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But the idea that Stoics don’t have emotional skin in the game is a misreading of ancient Stoicism. The Stoics were the most nuanced of early emotion theorists, detailing the layered complexity of emotional life. They describe “proto-emotions” that we feel and can’t control, and even a sage isn’t impugned for experiencing these starts and startles.
Stoicism has blessings and curses. If we think we are bullet proof, whether as civilians or soldiers, we are sorely misled and put ourselves in grave psychological danger. At bottom, we become unprepared for loving and losing and being the kinds of object that can be loved or lost, by parents, spouses, and children alike. In war and peacetime, as combatants or noncombatants, we may face unspeakable horrors and life threats and indignities, large and small. But the very numbness that can be so adaptive to survival, can also erect walls that stand in the way of human attachment and trust. I am all for Stoic teachings of empowerment of agency. But we are, as Marcus Aurelius knew well, citizens of the universe, attached to each other, and deeply affected by the social worlds and practices and institutions of which we are a part. To forget our membership and responsibilities in the social world and how that affects our life chances is to forget who we are.
The ancient world was not a place for modern gender equity. But the Stoic philosophers, in their discourses on political and moral life, held that virtue, or ethical excellence, had no gender. Zeno of Citium envisaged an ideal community of sages that included women. The view follows from the Stoic doctrine that all humans are endowed with reason.
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