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On the Manual of Epictetus, aka The Enchiridion, from around 135 CE.
What's a wise strategy for life? What is freedom? Stoicism says that the secret is mastering yourself. If you let yourself be perturbed by things that happen to you, then you're a slave to those external things. Your good lies only in the things you can (with practice) control, i.e., your own attitudes, judgments, and opinions. Even a slave can be free, according to this strategy: Nothing external can break your spirit unless you let it.
The full four are joined by comedian Alex Fossella of the Modern Day Philosophers podcast to argue about how weird and misguided Epictetus's advice actually is. Read more about the topic and get the book.
Epictetus image by Sterling Bartlett.
Paul Cooper says
The Stoics were one of the few schools of philosophy who acknowledged that those who subscribed to the philosophy as a way of life were on a journey toward becoming a Sage, while also acknowledging that nobody had ever actually become a Stoic Sage. In this way they accepted their failings, while all the time striving for the perfect. When Epictetus is talking about dealing with tragedy, such as the death of your child, he is describing the perfect response, in terms of what to strive for i.e. the reponse of a Sage. The way this topic was covered here was a little misleading, for me at least. Great talk though and thank you for covering it.
Alan Cook says
I’ve listened to the first 5 minutes of the podcast, and already I’ve got a problem: the assumption that “nobody reads the Stoics these days.” If you go to Amazon and type in “stoicism” as the search term, in the first 2 pages of hits there are 12 (count ’em!) books, all published within the past 10 years, on the theme of “how the ancient Stoics can make your life better.”
Jonathon Jones says
I think the comment was more about how they typically aren’t taught in introduction to philosophy courses, even historically focused ones. Most of the textbooks that one would use for such a course will either neglect them entirely or give them extremely short entries. Which is unfortunate, because there is some really valuable and interesting work there.
Alan Cook says
Point well taken. In part, I was reacting to the impression I got from Mark’s written intro, and reinforced by the previous comment, that the podcasters’ antipathy to Stoicism would lead to a somewhat unfair treatment of the subject. The podcast was pretty good; more balanced than I had expected. Still, everyone was discussing Stoicism “from the outside,” and it would have been easy to find a participant who identified with and advocated Epictetus’s positions.
I definitely agree with the discussion being from the outside. Someone who could have cited Seneca or Marcus Aurelius to clear up certain arguments would have been great. I found the attitude of the guest strange. This topic and reading were his decision. If he was so dismissive of the philosophy, why did he choose it for discussion? I wish he would have had more to contribute.
Definitely from the outside, definitely sophomorically dismissive in places. There was so much argument along the lines of “but that’s totally unnatural!” when it’s kind of the point that the natural way of responding to these things isn’t necessarily helpful or desirable, and other ways can be aspired to. Obviously, the way of a sage isn’t going to be “natural” for the mass of men.
Also, one wonders how much of what we consider the “natural” way of emotionally responding to things simply represent the cultural norms of our time and a soft, rather weak-willed Western society.
I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but will. I just wanted to say that there is a rather large internet community who practice Stoicism, so I don’t know why you chose a comedian to mock Epictetus (from the intro).
I love this podcast otherwise, but I’ll listen to it in case the intro is incorrect.
Seth Paskin says
Come back and give your impression after you have listened to the whole episode.
Alexandre Lemke says
What community is that? I’m interested!
Listened to the episode or part one of it. Really enjoyed it and looking forward to hearing part two.
I think it was right to bring up cognitive behavioral therapy, Epictetus was influential on Albert Ellis from what I’m aware of. And maybe not so much in the text but certainly eudaimonia and something more akin to mindfulness is probably more aligned with and present in the Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics, etc..
One thing not mentioned, although Augustine was mentioned, was the influence of Epictetus through American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr now in the “Serenity Prayer” which is pretty much right out of the first lines of Epictetus.
“… grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Alan Cook says
With regard to the problematic passage in Section 3 that’s discussed about 10 minutes into the podcast, the Greek just says hoti anthropon kataphileis: “that you kiss a human being.”
“I’m not with everyone else”.
I thoroughly enjoyed this topic. I don’t ascribe to any one philosophy, but found a lot useful in the stoic approach. I saw the correlations between stoicism and cognitive behavior therapy before it was mentioned, and even more with dialectical behavior therapy. I wish my philosophy major son was exposed to some psychiatry/psychology as I think it dovetails nicely with philosophy, but with impacted majors that seems impossible.
Thom Amskersh says
This is an interesting conversation which is frequently interrupted Alex Fossella.