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STOIC POETRY | The grounding of goodness

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

It is said that good actions are their own reward; bearing an immediate and lasting fruit of nearly tangible well-being unto at least the actor and perhaps the recipient and observer of his works. But what is the nature of this "goodness" that it be "good", and the action of it's pursuit constitute a course-way of virtue? Are good works virtuous by way of opinion, or through the pursuit and achievement of some higher end - an absolute standard by which our decisions and actions are measured?

The latter proposition seems wishful thinking, and the hope of someone unwilling to perform the difficult work of studying, discovering, and constructing the lattice infrastructure of an ethical system capable of supporting and carrying its own weight. How much easier to simply claim that what is "right" is engraved upon our hearts, not less than the very stuff of the matter and energy of everything which exists. "There, I'm done! I've justified right and wrong by virtue of this bold proclamation that it is so." But how, I ask, might you demonstrate that what you claim to have justified as true? Upon what reality is your system grounded? "Well, Isn't it apparent?!" you proclaim, with some sense of exasperation, "Have you not witnessed the trees! - which existence alone announces and demonstrates the truth of not only this Law, but of the Law-giver itself!" And what proof is there of this Law-giver of which you speak? Where is this one's abode, and evidence of both power and authority? And with that question, you might soon lead me to that special place where you keep your deepest treasure of all, your faith; and though you cannot show me anything there but vapor and dream, you nevertheless bow your head in awe and quiet supplication to the empty vessel which justifies your hope of a cosmos with some purpose and end beside cold silence and disorder. But like the emperor with his new clothes, I must announce as the boy did, "there is nothing to see."

That leaves us then with our own wits. For if there is no superstructure of ethics pervading the cosmos and our hearts, then we've nothing left to do but roll up our sleeves and make something of it. But, not just anything...something based on something real, our own objective sense of right and wrong; objective to the point that these values may be communicated, argued, adjusted, agreed upon and shared; before becoming codified in our malleable laws and customs, and passed on through mitigated tradition. These things become our justice, and our law, and our right and wrong, and good and bad, and the very real "thing" upon which our lives are grounded and filled with meaning. And thus, our good actions then become their own reward; not in fiction, or dream, or the vain hope of meaning, but in the truest sense of grounded purpose, mortared into the very chinks of life by way not of dogma, but through the demonstrated - and truly apparent - consequence of works. And when you ask me how I might demonstrate that this is true; I respond not "Have you not witnessed the trees!?" but instead, simply, "Look upon the smile in their eyes."


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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