as the Stoics teach, is not the absence of fear but the mastery of our behavior despite it.

Through courage, we not only confront and overcome obstacles, but we also evolve into better versions of ourselves and get closer to the Stoic idea of eudaimonia.


  • Q: How can one start practicing Stoic courage in practical terms? A: Begin by identifying areas where fear holds you back, then set small, manageable challenges for yourself that address those fears. Reflect on Stoic principles and visualize confronting these fears with composure and integrity.

  • Q: Doesn’t Stoicism suggest suppressing emotions like fear? A: Stoicism does not advocate for the suppression of emotions but rather for understanding their origins and aligning our reactions with reason and virtue. Fear is seen as a natural response that can be managed and overcome through rational evaluation.

  • Q: Can Stoic courage help with anxiety? A: Yes, Stoic practices, including the emphasis on distinguishing between what we can and cannot control, can help in managing anxiety by focusing our efforts on our responses to worrying situations, rather than the situations themselves.

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