Stoicism On Fire
Stoicism On Fire
About Stoicism On Fire
Set before your eyes every day death and exile and everything else that looks terrible, especially death. Then you will never have any mean thought or be too keen on anything. (Ench 21) That’s an interesting list: death, exile, and everything else that looks terrible. We can all relate to death and other things that look terrible. However, there is no modern equivalent to Roman exile. To full appreciate the inclusion of exile in this list, we need to understand that exile was a form of capital punishment under Roman law. It was an alternative to the death penalty. Sometimes, a person was allowed to choose exile instead of being put to death. That was considered voluntary exile. In other cases, people were banished and involuntarily removed from Roman territories. Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Seneca were all exiled at different times. It was not uncommon for philosophers to be exiled because they were often considered a threat to those in power. Why? Because philosophy taught people to think for themselves and have an allegiance to truth instead of political authority. We don’t fear exile today. Those with political power or far-reaching social influence may fear getting canceled in modern times. For some, that may be just as frightening as exile was in ancient times. Nevertheless, I suspect the list of terrible things in Encheiridion 21 would be different if Epictetus were teaching today. He might say: Set before your eyes every day death and social ostracism, pandemics, government lockdowns, inflation, high gas prices, exploding houses costs, recession, the war in Ukraine, mass immigration, mass shootings, high crime, racism, sexism, and everything else that looks terrible, especially death. Then you will never have any mean thought or be too keen on anything. The last sentence of Encheiridion 21 offers two extremes we can avoid if we practice setting death and everything else that looks terrible before our eyes daily. However, the phrase “mean thought” seemed a little vague to me, so I looked at every translation of the Encheiridion I have to see if they would provide some insight. Have any mean thought be too keen on anything A.A. Long Have any abject thought Yearn for anything W.A. Oldfather Harbour any mean thought Desire anything beyond due measure Robin Hard Entertain any abject thought Long for anything excessively Keith Seddon Think of anything mean Desire anything extravagantly George Long Have any abject thought Desire anything to excess Robert Dobbin Do you see the pattern here? In this passage, Epictetus is referring to aversions and desires. This lesson is another, among many, in which Epictetus reminds us that true freedom is internal. Freedom cannot be dependent on externals. When we fear external events and circumstances, we tend to blame others. We blame the other political party, another race of people, the opposite sex, those who have what we think we deserve, those with religious beliefs and lifestyles different from ours, etc. Those aversions tend to create abject and mean thoughts toward others. Likewise, those aversions typically entail excess desires for circumstances to be different. Before anyone concludes that Epictetus is preaching quietism here, look at the language. Epictetus did not instruct his student not to desire a change in circumstances. The English translations tell us not to be too keen on anything, yearn for anything, desire anything beyond measure, desire anything in excess, etc. As Stoics, we should desire and work for change leading toward a virtuous end. However, if your desire for change produces mean and abject thoughts toward those who disagree with you, you are a slave to your passions. You desire something excessively when you allow yourself to hate others you believe are preventing you from attaining it. Lesson 1 So, what is the message of Encheiridion 21? I think we can derive two important lessons from...
