The dichotomy of control

The dichotomy of control, that is the first principle in the entire Stoic Philosophy.
We don’t control many of the things we pursue in life—yet we become angry, sad, hurt, scared, or jealous when we don’t get them. In fact, those emotions—those reactions—are about the only thing that we do control.

This is what Epictetus has to say about the dichotomy of control:

The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…


Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing.
Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered, and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own.

And also:

We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children, or country— anything with which we might associate.

And now over to something completely different…

Gender and Sexuality in Stoic philosophy

In 2017 Malin Grahn-Wilder finished her study of gender and sexuality in ancient philosophies, and wrote the book “Gender and Sexuality in Stoic Philosophy“. This sounds like an anachronism, e.g. the concept of “sexuality” first arose in the nineteenth century. And the words “gender” nor “sexuality” have a specific equivalent in Greek or Latin terminology, and the Stoics (as well as other
Ancient thinkers) used a range of notions to refer to similar phenomena.

Malin Grahn-Wilder’s study (2017)

The practice of observing genital and other physical differences between the female and the male and having human beings called “women” and “men” obviously existed before the concept of “gender” was introduced, as did the experiencing of lust and desire, and the performing of acts such as caressing and making love.
Ancient thinkers, including the Stoics, observed not only the existence of these phenomena, but also the power they have in human life, affecting emotions, choices, self-control as well as the goals and conditions of life.
Moreover, Ancient thinkers, in general, gave considerable attention to gender and sexuality as philosophical problems, specifically with regard to how they influence people’s bodies, minds, lives, and happiness.
Interestingly, then, the dichotomy between the “passive” and “active” elements did not receive a gendered interpretation in Stoicism.

Sex and Gender

The Ancient Stoic view comprehends both “sex” and “gender” since they discuss gender as not only natural or biological (in the sense of what many contemporary thinkers understand as “sex”) but importantly as socially and culturally constructed (the modern sense of “gender”). The sources do not reveal how exactly the Stoics understood the relationship between these different aspects of gender, but their general tendency is to emphasize the inborn similarity between men and women, and claim that many gendered features are produced by the surrounding culture.

Male and Female

In Ancient embryological theories, “being a male” and “being a female” are defined sexually in terms of their different functions in procreation. On the other hand, Ancient sexual ethics deals with questions such as whether a good man should prefer the erotic love of boys or of women. Moreover, the very connection between gender and sexuality raises further interesting and more detailed questions, such as
whether sexual ethics are the same for men and women.

Stoic metaphysics considers gender to be insignificant (adiaphoron). On the level of rationality, which for the Stoics is the most essential human feature, there is no difference between men and women.
According to the Stoics, the reproductive capacity is one of the rational capacities of the human soul, which makes gender appear as comparable to the senses. Thus, one’s gender is as irrelevant for human rationality as, say, eye color is for the sight.

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