Encheiridion or The Handbook
Epictetus (A.D.c.55-c.135) was a Stoic, that is he was a representative of Stoicism. Stoicism was a philosophical movement that was popular in the ancient world, from when it was founded by Zeno of Citium, until the death of the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism came from the Greek word “Stoa Poikile” which means “painted porch”. Epictetus was a freed slave who studied Stoic philosophy and later taught it in Rome and then in Greece. The Encheiridion or The Handbook embodies the core ideas of Stoicism.
Epictetus like other Stoics believed that the world is like an organism where all the parts work for the good of the whole and everything that happens in the world is governed by divine reason i.e., logos and is therefore always good. But often humans are not able to see this goodness (in all that happens in the world) because of their limited vision. According to Stoics (hence also Epictetus) virtue is the only thing in life that is the most valuable. And this virtue is defined as action in accordance with reason. And hence, all other things that are valued by people, such as health, wealth, pleasure or fame, are either instruments to attaining the supreme good or are worthless, it is better for humans not to desire such things.
But, while Stoics believed in the natural order and design of things, Epictetus tried to reconcile “the design of nature” and “our own freedom”. Thus we as humans, do have some choices that we can make in our lives and we are not entirely governed by “the design of nature”.
Emotions were regarded as harmful because they keep us from living according to reason. Epictetus preaches that we should try and get a dispassionate understanding of what is truly within our power such as, our beliefs, attitudes and inclinations and, what is not in our power, such as worldly success, health, etc., and he wants us to accept the things we cannot control, while changing what we can. For example in section 1, he says (GL53) “ Some things ………… to us”. Once we are freed from counter productive desires and emotions, Stoics believe, we can live in accord with the underlying order and reason of nature. And Epictetus and Stoics believe that such a life is characterized by equanimity and inner peace.
The Stoics believed in a sort of divine providence; a natural order. Stoics were also materialists. They believed that all things in the universe was composed of atoms and that these atoms took different forms to form different things, such as people, rocks, stones etc. And these atoms get arranged because of an ultimate natural order. Their problem was to reconcile this natural order with what was people’s freedom to do things. Therefore they propounded that, we as humans must make use of our faculty of judgment. They said that if we use it properly, then we would be closest to the natural order. Unlike Aristotle, Epictetus holds that to reach great goals, one...