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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 IV. The Views of the Stoics on Acquisition

The Views of the Stoics on Acquisition


Excursus IV

An ethics which lays down as its supreme principle that the human being can become happy only by completely overcoming the lower, selfish desire, whose motto is: ‘bear and forbear,’ does not really come under the suspicion that it encourages base avarice in the mind. Rather, there is no outlook on life within which striving for the acquisition of external goods finds as little encouragement and justification as in that of Epictetus: after all he does not even want to confer the predicate ‘diligent’ on the one who strenuously works day and night for the sake of acquisition, but calls him simply a money-grubber. It must strike us all the more that the early Stoics, as it could appear to many, not only did not condemn obsession with acquisition, but even approved of and favored it. According to Hirzel’s judgment (II, 597 etc.) Chrysippus carried the obsession with acquisition into all situations; Diogenes and Hecato appropriated to themselves his shopkeeper morality, whereas the magnanimous interpretation of Antipater has passed over to Panaetius.

This severe reproach, already in itself extremely improbable, proves to be absolutely ungrounded on a closer examination. Among the contradictions for which Chrysippus was reproached by his opponents this one too is found, that one minute he declares wealth and generally external earthly possessions to be completely worthless, the next he calls those people crazy who are not concerned about these same things (st. rep. 30). Now it has already been...

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