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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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Excursus II. The Stoic Doctrine of Suicide

The Stoic Doctrine of Suicide


Excursus II

The views of the Stoics on the legitimacy of suicide have, in part, already been cited in the text by way of comparison. On this subject, especially as far as the older Stoa is concerned, we have only sparse and scanty notes, from which an overall outlook cannot easily be constructed. But in the middle Stoa, perhaps as early as Chrysippus, a formal theory of voluntary death seems to have been developed, which is closely connected with the doctrine of the πρῶτα κ. φ. on the one hand and the doctrine of the καθήκοντα on the other, and that is why it really finds its most fitting place here between the excursus on the telos and the excursus on the καθῆκον.1

[189] This doctrine is handed down to us most completely in Cicero fin. III, 59 etc. There a distinction between perfect and intermediate duties is made. The officium perfectum (τέλειον καθῆκον) is a recte factum (κατόρθωμα) and can be practiced only by the wise man, but there are also media officia (μέσα καθήκοντα), which are common to the wise and unwise man. These intermediate duties consist mainly in keeping or acquiring, wherever possible and persistently, the πρῶτα κατὰ φύσιν, that is health, strength, fitness of the senses, etc. and avoiding or getting rid of their corresponding contraries. These πρῶτα κατὰ φύσιν are indeed adiaphora, yet constitute the basis of all action, and for this reason are also decisive for the wise man in so far as (when no higher duty stands in the way) he must ←237 | 238...

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