The ancient Stoics famously—even notoriously—taught that a truly wise person must be entirely free from the passions, including pleasure, desire, fear, and distress in all their many forms. We hear in echo of this even today, when we describe someone enduring their trials “stoically.” Even in the ancient world, this was a tall order, and philosophers of other traditions fiercely contested the Stoic doctrine. And it might seem even more out of place, or out of touch, in a contemporary society that places a high value on getting in touch with our feelings.
During our philosophy walk, we’ll try to make sense of what the ancient Stoics had in mind when they advocated becoming free from the passions, and see why this was important to their overall vision of the meaning and value of human life. Then, drawing on the work of some contemporary interpreters of Stoic thought, including Martha Nussbaum and Richard Sorabji, we’ll see what lessons the Stoics might have for us about agency and moral responsibility, care and compassion for other people, and overall human flourishing.