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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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PART II. The Content of Virtue


The Content of Virtue

Just as in the definition of the highest good or the telos Epictetus is in all essential agreement with his school, yet does not slavishly adhere to any one of the formulas handed down, so too in the treatment of virtue, in accordance with the freer and more popular orientation of his philosophizing in general, does he appear absolutely independent of the dry schematism and formalism of Stoic ethics inaugurated by Chrysippus. What is remarkable about this orientation is surely the fact that the word virtue (ἀρετή) occurs strikingly rarely.1 The reason for it is evidently that this word predominantly belongs to scholastic terminology, which was repugnant to our philosopher because he so frequently observed that the students were only aiming at committing the theory to memory, but not at all troubling themselves to employ it practically. “Which of us cannot τεχνολογῆσαι, i.e. expound the theory about the good and bad etc., that only virtue is a good but wealth and the like are indifferent? But if, while we are speaking, an uproar arises or one of those present mocks us, then we lose our composure. Where are the words, philosopher, which you have spoken? From where did they come? Only from your lips” etc. (II, 9, 15. cf. II, 19, 13). “What awareness it is, on the other hand, to be able to say to oneself: what the others in school put forth theoretically in beautiful, grand words, I now put forth practically; those people...

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