“What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.”
Epictetus (c. AD 50 – 135) was a Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey).
- He lived in Rome until his banishment, when he went to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece for the rest of his life.
- His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses and Enchiridion.
Epictetus taught that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline.
- To Epictetus, all external events are beyond our control; we should accept calmly and dispassionately whatever happens.
- However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.
Epictetus maintains that the foundation of all philosophy is self-knowledge, that is, the conviction of our ignorance and gullibility ought to be the first subject of our study: Logic provides valid reasoning and certainty in judgment, but it is subordinate to practical needs.
- The first and most necessary part of philosophy concerns the application of doctrine, for example, that people should not lie.
- The second concerns reasons, e.g. why people should not lie.
- While the third, lastly, examines and establishes the reasons.
- This is the logical part, which finds reasons, shows what is a reason, and that a given reason is a correct one.
- This last part is necessary, but only on account of the second, which again is rendered necessary by the first.
Both the Discourses and the Enchiridion begin by distinguishing between those things in our power (prohairetic things) and those things not in our power (aprohairetic things).
- That alone is in our power, which is our own work; and in this class are our opinions, impulses, desires, and aversions.
- What, on the contrary, is not in our power, are our bodies, possessions, glory, and power.
- Any delusion on this point leads to the greatest errors, misfortunes, and troubles, and to the slavery of the soul.