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The Ethics of the Stoic Epictetus

An English Translation, Revised Edition

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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 III. The καθῆκον and κατόρθωμα

The καθῆκον and κατόρθωμα

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Excursus III

One of the most difficult, and until today, little clarified concepts of Stoic philosophy is that of the καθῆκον, especially in its relationship to the κατόρθωμα. According to Stobaeus (ecl. II, 85) and Diogenes (107) the Stoics defined the καθῆκον as τὸ ἀκόλουθον ἐν ζωῇ ὃ πραχθὲν εὔλογον ἀπολογίαν ἔχει. Cicero’s Stoic gives the same definition, only shortened, in fin. III, 58: est autem officium, quod ita factum est, ut eius facti probabilis ratio reddi possit (cf. off. I, 8). From Sextus VII, 158 we learn that even Arcesilaus was familiar with it and used it, yet not as the definition of the καθῆκον, but of the κατόρθωμα. Hirzel assumes without any hesitation [194] that this εὔλογον, which Arcesilaus made into the practical kriterion, denotes the probable, and for this reason sees the difference between the ethics of the Skeptics and Stoic ethics therein, that the former ground all action in mere probability, whereas the Stoics attributed the actions of the wise man, the κατορθώματα, to a solid knowledge, to ἐπιστήμη. The καθῆκον by comparison is based on probability indeed according to the Stoic view; it covers all those actions which are connected with not a certain advantage, but only the probable prospect of an advantage accruing from it (II, 341 etc.). This interpretation, according to which the distinction between καθῆκον and κατόρθωμα ultimately comes down ←243 | 244→to an epistemological distinction, is capable of adducing many things for itself, and by way of its novelty and simplicity undeniably works splendidly. When Cicero renders the expression εὔλογος ἀπολογισμός with probabilis ratio, then for one thing this certainly points...

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