The Rules of Life: Epictetus’ View
As rational beings, we can become conscious of the law that guides all things. Virtue consists in conscious agreement with the inevitable order of things. According to Epictetus’ The Enchiridion, one acts with the virtues of Stoicism: human imperfection, prudence, temperance, and courage. We can relate what Epictetus is saying to our own lives. It appears that some comfort comes in knowing that one has no control over the predetermined.
Epictetus represents a myriad of concepts. One concept of which being that one should live with the awareness of human imperfection and finitude. He expresses the sentiment that one is able to relinquish the feelings of disrespect and desire by allowing all that is ill-fated to appear before one’s eyes each day. Epictetus states, “Let death and exile and everything that is terrible appear before your eyes every day, especially death; and you will never have anything contemptible in your thoughts or crave anything excessively” (XXI). It is important that we are attentive to the fact that there is much unhappiness and despair in this world. If we do not expose ourselves to such matters, these things will consume us.
Epictetus also conveys that prudence is key. It is important to look at all the things that surround one’s dealings. If these things are not rendered, the outcome will cause one to disgracefully discontinue that which he is doing. One must recognize what it is that he is getting into before actually partaking in it. Epictetus states it clearly:
For each action, consider what leads up to it and what follows it, and approach it in the light of that. Otherwise you will come to it enthusiastically at first, since you have not borne in mind any of what will happen next, but later when difficulties turn up you will give it up disgracefully…You must either work on your ruling principle, or work on externals, practice the art either of what is inside or of what is outside, that is, play the role either of a philosopher or of a non-philosopher. (XXIX)
The example of an athlete is adapted to clarify this belief. If one wants to be a star athlete, then it is important for one to train properly and work hard before the event. Supposing that one does not prepare for the event, then the expectation should not be that one would succeed. Provided that one is willing to train for this event then one should continue and do his best to fulfill this desire. However, if one does not want to put the labor in, then he should set his sights on something that is attainable with such a frame of mind.
Temperance is a sign of moral excellence. Epictetus says that one ought exude self-control at all times. For, it is inevitable that one will find oneself in the face of adversity, rumor, and conceit on numerous occasions in a life span. Epictetus dispenses his insight into...