The doctrine that the world is a living being, rational, animate and intelligent, is laid down by Chrysippus in the first book of his treatise On Providence, by Apollodorus in his Physics, and by Posidonius… And it is endowed with soul, as is clear from our several souls being each a fragment of it. (DL 7.142-3) Some people think the idea of a conscious cosmos is an antiquated relic of ancient Stoicism that we must abandon in light of modern science. However, numerous modern scientists and philosophers describe the nature of the cosmos in ways that are compatible with the intuitions of the ancient Stoics. Some now suggest consciousness must be a fundamental aspect of the cosmos and refer to a mind-like background in the universe. A few boldly claim the universe is conscious, just as the Stoic did more than two thousand years ago. Modern thinkers frequently label this idea panpsychism, which entails consciousness as a fundamental aspect of the cosmos. When we consider a concept like a conscious cosmos and relate it to ancient Stoicism, we first must acknowledge that the Greeks did not have a word for conscious. The word first appears in English in the seventeenth century. Next, we must admit that many definitions of consciousness exist today. The ancient Stoics argued the cosmos is a living being (organism) that is rational, animate, and intelligent. I cannot imagine an entity that meets all those criteria we would deny is conscious. Instead of a conscious cosmos, we could say a rational, animate, and intelligent cosmos; however, that will not appease those who believe the universe is mechanistic, reductive to matter, and governed by laws that just happen, accidentally, to be conducive to life as we know it here on Earth. Therefore, the term conscious serves quite well as a substitute for a living being (organism) that is rational, animate, and intelligent. The ancient Stoics considered their unique conception of a conscious, providentially ordered cosmos a necessary element of their holistic philosophical system. They did so for good reasons. Today, Traditional Stoics think this conception of the cosmos is still viable. First, despite the objections offered by those who adhere to the metaphysical assumptions of the current scientific orthodoxy, there is no objective scientific reason to abandon the conscious cosmos of Stoicism. More importantly, Stoic practice relies on the essential relationship between the way the world is (physics) and the way we should act in the world (ethics). Chrysippus, the third head of the Stoa, argued that universal nature is the source of our knowledge of virtue, good and evil, and happiness. Further, according to Plutarch, Chrysippus asserted, “physical theory turns out to be ‘at once before and behind’ ethics.” As I have written before, the conscious and providential cosmos is the soul of the Stoic philosophical system. Speaking of soul, the ancient Stoics believed the cosmos has a soul, and it is God. As Plutarch notes: In his On providence book 1 [Chrysippus] says: ‘When the world is fiery through and through, it is directly both its own soul and commanding-faculty. Unfortunately, many people recoil, almost reflexively, from the concept of a conscious cosmos because it entails some form of intelligence that preexists human consciousness. They mistakenly assume such a concept necessarily invokes a supernatural divinity akin to those of traditional monotheistic religions. Likewise, many people are unaware of the increasing number of scientists and thinkers breaking out of the pre-twentieth-century, mechanistic, materialist, reductionist box and arguing that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality. I will highlight a few of those thinkers shortly. Consciousness was ignored by the mainstream hard sciences, including psychology, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Science could not explain consciousness via reductive materialism; therefore,
Keep in mind that what injures you is not people who are rude or aggressive but your opinion that they are injuring you. So whenever someone provokes you, be aware that the provocation really comes from your own judgment. Start, then, by trying not to get carried away by the impression. Once you pause and give yourself time, you will more easily control yourself. (Ench 20) Full transcript coming soon.
Let your every action, word, and thought be those of one who could depart from life at any moment. (Meditations 2.11) I cannot find a more fitting passage to describe the last few months of Dirk Mahling's life. Dirk departed from this life last Friday after a hard-fought battle with cancer. He was the President of New Stoa, a tutor, and mentor to many students at the College of Stoic Philosophers since 2016. Additionally, Dirk is one of several people who worked hard to keep the College alive when the founding Scholarch retired last year. He was bright, humorous, courageous, and a dedicated Stoic who was full of life to the end. Dirk was a friend, a colleague, and, more than anyone I know personally, an example of what it means to face death as a Stoic. Dirk told me about his terminal cancer diagnosis last August when I returned to the College of Stoic Philosophers after a long sabbatical. At that time, he thought he might have as many as two years left. He told me his challenge was figuring out how to live the rest of his life in that time. He didn’t appear sick in August; he looked like the Dirk I had known since 2015 when I mentored him through the Stoic Essential Studies course. I mentored many students at the college, but only a handful stand out in my memory. Dirk was undoubtedly one of those. When I returned to the College last year to discover he was the President of New Stoa, I teased him about being one of my most challenging students. He was bright and questioned everything. I enjoyed the challenge, and we had a great time together in the course. Dirk’s sense of humor was unbounded. His essay responses to lessons almost always included comics, memes, and humorous comments. In the Ethics lesson, he included a photo of Oikos yogurt with