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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. Action According to Nature or the Correct Fulfillment of Duty

Action According to Nature or the Correct Fulfillment of Duty


[58] Second Section

(cf. Excursus III)

There was detailed discussion about the psychological distinction between desire (ὄρεξις) and decision or will in the narrow sense (ὁρμή) in Volume I (p. 255 etc.). Here it concerns the distinction in an ethical respect. The distinction is described by Epictetus with desirable clarity as follows, the first topos (which deals with correct fear and desire) makes the human being free of passions (ἀπαθής and ἀτάραχος), whereas the second teaches him to recognize his positive duties to the gods, his parents, his country, etc. Epictetus even brings the two stages into a certain opposition when he says: the second topos deals with the duties (καθῆκον) “for I am not allowed to be unfeeling like a pillar, but so I also maintain my moral relations (σχέσεις), the inborn ones and the freely acquired ones” (III, 2, 4. cf. II, 17, 31). According to this it could seem as if the first stage makes the human being really unfeeling, and then afterwards, in the second stage, this desolate emptiness is supposed to be filled again with a certain content of feeling. But this is not so; such a mechanical interpretation of the moral upbringing of the human being is not to be credited to Epictetus. Moreover, it is apparent from the former that certain feelings are indeed connected with the correct fear and desire, for example, the feeling of inner peace, the resignation in God’s providence, the rising above the world. The comparison of life to a festival...

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