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The Ethics of the Stoic Epictetus

An English Translation, Revised Edition


William O. Stephens

This text remains the only English translation of Bonhöffer’s classic, definitive examination of Epictetus’s ethics. Thorough, knowledgeable, perceptive, and accessible, the unity of this book and its thematic presentation make it an invaluable resource for both scholars and general readers eager to apply Stoic thinking in their daily lives. The translation is crisp, clear, consistent, and very readable. Careful attention to the details and nuances of the German as well as the Greek of Epictetus make this an excellent achievement. This new edition includes a useful biography of Bonhöffer, a new overview of the last twenty years of scholarship on Epictetus, and an extensive bibliography. It is essential reading for students taking courses on ancient Hellenistic or Roman philosophy, their instructors, and any non-academics who want to learn Stoicism.

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An Overview of Scholarship on Epictetus 2000−2020


This overview and the references that follow select those works in which Epictetus figures prominently. Predominantly for anglophone readers, this survey excludes works chiefly devoted to other Stoics.

The ancient Stoics divided philosophy into logic, physics, and ethics. Though the greatest logician of the Stoa is certainly Chrysippus, the study of arguments was also a serious matter to the Stoics of the Roman empire (Barnes 1997; Bobzien 1997), including Epictetus (DeLacy 1943; Xenakis 1968).

Arguably the most consequential dichotomy in Epictetus’ ethical arguments is the sharp division between things that are ‘up to us’ and things that are ‘not up to us’ (Frede 2007). The former includes our ‘choice’ or ‘volition’ (prohairesis) (Cassanmagnago 1977; Dragona-Monachou 1978–79; Dobbin 1991; Asmis 2001; Graver 2003). We are only, and yet completely, responsible for our prohairesis and other things up to us (Salles 2007). Our happiness or misery results from how well or poorly we exercise our prohairesis. The things not up to us, in contrast, are indifferent to our happiness and so are termed ‘indifferents’ (Bénatouïl 2019). Epictetus locates human freedom solely among the things up to us, specifically in our power of assent (Gretenkord 1981; Frede 2011). Causal determinism governs all else (Bobzien 1998; Braicovich 2010).

Epictetus was a slave for years early in life (Rist 1985; Manning 1986), so it is understandable that he taught the Stoicism he learned as a philosophy to free the uneducated from what he regarded as mental...

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