Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics)

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Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics)

Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics)

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Like Plato’s hero (and unlike Plato himself), Epictetus did not trouble himself with questions of logic, epistemology, or metaphysics.

More concerning, however, is how Epictetus completely rejects the concept of bodily autonomy by keeping what affects our body outside our realm of choice. The Greek and Jewish worlds were part of the same conceptual ecosystem, and their “monotheization” happened in tandem. In truth, it is amazing that we should love something for which we have to perform so many services day after day. His personal name, in fact, is unknown; epíktētos is a Greek word which simply means “acquired” – it designates a piece of property. Maybe your protest will be an event in the history of Rome and change the practice of banishment forever?This aporia between spirit (or reason) and flesh is also, of course, a prominent theme of the near-contemporaneous writings of the New Testament.

I just now put down Epictetus' Discourses, and earlier glanced through Seneca's Letters, and I have to admit - I don't have the patience for this. For some this state of being is nothing new, but for white left-wingers in the UK and US, I suspect it’s largely novel and shocking. I am not over selling this when I say that my discovery of Stoic philosophy has saved my sanity, if not my life. Can an ethical system even be said to be coherent and consistent if it leads inevitably to self-annihilation?

One strength in his approach is that there is not a sharp line between epistemology, education, and ethics. For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it… faced by pain, you will discover the power of endurance.

He evens illustrates your final moments: you're drwoning in the ocean, but as soon as you start fearing swallowing up the whole ocean and panicking, you realize there's only three good swallows of water and you're dead - what a relief! Getting an education, therefore, is “learning to apply natural preconceptions to particular cases as nature prescribes, and distinguishing what is in our power from what is not” (I. I went through Epictetus at approximately half my usual reading speed, as I am unaccustomed to philosophy and wanted to understand it as best I could.Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

It was also disappointing to see the ad hominem attacks against Epicurus, in a ridiculously small span of time since Lucretius had written his beautiful De rerum natura.The Handbook is the quickest route to practicing Stoicism right away, and should probably be read first before diving into the Discourses. Remember, he says, that books are ultimately just another external good, like money or power, and by prizing them, like any external good, we simply make ourselves victims of circumstances. Because we are particles of God, and thus are equiped with reason as well, albeit not as perfect as His Reason. These are just two examples of the many conceptual and idiomatic parallels between the Stoic (and Cynic) writings of the first and second centuries and their Jewish and Christian counterparts. Although the teachings in the “Discourses” seem to be timeless, the actual text is not always easy to read.

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