Epictetus's "Encheiridion"

UC Davis Philosophy 1

G. J. Mattey

  • Philosophy 1
  • Spring, 2002
  • G. J. Mattey
The Stoics
  • Stoicism (literally, "porch-ism") was founded by Zeno of Citium
  • The stoa was the porch of the house where the philosophers met
  • Other notable Stoic philosophers:
    • Zeno's pupil Cleanthes
    • Cleanthes's pupil Chrysippus
  • Stoicism became popular in the Roman empire
    • Emperor Marcus Aurelius adopted Stoicism and wrote a book about the conduct of life
Contributions of the Stoics
  • The first to articulate principles of propositional logic
  • Tried to produce a criterion for separating truth from falsehood
  • Produced an elaborate account of nature as governed by reason
  • Tried to reconcile the necessity of natural events with human autonomy
  • Produced an influential ethical theory, enjoining people to "live according to nature"
  • Born 55
  • From Phrygia (now central Turkey)
  • Appeared several hundred years after the founding of Stoicism
  • Originally a slave
  • Influenced Marcus Aurelius
  • Died about 135
  • We must become clear about what is up to us and what is not up to us
  • We are autonomous in our opinions, impulses, desires, aversions
  • Nothing else is in our control
  • Misery results from confusing what is in our control from what is not
  • We can live smoothly by treating what is not in our control as being nothing to us
Desire and Aversion
  • Desire proposes gaining something
    • Frustration of desire is unfortunate
  • Aversion proposes not falling into something
    • Occurrence of what one is averse to is misfortune
  • One will meet misfortune if and only if one is averse to what must happen by nature
  • One should be averse only to what is against nature and up to us, and one should eliminate desire for anything not according to nature
Distress and Joy
  • Distress occurs when we make a false judgment
  • E.g., that death is dreadful
    • We act as if death is something that is up to us
  • We have only ourselves to blame for our distress
  • We should be joyful only about our own superiority, not that of what we have
  • The Stoic view was that individual humans can make progress toward an ideal state, exemplified by Socrates
  • One must train one's self to disregard bad states of affairs out of one's control
  • One must avoid interest in external goods and honors
  • One must master one's desires, so that they concern nothing out of one's power
  • For the most part, we are in the power of nature
  • The natural universe is divine
  • It is arranged in the best way
  • So, nothing that happens is truly bad
  • If one believes there is bad in the world, one must blame the gods
  • To have the proper relation to the gods, one must confine value-judgments to what is up to one's self
Appropriate Behavior
  • We should act appropriately at all times
  • Our activities should be commensurate with our powers
  • They should stem from a unified purpose and not take place haphazardly like the activities of children
  • They should not call attention to themselves
  • They should be directed only toward the improvement of the faculty of judgment
Judging Others
  • Someone who is making progress will not judge others' actions as good or bad
  • If someone acts badly toward you, you should recognize that the person thinks it appropriate
    • So the badness lies in the other person's judgment
    • The other person is harmed by the error
Live as a Philosopher
  • Understanding how to live is not enough
    • One must put ones understanding into action
    • This must be done right away
  • Socrates is the model: he paid attention only to reason in every affair
  • The most important philosophical injunction is "not to hold to falsehood"
  • But philosophers emphasize too much technical issues such as the nature of demonstration and of falsehood itself

[ Lecture Notes | Index of Slides | Philosophy 1 Home Page]