Philo
Sophos
·org

philosophy is for everyone
and not just philosophers

philosophers should know lots
of things besides philosophy



PhiloSophos knowledge base

Philosophical Connections

Pathways to Philosophy programs

University of London BA

Pathways web sites

Philosophy lovers gallery

GVKlempner: complete videos

PhiloSophos home

Pathways to Philosophy

Philosophical Connections

Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


EPICTETUS

(c. 50 — 135)

 

STOICISM

Born in Hierapolis (in Phrygia, Asia Minor) Epictetus was for many years a slave in Rome. He studied Stoic philosophy and became a teacher after he had received his freedom in 68. When the philosophers were expelled by Domitian in about 90 he went to Nicopolis (in Epirus) and founded a school. His ideas were preserved in the lecture notes of one of his students, Flavius Arrianus.

 

ETHICS

[1] [See Discourses, especially 1, 3, and 4.] Epictetus says that all men possess 'primary conceptions', or moral intuitions of the good life, and are therefore capable of being virtuous [a]. But first of all some knowledge of philosophy is needed so as to ensure that these primary intuitions are correctly applied in particular situations in accordance with 'nature', and also so that we can determine what is and what is not genuinely within our capacities. In this we develop true judgement and right will, and thus achieve our 'proper personality' (prosopon). Epictetus therefore sets out a 'programme' for moral progress: (1) to control one's desires in accordance with right reason [b]; (2) to perform one's duty [c]. Both these requirements are to be grounded in judgement and assent, from which the infallible moral conscience develops [d]. He believes in divine providence [e] and exhorts men to be pious towards the gods. The virtuous or moral man, he says, will accept all that happens to him, and all the external goods he receives, as God's will. Epictetus thus preaches indifference towards such things [f]. "Bear and forbear" is his motto (anechou kai apechou) [Disc. 3, 22]. This independence is termed autarkeia. Happiness lies within oneself, he says, — through one's attitude and free will [g]. He also stresses the role of the family, altruistic government and patriotism, but love of humanity, or benevolence transcends all parochial concerns. His moral philosophy is thus thoroughly cosmopolitan [h].

 

METAPHYSICS

[2] Although the emphasis in Epictetus's philosophy is primarily practical, he adhered to the basic tenets of Stoicism (albeit somewhat attenuated), namely that the cosmos is a material, 'fiery' unity, identified with Divine Reason, the ordering power of all things [a]; that the rational human soul is a manifestation of this divine intelligence [b], but that there is no permanent personal immortality — the soul being reabsorbed into the cosmos [c]. He also accepted the idea of a 'recycling' of the cosmos through successive conflagrations [d].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Epictetus exemplified the best kind of Greek Stoic: but, as in Stoicism in general, there is arguably a tension between his emphasis on personal responsibility and moral choice and a world-view which entailed acceptance of fate or inevitability as the expression of the divine will. This is reflected in his uncritical acceptance of conventional religion and politics. Likewise, while we can appreciate the integrity of his life style, many would question the degree of rigour he seemed to demand of individuals in their self-examination of motive and action if virtue is to be achieved.

 

READING

Epictetus: Diatribai (Discourses) and Encheiridion (both are sets of notes by Arrianus, based on Epictetus's lectures); Long and Sedley, op. cit., chs 56-67. The Discourses are also available in the Loeb Classical Library edition.

General

E. V. Arnold, Roman Stoicism.

T. Brennan, The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties and Fate.

J. M. Rist, Stoic Philosophy.

Study

A. A. Long, Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life.

Collections of Articles

B. Inwood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics.

J. M. Rist (ed.), The Stoics.

 

CONNECTIONS

Epictetus

 

[1a] Primary moral intuitions and virtue    Socrates [2b]

 

[1b] Desire and reason

   Chrysippus

   Seneca

Aurelius

[6e]

[2b]

[1c]

 

[1c] Duty and divine will

   Chrysippus

   Seneca

Aurelius

[6a]

[2b]

[2a]

 

[1d] Conscience    Socrates [2b]

 

[1e] Providence Chrysippus [3g]

 

[1f] Indifference (autarkeia); [cf. Cynics, e.g., Diogenes]
  happiness within

   Socrates

   Russell

[2c]

[5d]

 

[1g] Freedom & forbearance

Aurelius

   Russell

[2d]

[5d]

 

[1h] Cosmopolitanism/ benevolence

   Chrysippus

   Seneca

Aurelius

[6f]

[2c]

[2b]

 

[2a] Cosmos/ Divine Reason

   Chrysippus

   Seneca

Aurelius

[3a-c]

[1a]

[1a]

 

[2b] Soul and reason

   Chrysippus

   Seneca

Aurelius

[5a]

[1b]

[1b 1c]

 

[2c] Immortality

   Chrysippus

   Seneca

Aurelius

[5b]

[1b]

[1d]

 

[2d] Conflagration

   Chrysippus

Aurelius

[3f]

[1e]