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Epictetus 55-135 AD

 

EpictetusEven though he was born a slave in Heirapolis and endured a permanent physical disability, Epictetus would become one of the most influential philosophers of the classical period.

As a boy he somehow came to Rome as a slave of Epaphroditus who later sent him to study philosophy under Musonius Rufus, a renowned Stoic philosopher. He was instructed in the traditional Stoic curriculum of logic, physics and ethics and after eventually gaining his freedom, he went on to pursue a life of thinking and teaching philosophy in a school he founded in Nicopolis.

As an ardent admirer of Socrates and whose ideas he drew from, like Socrates, Epictetus never wrote a word. It's through his pupil Arrianus, who took extensive notes during his lectures and later published them, that we have the Discourses, and Encheiridion or Manual.

Epictetus focused more on ethics than the early Stoics had and understood the philosophy as a code of conduct. Along with all other philosophers of the Hellenistic period, he saw moral philosophy as having the practical purpose of guiding people towards leading better lives. The aim was to live well and effectively.

Epictetus felt that our aim was to be masters of our own lives. He noted that we are part body and part mind or spirit and since the body often leads us astray we must practice self-discipline and rational thinking. He emphasized indifference to external goods and taught that we should not become too attached to our transitory lives.

He also taught that we can live a calm and disciplined life if we learn to accept certain things as they are. Even though we lack control over external events or circumstances, we have the ability to think or feel freely.

For Epictetus the cultivation of reason was the chief end in life. A life of reason results in the happiest life possible because the pleasures of the mind are both the most reliable and the most enjoyable that a human being can experience. Life would be pointless without reason.

In Epictetus' philosophy scholars encountered the practical side of Stoicism. This same quality is also what has made him so popular throughout the centuries.

His influence is evident in the writings of the famous Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius and Blaise Pascal called Discourses one of his two favorite books. St. Augustine mentions Epictetus favorably in City of God while most collections of great literature include the Discourses in their catalogue.

Epictetus' philosophy is about learning to live, learning to cope with adversity and learning to be a responsible human being. Unlike many philosophers, he was able to express his message plainly and concisely without proselytizing. It is no wonder his work has survived through the centuries and is still relevant today.

 


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