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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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2nd Section. The Highest Good or the End (Telos)

The Highest Good or the End (Telos)


[7] Second Section

(see Excursus I)

If striving for happiness is the root of everything, even moral action, then consequently happiness is the highest goal of the human being, for even truth is for the human being an object of the striving, wanted not for its own sake, but only because it is the indispensable means for attaining happiness. Whereas the Platonizing orientation in the Stoa, that is at least Posidonius and Seneca, where he follows the latter, such as particularly in the preface to the naturales quaestiones, has set theory above practice and has made knowledge of the truth as such the final end, Epictetus absolutely places principal worth on practical truth and demands the acquisition of other knowledge only if it serves as evidence and support for it. It is true he sometimes states that knowledge or the correct operation of reason generally is the highest good. God is reason, knowledge, logos orthos, and consequently we human beings must recognize our true good in our rationality, which distinguishes us from the beasts (II, 8, 1). Frequently Epictetus describes as the highest end development with respect to the perfection of reason, the possession of the correct dogmata or the correct (i.e. reasonable) use of presentations.1 But in his case what still predominates by far is the concept of the correct prohairesis, of the free will, of rational self-determination; it is this whereby the human being raises himself high above the beast, which makes him truly...

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