Epictetus – Discourses Book 2

Duane Allman


Epictetus – Discourses Book 2

Chapter 1 – That confidence is not inconsistent with caution

  • The opinion of philosophers may be a paradox. It is possible to do everything with both caution & confidence. It appears that these things can’t be combined. But if they can, how?
    • Philosopher say where things aren’t dependent on the will, we should use courage. Where they are dependent on the will, we should use action. If bad consists in a bad exercise of the will, then caution may fix things. If things aren’t up to us, use courage. In this way, we can be both confident & cautious – based on if we can exercise will.
    • What about in cases of fear? Again, in matters independent of the will there’s nothing to be cautious about. So we must be brave. Being deceived in our perception is not great but we act based on whether or not we can do anything. Sometimes when there is death, we try to run away & are struck with terror.
      • We may expect that of people who are wrong in the greatest matters & convert natural courage into audacity.
      • If a man should transfer caution to things concerning the will, he might – by being cautious – be able to avoid things that he doesn’t have control of.
      • Courage ought to be used against death & caution should be use against the fear of death. But we often do the opposite. We do things Socrates called “tragic masks” because they seem to be terrible & fearful as they do to children. & what is a child other than an inexperienced & ignorant being? But upon examination, this tragic mask of death doesn’t bite. The body & soul must be separated at some point.
    • What is the fruit of this? It should be best to be released from the pain, fear & perturbation, & be free. We shouldn’t listen to those who think only free people ought to be educated but instead say only the educated are free – released from fear, error, sorrow & the servitude they bring.

Chapter 2 – Of tranquility

  • Consider what you want to maintain & what you want to succeed in. If you want to maintain a will conformable to nature, you’ll have security, facility & no troubles. If that makes you happy, then what else do you need? Just pursue objects & avoid objects in your power.
    • Socrates said at his trial that he’d been preparing for the trial his whole life by maintaining just in his private & public lives.
    • If you wish to maintain externals – your body, property, esteem – you will subject to externals what is your own, & choose to be a slave. You have a choice to do this or not do this.
      • If you fixate on externals, you make them your master & that will require you to obey them. Who is the master? He who has the power over things you want to gain or avoid.

Chapter 3 – To those who recommend persons to philosophers

  • Diogenes was asked for a letter of recommendation & responded:
    • I can only tell someone you are a man – he’ll know that the minute he sees you. If he’s skilled in reading men, he’ll see if you are good or bad from what you show him. If he’s not skilled in reading men, he’ll never know no matter what I tell him.

Chapter 4 – Against a person who had once been detected in adultery

  • Epictetus learned of a man credibly accused of adultery.
    • Man is made for fidelity & one who subverts fidelity subverts the peculiar characteristic of men.
    • When we take away that fidelity & chase after the neighbor’s wife, what are we doing? We are destroying & overthrowing the man of fidelity, modesty & sanctity – all the neighborhood, friendship & community.
    • What should I think of you, then? A neighbor? A friend? A citizen? Can I trust you? I can’t even trust you as a friend because you can’t be trusted with the most important thing to a man, his marriage.

Chapter 5 – How magnanimity is consistent with care

  • Things are indifferent but use of them isn’t. So, how can a man preserve firmness & tranquility, while at the same time be careful & not rash, or negligent? You’ve got to do as those who play dice do: the counters are indifferent & the dice are indifferent. How do you know what the dice will say? You won’t. Just roll them carefully.
    • Likewise, remember that externals aren’t in your power but your will is. We should not be careless because that’s bad use of the will & contrary to nature. So act carefully firmly & with freedom from perturbation because the material is indifferent & there man can hinder or compel me.
    • Where I can be hindered or compelled, the obtaining of those things is not in my power, & it’s not good or bad but use of those things is.
      • We ought to apply our art to some external, not as valuing the material but showing our art in it.
      • How are some externals according to nature & some contrary. The nature of a foot is to be clean but it might be necessary from time to time to walk through mud, walk through thorns & even be cut off to benefit the whole body. The same goes for a man.

