This Perspectives piece first appeared on Donald Robertson’s blog (Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2012), and draws on his forthcoming book Teach Yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013).
Stoics are not Unemotional!
Cartoon © Christoph Neger, reproduced with artist’s kind permission.
The misconception that Stoics are unemotional like robots, or like the Vulcan “Mister Spock” in Star Trek, is so widespread that I’ve decided to put together some brief notes to summarise the opposing view, taken with modifications from my book Teach yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013).
The founder of Greek Skepticism, Pyrrho of Elis, was jokingly said to be so apathetic, or indifferent to the world, that his followers had to chase around after him to prevent him walking off cliffs or into the path of speeding horse-drawn wagons. That joke was never made about the Stoics because, by contrast, they were well-known for their active engagement in family life and politics. Likewise, the Epicureans made the attainment of tranquillity, or the avoidance of pain, the goal of life, and saw no intrinsic value in fellowship with other human beings. This often led them to withdraw from politics or family life, and even to live in relative seclusion. By contrast, the Stoics, for whom tranquillity is only good when it accompanies the virtues of wisdom and justice, believed that fellowship with the rest of mankind is natural and fundamental to the goal of life, which entails “living in agreement” with reason, the Nature of the universe, and the rest of mankind. In fact, the founding text of Stoicism, Zeno’s Republic, centred on his “dream” of an ideal Stoic society, consisting of enlightened and benevolent friends, living in harmony together, under the patronage of Eros, the god of love.