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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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rd Section. Judgment According to Nature (Intellectual Development of the Mind)

The Moral Predisposition


First Section

Since the Stoics declared the life according to nature to be the moral goal of the human being, they as a matter of course also had to assume a natural predisposition and endowment for virtue. That is, they understand it altogether in a positive sense, that is that the human being by nature has only the impulse to the good in itself. The supposition of a predisposition that is neutral or equally inclined toward good and evil or even of an innate propensity toward evil1 again completely conflicts with the optimistic monism of the Stoic school and hence really only appears in later, otherwise influenced Stoics. According to genuine Stoic doctrine nature gives only good capabilities (D. L. 89 ἀφορμὰς ἀδιαστρόφους).2“I want to show you,” Epictetus exclaims, “the predisposition and endowment that you have for bravery and magnanimity, but you show me what predispositions you have for complaints and scoldings (I, 6, 43)!” We can classify the numerous and diverse remarks of Epictetus about the moral predisposition of the human being as follows.

(a)The human being is by nature noble, high-minded, faithful, chaste and modest, sociable, loving, concerned about doing good. (III, 24, 12. IV, 7, 8. III, 13, 5. II, 1, 11. I, 18, 20. III, 7, 27. II, 10, 22. II, 8, 23 preserve your daimon as it is by nature. Cf. Sen. ep. 22, 15. I, 25, 4 preserve what is yours, faithfulness etc. IV, 5, 16 preserve the characteristics...

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