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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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3rd Section. Moral Progress and Perfection

Moral Progress and Perfection


[144] Third Section

The opposition of evil and good, of foolish and wise is an absolute one according to the Stoic doctrine. But, as we already hitherto sufficiently saw, in practice the Stoics had to take another view. That an acquisition of virtue can be spoken of at all on the part of those who do not yet have it is already proof that the total wrongness in which the sinner is found is to be understood cum grano salis. For if it were taken strictly literally, then a transition from sin to virtue could not take place. In the sinner a certain starting point for the good must necessarily be assumed. That all human beings have the ability to acquire virtue is exactly what was emphatically asserted by the Stoics. Of course they too admitted exceptions: there is a state of sinful obstinacy in which the possibility of a reform and conversion has as good as disappeared, people whose sense of shame is completely dulled and deadened, or in the case of those in which the moral wrongness manifests itself exactly therein, that they fundamentally close their mind to any instruction and admonition and deny all truth whatsoever, thus also the moral truth.1 Yet the philosopher must not immediately abandon even such people as these except when they, like the one who Epictetus does not do so much as to address (II, 24), thoroughly deprive him of pleasure through their whole demeanor, but he must seek to...

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