Chapter 6 – Of indifference

  • Hypothetical proposition is indifferent but judgment about it is not. Judgment is either knowledge, opinion or error. So life is indifferent but use of it isn’t. When someone tells you these things are indifferent, don’t become negligent.
    • When a man warns you to be careful, don’t become abject & be struck with admiration of material things. You should know your own preparation & power in things you haven’t prepared for so you can keep quiet, especially if others have an advantage over you. Yield to those who’ve had practice & experience.
    • Always remember what’s yours & what belongs to another, & you won’t be disturbed. As Chrysippus said – so long as the future is uncertain, I stick to what’s according to nature because God’s given me that choice & ability.
    • Chrysantes was about to strike the enemy when the general’s bugle sounded a retreat. To him, it was better to obey the general’s command than his own inclination. But we don’t do this & we week when we have to suffer the consequences & call them “circumstance”. But we could’ve avoided them

Chapter 7 – How we ought to use divination

  • We neglect duties when we pay too much attention to divination. What can a diviner see other than death, danger or disease? I have to expose myself to danger for a friend & if it’s my duty, to die. So what do I need divination for?
    • I have a diviner in me telling me good from evil. Why do I need to sacrifice an animal & look at its entrails, or watch the flights of birds. He may say “It’s in your interest” but should I submit? I know best what’s in my interest.
    • What’s at the end of using divination? Cowardice & dread of the future. When it’s good news, we act as if he’s the one doing us a favor.
    • We ought to be indifferent to his words. We should God as a guide because he’s given us eyes to see things as they are. But instead we treat the augur as if he’s God giving us good & bad fortunes.

Chapter 8 – What is the nature of the good

  • God is beneficial but so is good. Where the nature of God is, there the nature of good should be. But what is the nature of God? Flesh? Real estate? Fame? No. Is it intelligence, knowledge & right reason? Yes.
    • Don’t look for it in plants or irrational animals. Look for it in rational animals as they are superior over irrational animals.
      • If you don’t try to look for it there, you won’t find it elsewhere. Plants & animals my be works of God but they’re superior things. You are a superior thing. You are a portion separated from God & have a piece of him in you.
      • If you knew an image of God was present in you, you wouldn’t dare do what you’re doing. When God is present in you & sees all you do & you aren’t ashamed of it, you are ignorant of your own nature & are subject to the anger of God.
      • Works of God have power of motion & breathe. They use the faculty of using the appearance of things & examining things. But would you dishonor such an artist? He made you & entrusted you to yourself. Would you treat an orphan entrusted to you the same way?
      • For those who claim I am arrogant, know this. I fear my own weakness. I want courage & you’ll see a face I ought to have.
      • Zeus said in the Iliad, “Irrevocable is my word & shall not fail.” & so I will show myself to you, faithful, modest & free from perturbation.

Chapter 9 – That when we cannot fulfill that which the character of a man promises, we assume the character of a philosopher

  • It’s uncommon for a man to fulfill the promise of a man’s nature. What is a man? A rational & mortal being. This rational faculty is what separates us from wild beasts.
    • Make sure you don’t behave like a wild beast. If you do, you lose the character of a man & you will have not fulfilled your promise. Do nothing like a sheep by acting gluttonously, lewdly, rashly, fithily, inconsiderately, contentiously, harmfully, passionately & violently. If we do so, we lose the rational faculty & decline to the level of the beasts.
    • In all these ways, the promise of a man acting as man is destroyed.
      • Thus modest actions preserve the modest man & immodest actions destroy him. Actions of fidelity preserve the faithful man & the contrary actions destroy him. Contrary actions strengthen contrary characters.
      • Philosophers admonish us not to be satisfied with learning only, but also to add study & then practice. We’ve been accustomed to do contrary things for so long & we do things contrary to true opinion. If we do not put into practice right opinions, we’ll be nothing more than the expositors of others’ opinions

Chapter 10 – How we may discover the duties of life from names

  • Consider who you are. You’re a man with the superior faculty of the will & all other things are subject to it. The faculty he has is unenslaved & free from subjection.
    • You are separate from wild beasts & domestic animals. You’re a citizen of the world & not subservient to anyone. You are capable of understanding diving administration & the connection of things. What does a citizen’s character promise? Not to hold anything as profitable to himself & to deliberate about nothing as is her were detached from the community but to act as a hand or foot would act as a part of the whole body.
    • If the good man had fore knowledge of the future, he would contribute to his own sickness & death since he knows these things are on the horizon. Since we don’t know these details, it’s our duty to stick to things within our choices.
    • Remember you are a son. This character means to obey the father, never to talk badly of him, never to harm him & give way to him in all things. You are a brother & you are to make concessions, be persuaded, speak well of your brothers & never do bad things to him with respect to what’s dependent of the will.
      • Do things proper of your title & role. If you do things contrary to it, you’ve forgotten who you are. You’ve become a wild beast. You are lost by some external, independent of the will. You’ve lost the man, your modesty, temperance, decency, citizenship & neighborliness.
      • No man is bad without suffering some damage. If you only look at money, then no damage has been done but to the status as a man of a rational nature.

