“Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power.”
– Alfred Lord Tennyson, Oenone.
After distinguishing virtue from similar terms and analyzing its categories, we return to the five levels of ethics discussed early in this site’s history.1 The first of these is the level of the self which I discussed in detail in that section.2 Virtue at the level of the self is often called self-mastery and I concluded that its comprehensive form includes five surprisingly elusive components:
1. Self-discipline – mastery of instincts, desires, and emotions and the development of equanimity and poise,
2. Selflessness- the commitment to right action with others, society, and nature based on humility and fortitude,
3. Self-knowledge – psychological and ontological understanding of the self,
4. Self-improvement – lifelong dedication to acquiring new skills and increasing knowledge,
5. Self-actualization –determining and aiming for one’s unique purpose or authenticity.
These five components prepare us for a virtuous and meaningful life that benefits not only ourselves, but our fellow men and nature. They are the means to transcend the merely physical creature we are in the vast universe. Self-mastery it turns out is the foundation of all virtuous living as it affects all of our actions.
We can draw on many traditions for guidance on self-mastery – at a minimum: Taoism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Classical Greek philosophy, Stoicism, Christianity, Existentialism, science (psychology), and common sense philosophy. It is impossible to undertake a complete analysis of these systems with respect to the five components listed above in the span of the book unfolding on this site. Therefore I will attempt to extract potent elements of some of them as samples of the rich literature covering guidance on internal excellence available to the reader. But at the end of the day, it is up to the reader to consult these texts for more detailed direction.
1See posts on this website category Ethics dated 12/5/18 – 12/12/18 and 12/17/18 – 1/4/19.
2See posts on this website Self-Mastery Parts I-111 dated 12/7/18, 12/10/18 and 12/12/18.