Is Stoicism individualist or collectivist?

Is Stoicism individualist or collectivist?  Individualism tends to value the individual needs above family needs, work group needs, and needs of the broader society.  Collectivism tends to value the needs of the family, work group, society above the individual’s needs.  It’s actually not an either/or for Stoicism because Stoicism incorporates both the needs of broader groups and the needs of the individual.

Stoically speaking, individually we need to focus on our virtue.  We need to make sure we are trying to live up to the life of a Sage.  By living a life of virtue we ensure that we’re keeping ourselves mentally healthy and simultaneously flourishing and being worthy of praise.

Some people think Stoicism stops at just making ourselves better.  But there’s a problem with that.  One of the Stoic virtues is justice.  And the Stoic concept of justice entails a sense of compassion, empathy, fair treatment of other individuals as well as oneself.  So our need to get ourselves ethically perfected means we must also care about the needs, interests, and welfare of others.

Because of the virtue justice, we can never think of ourselves as apathetic to the needs of others.  We should care about other’s interests, needs, and feelings.  Everyone is our sister and brother.  We are all rational human beings helping each other achieve a better life.

Marcus Aurelius compares human beings to bees and ants working together, doing our social duties.  Individually, we don’t want to fail to do our social duties.  If we do that we isolate ourselves and harm our ethical development.

As Stoics we have just as much as obligation to get our house in order and the world’s house in order at the same time.  Just because our own satisfaction of our needs is in our power doesn’t mean our attempt at justice for the world isn’t in our power.  Is a better world in our power?  No.  Is trying to make the world better in our power?  Yes.  There’s a big distinction between trying to do good and doing good.  Trying to do good, for the Stoic, is always in our power.  Achieving good results for others is never in our power.  Always in the hands of fate.

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