Chapter 11 – What the beginning of philosophy is

  • If you go into philosophy the right way you’ll see that philosophy is a door to a consciousness of your own weakness & inability about necessary things. We come into the world with no natural notions of math & science but we learn about them in due course.
    • But we are born with an idea of good & evil, ugly & beautiful. But we don’t use them for practical matters in life.
    • It falls apart even more when we go into matters of dispute without being able to use these innate but undeveloped ideas. If we did, what would stop us from being perfect?
    • But is it possible to apply preconceptions of things properly when you have contrary opinions? No. This is the beginning of philosophy, a perception of the disagreement of men, an inquiry into the disagreement & a distrust of what “seems”. We investigate what “seems” right & discover some rule.
      • But can contradictions be right? No. So, “seeming” for each man isn’t enough to determine what actually “is”. But we can discover a rule. In any subject of investigation, subject it to a rule & weigh it against the rule. That’s philosophy!

Chapter 12 – Of disputation or discussion

  • Philosophers have shown what you must learn to use the art of disputation but it’s clear we don’t practice them. Take any illiterate man as an example. You don’t get far with him by abusing or ridiculing him. If you want to get a man on the right path, don’t ridicule or abuse him.
    • Look at how Socrates acted. He compelled his adversary in disputation to bear testimony to him & he wanted no other witness. He drew conclusions from natural notions & made them so plain that every man saw the contradiction & withdrew from it. He made his adversary say envy is pain over good things.
    • Having completed the notion & distinctly fixed it, he would go away without saying to his adversary “define X to me,” & if the adversary defined it badly, he didn’t tell him that explicitly.
    • Being conscious of our own inability, we don’t attempt a thing. The majority & the rash, when disputing, confuse themselves & others. They then abuse their adversaries & got abused by them, they then stormed off.
    • This was the first & main peculiarity of Socrates, never to be irritated in argument, never to utter anything abusive, but to bear with abusive people.

Chapter 13 – On anxiety

  • When I see a man anxious, I say, “What does he want? If he didn’t want something he couldn’t have, he wouldn’t be so anxious. A musician may do well playing alone but once he’s in front of a crowd, he gets nervous.”
    • The cause of anxiety is because he not only wants to sing well but get applause. That’s not in his power. He has confidence in what he has skills in.
    • Is any man afraid about things that aren’t evils? No. Is he afraid about evil but so far within is his power that the may not happen? If things independent of the will are neither good nor bad, & all things which do depend on the will are within our power & no man can either take them from us or give them to us, if we don’t choose these, why are we anxious?

Chapter 14 – To Naso

  • Epictetus told a Roman & his son: every art, when taught, causes labor to him who’s unacquainted with it. Things coming out of the arts show their use in the purpose for which they were made. Most have something attractive & pleasing.
    • To be present & observe how a shoemaker learns isn’t a pleasant thing. The discipline of a smith when learning is disagreeable. But the work shows the use of the art.
    • The work of a philosopher is that he must adapt his wish to what’s going on so that when things go against our wishes, we can avoid them. If we can play some role we can find a way to make things happen if we want them to happen & we can stop them from happening when we don’t want them to happen. If you succeed in philosophy, you succeed in that.
    • Philosophers say we ought first to learn that there is a god & he provides all things. We can’t conceal our acts or thoughts from him. Next we ought to learn the nature of the gods, obey & please them.
      • To do this, we must understand language & vocabulary. Then formulate our thoughts with them.

Chapter 15 – To or against those who obstinately persist in what they have determined

  • When people hear that a man ought to be constant & the will is naturally free & not subject to compulsion or the power of others, they think they ought to abide by everything they’ve determined.
    • If a man ought to be physically toned to be health & he’s got a bad body, he shouldn’t boast about it but get himself to a doctor.
    • Epictetus heard of a man starving himself to death. After 3 days of not eating, Epictetus asked him whether the decision was right. If it was right, then he was to be encouraged. If it was not right, we should try to dissuade him.
    • To determine the soundness of our determinations, we need to put them on a firm & secure foundation. With a rotten foundation, our determination will crumble.
    • Often it’s impossible to convince some people to change their minds. But it’s said hard to break or persuade a fool. Mad men are the same. They form judgments based on things that don’t exist.