his essay response about the Stoic doctrine of oikeiosis. His answer to the question, “How do we become cosmopolitan?” was, “by reading Cosmo…” and he inserted a picture of a Cosmopolitan magazine cover. Yes, he also provided a correct answer. That was Dirk’s way of keeping Stoic philosophy fun and lite. He also included a comic with particular meaning as we consider Dirk’s life and death as a Stoic. The comic depicts two men in togas standing next to a grave. The headstone reads, “R.I.P. Zeno the philosopher—dead, but so what? The quote from one of the two characters underneath the comic reads, “He was a Stoic’s Stoic.” Dirk knew his end was near, but I certainly did not predict it was so close based on his behavior. He remained active at the College until the end and recently volunteered to mentor two students through the next term of the Marcus Aurelius Program beginning April 1st. He even joined the College faculty on our monthly Zoom conference call five days before he passed. Dirk was on oxygen during the meeting and told us he needed it because he gets short of breath when he talks. Dirk dedicated himself to the College’s mission of teaching students about Stoicism, and he remained at his post until the Captain called. To me, it appeared Dirk was living the practice of memento mori. Like Marcus Aurelius, Dirk did not fear death. Marcus wrote: In human life, the time of our existence is a point, our substance a flux, our senses dull, the fabric of our entire body subject to corruption, our soul ever restless, our destiny beyond divining, and our fame precarious. In a word, all that belongs to the body is a stream in flow, all that belongs to the soul, mere dream and delusion, and our life is a war, a brief stay in a foreign land, and our fame thereafter, oblivion. So what can serve as our escort and guide? One thing and one alone, philosophy; and that consists in keeping the guardian-spirit within us inviolate and free from harm, and ever superior to pleasure and pain, and ensuring that it does nothing at random and nothing with false intent or pretence, and that it is not dependent on another’s doing or not doing some particular thing,
You can always win if you only enter competitions where winning is up to you. When you see someone honored ahead of you or holding great power or being highly esteemed in another way, be careful never to be carried away by the impression and judge the person to be happy. For if the essence of goodness consists in things that are up to us, there is room for neither envy nor jealousy, and you yourself will not want to be a praetor or a senator or a consul, but to be free. The only way to achieve this is by despising the things that are not up to us. (Ench 19) If anyone thought jealousy and envy of others is a modern phenomenon, Epictetus clarifies that these destructive emotions are not new. They are exacerbated by modern technologies, which provide a constant stream of social media posts with people showing off expensive clothes, jewelry, cars, houses, vacations, announcing their promotions, and displaying their bodies for the world to see. Social media turned “keeping up with the Joneses” into “keeping up with the Kardashians.” Most modern societies teach us these externals are associated with happiness. Indeed, we are inclined to think the lives of these rich, famous, beautiful people must be filled with happiness. The Stoics make it clear possession of these externals does not ensure happiness. We don’t need to rely on the Stoic conception of happiness to destroy this myth. Hollywood provides us with a constant stream of tragic stories about the lives of the rich and famous. Sadly, most people spend their lives chasing happiness in things that are not up to us. While the acquisition of externals almost always does provide an immediate feeling of happiness, it is always short-lived because this form of happiness is not the state of well-being offered by Stoicism. In this chapter of Encheiridion, Epictetus offers another serving of his consistent message: if we focus our attention on those things that are up to us—our faculties of judgment, motivation, desire, and aversion—we will avoid the pathological emotions that cripple the masses of people and make progress toward true well-being. Like I have said before, understanding the distinction between what is up to us and not up to us is quite simple. However, putting that understanding into practice consistently is extremely difficult. To make progress toward a virtuous character and its accompanying well-being, we must keep our attention (prosoche) on what is up to us our faculties of judgment, motivation, desire, and aversion—and despise everything else. This is the crux of Stoic practice. Does that mean we should despise my spouse, children, job, community, body, etc. since they all fall into the category of externals that are not up to us? No! It means we must despise our judgment of those externals as “good” because none of those externals will bring us the well-being we seek. We cannot remove externals from our lives. Even if we were to remove ourselves from the jealousy and envy of others by moving to a deserted island, without any channel of communication with others, we would still encounter externals like weather, animals, snakes, bugs, hunger, thirst, etc. We cannot escape externals, and we should not try. Externals provide us with the grist for the mill that develops our character. What would wisdom, moderation, courage, and justice mean apart from externals? So, what should we do when faced with the impression of someone we know who has a possession commonly judged as “good”? Especially when we may be inclined to think they didn’t earn it? What should we do when someone else gets the promotion instead of us, and we believe they are less worthy? Before jealousy and envy take hold of our psyche, we need to perform that three-step process on these impressions I highlighted in Episodes 9 and 37: Stop It Strip It Bare See It from the Cosmic Viewpoint If you don’t recall the details of that process, I recommend you go back and listen to Episodes ...
