"Lifting weights can be a kind of moral training in courage, the opportunity to push the self—not only physically, but spiritually," writes James Diddams in The American Conservative.
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis assails the “men without chests” who characterize modernity: men who are cerebral rather than visceral and treat all moral judgment as mere statements of opinion. These men lack thumos, the spiritedness that leads to courage of conviction in matters of ethical obligation. As Lewis writes, the problem of our time isn’t that we have no moral sensibility, but that we haven’t the courage to substantiate our morals. But what if there’s a way to recover the virtue of thumos?
As The American Conservative’s Micah Meadowcroft has written, lifting weights is one way to build thumosby confronting a challenge that’s not only physical, but spiritual. While mythological heroes can be born with innate virtues like courage, normal human beings must be purposefully shaped to embody traits worthy of admiration. But moral formation means more than learning to differentiate right from wrong; it is also acquiring the deep-seated moral sentiments that compel us to act upon our moral compasses, especially when it’s not easy.
Beyond courage, the other cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, and temperance. Yet courage plays a very different role than the other three. While one who is prudent, just, and temperate may rationally determine the correct response to a situation, his virtues amount to nothing without the courage to act. Regardless of one’s moral axioms, whether Aristotelian, Marxist, or deontological, without thumos it is impossible to be a fully formed person.