Chapter 16 – The we do not strive to use our opinions about good & evil

  • Where’s the good? In the will. Where is neither of them? Things independent of the will?
    • You notice you only get good at things you study. If you don’t study, you won’t improve at all. So, you may succeed in one area of your work – the one you’ve studied – but fail or flounder in another – the one you’ve done nothing to improve in.
    • This may have to do with dissatisfaction you face with things not under your control. You may be a good writer but be unhappy because you didn’t get praise. You can control what you write & how to make it better but not how people respond to your work.
      • You can affect your work which may bee seen differently but you can’t control other people’s reactions.
      • Other people’s opinions are often the heaviest & most disturbing things to us. We only get bent out of shape from lack of perspective & lack of appreciate for ourselves & the world around us.

Chapter 17 – How we must adapt preconceptions to particular cases

  • What’s the philosopher’s first business? Throw away self-conceit. It’s impossible for a man to start learning what he thinks he already knows.
    • We think of things to be done: good/bad, beautiful/ugly, etc. We either praise, censure, accuse, blame, judge & determine the principles as honorable or dishonorable.
    • Why would we confer with philosophers about this? Because they wish to learn what we don’t think we know.
    • Theopompus blamed Plato for wanting to define everything.
    • But did no one ever use the words “good” or “just” before Plato came along? Were they just noises we used to utter? Do we not have natural ideas of good & justice? Did physicians not know what “healthy” & “unhealthy” meant before Hippocrates came along?
    • But they aren’t useless. We all know what these words mean to us but we argue & differ over their meanings. We need clear definitions.

Chapter 18 – How we should struggle against appearances

  • Every habit & faculty is maintained & increased by its own use:
    • The habit of walking is improved by walking, running by running. If you want to be a good reader, read a lot – if a writer, write.
    • When you’ve done nothing in that department for a month straight, you’ll see the deterioration in your skills. Just lie down for 10 days & try to go for a long walk. Your legs are significantly weaker.
    • The same goes for your soul. When you get angry, not only is it terrible but you increase the habit of getting angry.
    • Be willing to be approved by yourself & to appear beautiful to God. Desire to be pure in yourself & with God.

Chapter 19 – Against those who embrace philosophical opinions only in words

  • The “ruling argument” appears to come from the following principles & there is a common contradiction between 2 of the following 3:
    • A – Everything past must of necessity be true.
    • B – An impossibility doesn’t follow a possibility.
    • C – A thing is possible which neither is nor will be true.
      • Diodorus wused the first 2 to come to the conclusion: “Nothing is possible which neither is nor will be true”. Another could come to a different conclusion & others to another.
      • When you ask me which one I maintain, I’ll say I don’t know but tell you what I’ve heard people say. I don’t really think of it. I wasn’t made to examine appearances & compare them to what others say & add to them my own.
      • Who is a stoic? A man who’s fashioned according to the doctrines he utters. Show me a man sick but happy, in danger but happy, dying but happy, in exile but happy, in disgrace but happy.
        • You can’t show me one fashioned so but at least one who’s forming, who’s shown a tendency to be a Stoic.
        • The purpose of the Stoic school is to make you free from restraint, compulsion, hindrance, to make you free, prosperous, happy & looking to God in all things great & small.

Chapter 20 – Against the Epicureans & Academics

  • True & evident propositions are used even by people who contradict them. A man might consider it the greatest proof of a thing being if it’s found to be necessary for even those who deny it to make use of it at the same time.
    • If a man denies something is universally true, he has to make the contradictory negation that nothing is universally true. That itself is a statement.
    • If a man should say, “know that there’s nothing that can be known & all things are incapable of sure evidence,” he’s contradicting himself.
    • Epicurus tries to destroy the natural friendship of mankind but tries to make use of it. He makes a point to say there is no fellowship of men & others are trying to deceive & seduce you. Then he says “Don’t be fooled, believe me.” That doesn’t make sense.
      • Belief is a part of the fellowship of man. He tries to make a point about men not being trustworthy & then asks us to believe him. Why should we read his books or listen to his words if he isn’t trustworthy?