Whenever a raven croaks ominously, don’t let the impression carry you away, but straightaway discriminate within yourself, and say: “None of this is a warning to me; it only concerns my feeble body or my tiny estate or my paltry reputation or my children or my wife. But to myself all predictions are favorable if I wish them to be, since it is up to me to benefit from the outcome, whatever it may be.” (Ench 18) In ancient Greece and Rome, a raven was thought to be a messenger of the God Apollo, and the croaking of a raven was typically considered a sign of future bad luck. We moderns are likely to dismiss this kind of divination without further consideration. However, the Stoic’s conception of the cosmos inspired them to give serious consideration to the connection between signs and events. As professor Dorothea Frede wrote in The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics: The uniform nature of the active and passive powers within the cosmic order also explains why there is, in contradistinction to Plato and Aristotle, no separation in Stoicism of the super- and the sub-lunary world. The heavenly motions are ruled by the same principles that operate on earth: All of nature is administered by the supreme divine reason, and hence there is a global teleological determinism that the Stoics identified with fate. The omnipotence of the active principle explains the Stoic conception of an overall sumpatheia within nature, an inner connection between seemingly quite disparate events. Divination, the study of divine signs and portents, is therefore treated as a science in Stoicism rather than as superstition. Careful observation leads to the discovery of certain signs of those interconnections, even if human knowledge does not fully comprehend the rationale behind the observable order of all things. This explains why the Stoics not only supported the traditional practices of divination, but also helped establish astrology as a respectable science in the Greek and Roman world. I’m not going to spend much time on divination in this episode because that is not the point of this lesson. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand the role it played in the founding of Stoicism. In the opening chapter of their book Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In, Kai Whiting and Leonidas Konstantakos do a wonderful job telling the story of Zeno’s calling to the life of a philosopher. They note that after being shipwrecked, Zeno was destitute and wondered what would become of his life. They continue: so he set off on a two-hundred-mile round trip to seek guidance from the Oracle of Delphi — the priestess of the Greek god Apollo — who was respected and revered all over Greece for her divinations. Even kings would travel for days to seek her counsel, and while today it might seem ridiculous to heed the utterings of a young woman in a trancelike state, a trip to Delphi was taken very seriously indeed. Every meeting was an involved process that had more in common with South American ayahuasca rituals than, say, visiting a clairvoyant. The Oracle required visitors to prepare in both body and mind, and as with ayahuasca ceremonies, those seeking answers at the Temple at Delphi had to adhere to strict rules in order to approach the ritual with reverence, respect, and sincerity. You couldn’t just rock up to the Oracle, hand over some coins, and demand that she saw you. Nobody could sit in the Oracle’s presence until they had properly considered the dangers of misinterpreting her advice and also understood and pledged to abide by the three maxims of self-discovery: “know yourself,” “nothing to excess,” and “surety brings ruin.” Wisdom seekers were told to listen carefully to what she said in relation to their strengths, weaknesses, personal quirks, and the specific roles they played in the wider world (as, say, a daughter, mother, Spartan queen). Zeno kept all this in mind as he told the Oracle the story of his shipwreck,
Keep in mind that you are an actor in a play that is just the way the producer wants it to be. It is short, if that is his wish, or long, if he wants it long. If he wants you to act the part of a beggar, see that you play it skillfully; and similarly if the part is to be a cripple, or an official, or a private person. Your job is to put on a splendid performance of the role you have been given, but selecting the role is the job of someone else. (Ench 17) This chapter runs counter to most modern western thinking. I’m an actor in a play, with an assigned role? No way! “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Of course, we are the masters of our fate and captains of our souls; however, not in the way most people typically interpret those famous lines from Invictus. We want to believe we control the externals that determine our fate. We want to believe: If we obtain adequate education and embark on a promising career, we will experience financial prosperity. If we invest properly, we can ensure our financial security for retirement. If we pick the right mate, we will be romantically fulfilled and happy. If we have a nutritious diet, exercise, and get adequate rest, we will be healthy. Etc, etc. Most people hold onto idealistic beliefs like these into their early adult life. However, as time passes, life happens. Events occur that make it quite clear we are not in complete control of our destiny. Technology replaces the knowledge and skills we acquired in college and developed during a career. Stock markets and housing markets crash. Deadly pandemics sweep the world. Car crashes, street violence, war, and disease unexpectedly take loved ones away from us. Spouses leave us for others or fall short of our expectations. Etc, etc. With age, we learn we are not in complete control of the events in our life. Sadly, those hard lessons can make us bitter and pessimistic about life, and we end up frustrated, pained, and