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Wollstonecraft and the Stoics

In our class discussion of Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, Wollstonecraft was compared to the Greek Stoics in the way she valued reason and chastity as a method of achieving gender equality. This led me to question what elements Wollstonecraft drew from the philosophy of the Stoics and how she transformed it to meet her goals.

The Stoics were concerned with the pursuit of the good life, and to them this meant being totally in accord with reason, and this was what the supremely wise man aimed for. They believed that reason was supremely good, and that passions were merely a way to unbalance the mind. They defined good as virtue and pleasure as vice, a concept which is rather familiar to us and Wollstonecraft. The Stoics also invented the concept of natural law and natural rights, which is where Wollstonecraft comes in.

Wollstonecraft’s goal differs from the Stoics in that she seeks to change political discourse rather than pursue the good life, but she uses the same tools. Reason, according to Wollstonecraft, was a virtue shared by both man and woman, and that for this reason men and women deserve equal social and equal footing of this. She sees a lack of chastity, the idolization (or in more contemporary terms, objectification) as the vice that impairs reason and thus creates disunity between the genders. She also uses the concept of natural laws to support her views on marriage, arguing that if the laws of society reflected the actual behaviors of men and women (in that people should be allowed to marry whoever they want) that husbands and wives would be less tempted to enter adulterous relationships.

Blake, on the other hand, seems to be aligned (albeit less directly) with the Epicureans in the sense that instead of viewing good as virtue, he viewed good as pleasure and living in accordance with natural desires, a view which is especially clear after reading “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

Although the parallels between Blake with the Epicureans and Wollstonecraft with the Stoics and the implications of those ideologies on feminism is an interesting discussion that would definitely be worth exploring, I think that this blog post is long enough already.


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