Chapter 21 – Of inconsistency

  • Some things men readily confess, other things they don’t.
    • No one will confess he’s a fool but you will hear people wish they had a fortune to match their understanding.
    • But men will confess to be timid or compassionate.
    • A man won’t readily confess to be intemperate, envious, or unjust or even being a busy-body.
    • The main point is inconsistency & confusion in things with respect to good & evil. Men don’t usually confess to the base things.
      • They may suppose timidity to be good, as well as compassion. But silliness is a characteristic of a slave.
      • They don’t admit to things that are offenses to society.
      • They’ll confess to error because they imagine that being timid or compassionate is involuntary. If he’s intemperate, love is often seen as involuntary. But men don’t see injustice as involuntary – perhaps jealousy is.
    • Living among men who are so confused of what they say & what evils they may or may not have, why they have them, how to get rid of them, it’s worthwhile to ask if you are one of them & how to conduct yourself prudently.
    • Men go to school just to confirm what they already think rather than to improve themselves. They don’t go to focus on how to do good & avoid evil, or focus on what those truly are. They just cement their minds on what they already suspected.

Chapter 22 – On friendship

  • A man naturally loves what he applies himself to earnestly. Do men apply themselves earnestly to things which are bad? No! They don’t apply themselves to things that don’t concern them either.
    • They only go for good things & things they love. Whoever understands what good is, can also know how to love. But those who can’t tell good from bad, or those which are neither can’t really know love. So, to love is only in the power of the wise.
    • But some will say that fools can love their children. But what makes them so foolish? They have sense. They eat, wear clothes & have a home. So what’s so foolish about them?
      • The truth is you’re often disturbed by appearances & perplexes, & their power of persuasion often conquers you. That’s the reason you confess to being foolish.
      • A man can be wrong about who his friends & enemies are because the use of appearances is out of whack. If you are wrong about someone you are not his friend.
      • We might appear to be friends under certain circumstances but if those change, things could turn ugly quickly. Men & even animals are attached to their own interests. When an impediment shows up, they hate it, even cursing the gods.
    • Where will is, where there is a right use of appearances, you may confidently declare that men there are friends, as they are faithful & just. Where else is friendship than where there’s fidelity & modesty, where this is a communion of honest things, & nothing else?

Chapter 23 – On the power of speaking

  • Every man will read a book with more pleasure if it’s written well. & so every man will listen more readily to what’s spoken if it’s spoken well.
    • We can’t say there’s no faculty of expression. That’s what a timid or impious man would say. The impious man would say this because he undervalues gifts from God.
    • Be neither ungrateful for gifts but don’t forget the things superior to them. Remember God has given you something else better than anything – the power to use things, proving them & estimating the value of each.

Chapter 24 – To a person who was one of those who were not valued by him

  • Don’t you think there’s an art to speaking? & if you have it, you speak skillfully? & if you don’t have it, you speak unskillfully?
    • The speaker who benefits himself & others by speaking does so with skill. But the one who’s harmed & harms others by speaking does without skill. Some are both harmed & benefited at the same time.
      • Those who hear well do so with skill. Those who hear without skill are damaged. So there is also a skill in hearing.
      • If a musician practices music & a sculptor makes statues, is that all there is to music & sculpture? No. You also need skill in those to listen to music & look at statues well.
      • If you’re going to listen to philosophers, you need to practice listening.
    • If you don’t know who you are, what your purpose is, what’s good & bad, beautiful & ugly, neither understand discourse nor demonstration, what’s true or false, etc., you will go about dumb & blind thinking you’re someone but really you are no one.
      • All errors & misfortunes come from ignorance.

Chapter 25 – That logic is necessary

  • Someone asked Epictetus to persuade him that logic is necessary. Epictetus said in order for him to prove it, he’d have to use a demonstrative form of speech.
    • Epictetus asked him how he would know if he was cheating him in an argument. The man stood silent, which was an admission that logic was necessary because he’d need to use it to prove that he was being cheated in an argument about logic being necessary.

Chapter 26 – What is the property of error

  • Every error contains a contradiction. One who errs doesn’t want to err but to be right. But he doesn’t do what he wants.
    • A thief wants to do what’s in his interest. If theft isn’t in his interest, he’s not doing as he wishes.
    • Every rational soul is offended by contradiction & so long as he doesn’t know of the contradiction, he’s not hindered from doing it. But when he does understand it, he has to avoid it like the plague.
    • He who is good at arguments & proofs is able to show each man his own contradictions & how he errs from what he really wants.
    • If you show a man what he’s erred in & how, he’ll stop it. If you don’t he’ll carry on with his wrong ways.
    • Socrates knew how to move the rational soul & it had to move whether it wanted to or not. Show the rational governing faculty a contradiction & it’ll withdraw from it. Don’t & you only have yourself to blame for him not being persuaded otherwise.

Author: knowit68

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