Values from the Stoic Perspective

October 2001

This chart is meant to be used with the article "Emotions and Values in Turbulent Times," a modification of an older article and public presentation called "An Introduction to Stoic Ethics." The translations of key terms are not entirely orthodox classical Stoicism but are, I hope, somewhat less paradoxical than the usual translations.

Wherever a list uses "etc." there are other items that could be added. For instance, I only give five virtues, but there are many more.

We classify values as unqualified goods, unqualified evils, or things comparatively (to unqualified goods and evils) "of little account." The latter are neither unqualifiedly good nor unqualifiedly evil. For a partial listing of these items, click here.


Character Traits Virtues or Excellences

1. Wisdom
2. Justice
3. Bravery
4. Temperance
5. Generosity


1. Folly (or Ignorance)
2. Injustice
3. Cowardice
4. Intemperance
5. Ungenerosity

Acts Virtuous Acts

1. Wise acts
2. Just acts
3. Brave acts
4. Temperate acts
5. Generous acts

Vicious Acts

1. Foolish acts
2. Unjust acts
3. Cowardly acts
4. Intemperate acts
5. Ungenerous acts

Feelings Good Feelings8

1. Wish
2. Caution
3. Joy
[No good feeling contrary to distress]

"Passions," a.k.a. Violent Feelings7

1. Lust
2. Fear
3. Delight5
4. Distress6

(Compared to Unqualified Goods and Evils)

We classify "things of little account" into three mutually exclusive classes: qualified goods or advantageous things, qualified evils or disadvantageous things, and and unqualifiedly indifferent. Unqualifiedly indifferent things are neither advantageous nor disadvantageous.

Advantageous Things2 Disadvantageous Things2
1. Survival or mere life
2. Physical beauty
3. Health
4. Popularity
5. "Good" reputation
6. Wealth
7. Technical ability
1. Death
2. Ugliness
3. Illness
4. Unpopularity
5. "Bad" reputation
6. Poverty
7. Lack of technical ability


1. It is important to remember that the terms translated "unqualifiedly good," "unqualified evil," "of little account," "advantageous," and "disadvantageous" have precise meanings within the context of Stoic philosophy. These translations do not always correspond to the normal meanings of the words in contemporary English. (The meaning of the original Stoic terms did not always correspond to the normal meanings of the words in the original Greek, for that matter.)

2. "Advantageous" things are also called primary things in accord with nature and "disadvantageous" things are also called primary things contrary to nature. Of course, that does not mean that selecting advantageous things has priority over choosing the good, but that advantageous things are the things that we naturally pursue, even as children, long before we study philosophy and try to become virtuous. Likewise, disadvantageous things are the sorts of things that even children tend to avoid in favor of advantageous things.

3. The ancient Stoics distinguished not only between unqualifiedly good things, unqualifiedly evil things and "of little account" (in their terms, indifferent) things, but within the latter class, they distinguished between advantageous things, disadvantageous things and unqualifiedly indifferent things. The chart gives no examples of unqualifiedly indifferent things.

4. Within the classes of unqualifiedly good things, unqualifiedly evil things, advantageous things and disadvantageous things, the Stoics also distinguished between "___ for themselves" and "___ for other things." Money, for instance, is an advantageous thing (preferred) for other things, i.e., as a means. The charts do not make this distinction between "for themselves" and "for other things."

5. The Greek word "hedone," here translated by "delight," is ambiguous. On the one hand, it represents a class of passions or emotions and falls under the class of evil things. There I have translated it "delight." On the other hand, it represents physical pleasure. Some ancient reporters regarding Stoicism place physical pleasure among the advantageous things; others say that it has some positive value but not enough to be included even among the advantageous things. Cicero is aware of the distinction between these two meanings of "hedone," translating it as "laetitia" (delight) when he means the "passion," as "voluptas" (pleasure) when he means physical pleasure.

6. The Greek writers on Stoicism distinguish in practice between "lupe," which I translate as "distress" (following translators of Cicero, who uses the Latin "aegritudo" for the Greek "lupe"), and "ponos," which I translate as "pain" (following translators of Cicero, who uses the Latin "dolor" for the Greek "ponos").

7. The four "passions" listed under Evils are really genera (large classes) of passions. These four genera are broken down more specifically in the reports we have of ancient Stoic ethics. Anger, for instance, is not ignored but is included as a specific kind of lust. Based on the ancient records, we could construct an interesting classificatory chart of the passions according to the Stoics.

8. Note that the good feelings correspond (as contraries) to the passions Lust, Fear, and Delight. No good feeling corresponds to Distress. Stoic sages, if there are any, will experience the good feelings. Persons who are not sages will experience the passions. I suspect that the ancient Stoics would have admitted, if pressed, that Stoics who are not sages but are making progress toward wisdom will experience a kind of anticipation or foreshadowing of the good feelings.