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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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1st Section. The Foundation of Moral Obligation

The Foundation of Moral Obligation


First Section

With respect to the foundation of moral obligation, ethical systems are divided into two classes, heteronomous and autonomous. Whereas in the former the standards of the moral life are derived from an objective authority which lies outside of the person, in the autonomous systems the individual counts as his own lawgiver. The distinction is, however, not as great as it seems, for in reality every authoritative ethics has validity for the individual only in so far as and so long as he finds the prescriptions appropriate to and suited for his nature. As soon as his thoughts lead him to doubt this belief, he will either reject the bindingness of the moral law for himself, or, in case he nevertheless conforms to it, he will no longer be moral. Every morality based on the assumption of a supernatural revelation has for this reason the understandable aim of proving the agreement of its commands with the facts of external and internal experience; the inferior theory, that the law-giving divine will could also be other than it is, indeed could even make into a duty the opposite of what it once commanded, has nowhere to stand against the deeper conception of God as a constant and unchanging will that is good in itself. Now if one considers that the belief in the deity and the recognition of his will can be claimed only under the presupposition that the human being is made in such a way as to...

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