troubled, and we find fault with gods and men (Encheiridion 1). So, what is the answer? Are we supposed to stop trying to make our lives and the world better? No! Absolutely not! As I have said before, Stoicism does not teach quietism. However, Encheiridion 17 does teach us to accept that we are not in complete control of events that shape our lives. We choose how well we play our part; however, we do not get to pick the role. Numerous externals constrain us, and our failure to understand and accept that truth leads to psychological distress. The popular idea that we can be anything we want to be, limited only by our will and effort to achieve our dreams, is a fantasy. It is a lie perpetuated by people who want life to be fair from the human perspective. However, life is not fair in that sense. Human talents are not distributed equally at birth. The socio-economic and political environments people are born into, differ significantly between nations, cities, communities, and families. Whether our role is that of a beggar, cripple, official, or private person is primarily determined by many factors outside our control. External factors limit us to a far greater degree than we want to admit. Therefore, if we measure the value of our existence by externals, life will never be fair. Genius is frequently overlooked, and ignorance is often exalted. Morally corrupt individuals make it into high office, and those with good character frequently struggle to get elected to a school board. Cheaters regularly win. Lawbreakers repeatedly get away with their crimes. Hard workers sometimes end up destitute, and lazy people win the lottery occasionally. That is why Stoicism teaches us another way to evaluate our existence. From the perspective of Stoicism, life is fair and perfectly egalitarian. Those born into poverty have an equal opportunity to develop an excellent character and experience well-being as those born into wealth. Likewise,
The Missing Evidence is Evidence I recently decided to start covering Modern Stoic Fallacies periodically. I have been combatting some of these fallacies for years on Facebook, in my blog, and on my podcast. However, I typically only mention them briefly and haven’t provided much analysis. All of these fallacies have the same goal: to justify removing Stoic physics from the holistic system the ancient Stoics created to make Stoicism compatible with agnosticism and atheism. Before I go any further, I will repeat what I have stated numerous times before. I support the development of a modern, agnostic version of Stoicism? However, there is a condition. A modern, agnostic version of Stoicism must not be built on a foundation of fallacies that distort, misrepresent, and discredit the traditional theory and practice as the ancient Stoics created it. I fully support Modern Stoics, like the late Lawrence Becker, who openly stated he intended to abandon Stoic physics to create a “new” synthesis of Stoicism. I do not support those who claim their new synthesis is essentially the same as that produced by the ancient Stoics or what it would have become if the Stoa remained active into modern times. Those assertions are wishful thinking at best. Some of my listeners might wonder why I am spending time refuting Modern Stoic fallacies. That is a fair question. I believe these Modern Stoic fallacies must be refuted for three reasons. First, those entirely new to Stoicism may wrongly assume these fallacies are supported by historical facts, scholarship, or logical thinking. They are not. Second, Traditional Stoics need to understand these Modern Stoic fallacies do not discredit or refute the deeply spiritual form of Stoicism they know and appreciate from reading the Stoic texts and recognized Stoic scholarship. Finally, these fallacies unintentionally opened the door to other newly minted adaptations of Stoicism that bring disgrace to the tradition of the ancient Stoa. Some of these fallacies are repeated so frequently on social media platforms they become memes. One pervasive example most anyone who has been on Stoic social media platforms has seen is, “Stoicism is not a religion.” While that statement is factually accurate, it is used to infer something false about Stoicism. I will covert that in a future episode. The first fallacy I will tackle is what I call The Missing Evidence is Evidence Fallacy. This fallacy proposes the possibility some of the ancient Stoics were agnostics. Curiously, rather than offering evidence supporting this possibility, the author speculates that the evidence might exist in Stoic texts no longer available to us. In other words, he wants to leave open the possibility that missing Stoic texts might lend credence to his hope that some of the ancient Stoics were agnostic about the providential nature of the cosmos. Again, I call this The Missing Evidence is Evidence Fallacy. This Modern Stoic fallacy is not repeated as often as others on social media. I hope that is because many people see the errant reasoning used in this fallacy and understand the unintended consequences of its use. Nevertheless, like most Modern Stoic fallacies, this one serves a specific purpose—it attempts to justify removing Stoic physics, which includes the concept of a divine and providential cosmos, from Stoicism. Here is the source of this Modern Stoic Fallacy: Only about 1% of the ancient Stoic writings survive today, at a rough estimate. We have substantial texts from only three authors: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. They were all late Roman Stoics and we have only fragments from the early Greek Stoics, including the founders of the school. (Also some important ancient secondary sources, especially in the writings of the Platonist Cicero.) None of these Stoics appear to have been agnostics themselves but others may have been. To be fair, this is not the whole argument presented by this Modern Stoic to ...
