Are Vulcans Stoics? Short Answer: No

To a person unfamiliar with Star Trek and Stoicism, Vulcans might appear to be emulating Stoic attitudes or living a Stoic lifestyle.  The similarities between Stoicism and Vulcan philosophy might make them appear identical on first impression but there’s stark differences between the two philosophies.

Vulcan philosophy originated from the Vulcan Surak.  Surak lived in an ancient time on planet Vulcan when Vulcans were barbaric, violent, and angry.   Surak taught that Vulcans would need to repress their emotion through meditation and discipline to become rational and peaceful beings.

Vulcan philosophy would not work for humans.  It’s quite unhealthy for humans to try to repress their emotions.    While Stoic philosophy is similar to Vulcan philosophy in that Stoic philosophy is concerned significantly with our emotions,  Stoicism differs from Vulcan philosophy in that Stoicism entails mental strategies for deescalating negative emotions.  Surak’s philosophy, on the surface, seems to regard all emotions as insufferable and must be repressed, which would include suppressing not just what Stoics would regard as passions but proto-passions.  Stoicism distinguishes passions from proto-passions, while we have no control over proto-passions, we do exercise some control over our passions if we work at fixing our internal judgments of the world.  Pro-passions would be the immediate feeling you have like when you’re startled or surprised.  From watching Star Trek, one gets the impression that Vulcans shouldn’t be startled or emotionally caught off guard even.

So which one is better?  Surak’s philosophy or Stoicism?  Neither.  Stoicism works great for humans and Vulcan philosophy works great for Vulcans.  Vulcans are naturally more violent than other species so they have to super repress their emotions.   For a Vulcan, letting go of one emotion can let go of all of them. Plus Vulcans have the neurophysiology to handle intense emotional repression and live a healthy life.  Humans just couldn’t live a healthy life repressing every single emotion.  Human beings would probably lash out when they were at their weakest or be in strong denial of having acted irrationally, while supposedly exercising their emotional repression.

It’s not clear entirely what meditative techniques Vulcans use to repress their emotions but Star Trek makes clear that Vulcans meditate quite a lot to exercise complete repression of their emotions.  There are exceptions to Vulcan emotional repression like when they have a pon farr, a strong sexual need to reproduce.  They tend to become super aroused and aggressive during this period of time and it tends to happen every 7 years.

One striking similarity between Vulcans and  Stoics is they care about the concept of diversity and cosmopolitanism.  Vulcans also practice vegetarianism which is similar to some ancient Stoics.  In the cosmopolitan area, Vulcans are like Stoics in that they believe that all beings capable of reason are worthy of respect, however, I think Vulcans are more principled about helping non-rational sentient life than Stoics.  The Stoics didn’t seem all that concerned with non-rational animals.

One strong ethical difference between Stoic philosophy and Vulcan philosophy is that Stoic philosophy is purely virtue ethics.  In contrast, Vulcan philosophy appears as a mix of utilitarianism and virtue ethics.  On one hand, Vulcans are virtue ethicists following the life of Surak.  On another hand, Vulcans are utilitarian, always caring about the needs of the many over the needs of the few, or the one.  There’s also a smidgen of deontology  because supposedly Vulcans cannot tell a lie.  Perhaps the rule is “honesty is the best policy”  when  Vulcans are possibly alternating between rule vs act utilitarianism – as some utilitarians do think we should use either rule/act depending on the situations we’re in (and whether we have to think on our feet or deliberate).

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