Whenever you see someone grieving at the departure of their child or the loss of their property, take care not to be carried away by the impression that they are in dire external straits, but at once have the following thought available: “What is crushing these people is not the event (since there are other people it does not crush) but their opinion about it.” Don’t hesitate, however, to sympathize with them in words and even maybe share their groans, but take care not to groan inwardly as well. (Ench 16) This passage refutes the characterization of Stoics as Mr. Spock-like beings completely lacking appropriate emotional responses toward others. As Margaret Graver wrote in her brilliant book, Stoicism and Emotion: The founders of the Stoic school did not set out to suppress or deny our natural feelings; rather, it was their endeavor, in psychology as in ethics, to determine what the natural feelings of humans really are. With the emotions we most often experience they were certainly dissatisfied; their aim, however, was not to eliminate feelings as such from human life, but to understand what sorts of affective responses a person would have who was free of false belief. The conception of the Stoic as an emotionless person who lacks sympathy for others is an unfortunate caricature. Fortunately, it is repudiated by the Stoic texts. The Letters of Seneca are primarily motivated by his desire to counsel and help his close friend Lucilius. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are full of his sympathy for others. In Meditations 2.1, he reminds himself we all share a portion of the same divine mind; therefore, it is contrary to nature to refuse to work with others. Likewise, Epictetus reminds us of our duty to others in several of his Discourses. Encheiridion 16 provides a formula for Stoics to engage with and help people experiencing emotional distress. This formula can be broken down into two parts, and it’s essential to get these parts in the proper order. Otherwise, we may do more harm than good to ourselves and others while attempting to help them. These parts are: Take care not to be carried away by the impression the person is in dire external straits. Don’t hesitate to sympathize with them in words and groans. Now, let’s consider the parts of this formula in their appropriate order. Part 1: Take care not to be carried away by the impression the person is in dire external straits. This part is preparation. Epictetus is warning us to be in the appropriate state of mind before engaging with someone in emotional distress. As a Stoic prokopton, this might appear easy at first. We know the person’s distress is caused by their assent to a judgment that something bad has happened. Additionally, we understand that no external event can truly harm what is essential to our well-being—our inner character. Nevertheless, the Stoics observed the effects of what modern neuroscientists only recently discovered in the form of mirror neurons. We are indeed interconnected. No person is an island. Our mirror neurons react whether we are experiencing events firsthand or observing others experience those events. Modern science proved what the ancient Stoics observed: our interconnectedness is a fundamental aspect of Nature and human nature. For this reason, the Stoic prokopton has to be cautious when dealing with people in emotional distress. If we are inadequately trained, our sympathy for others can quickly turn into a bad emotional response that overwhelms us. I’ve been a law enforcement officer for over fifteen years and a detective for ten of those years. I was already exposed to death and human tragedy before moving to my current position as a traffic homicide investigator three years ago. However, part of my responsibility in this new position is to notify the next of kin when someone dies in a traffic crash. Each time I do so, I mentally prepare myself as I drive to their home to deliver the news.
Keep in mind that you should always behave as you would do at a banquet. Something comes around to you; stretch out your hand and politely take a portion. It passes on; don’t try to stop it. It has not come yet; don’t let your appetite run ahead, but wait till the portion reaches you. If you act like this toward your children, your wife, your public positions, and your wealth, you will be worthy one day to dine with the gods. And if you don’t even take things, when they are put before you, but pass them by, you will not only dine with the gods but also share their rule. It was by acting like that that Diogenes and Heracles and others like them were deservedly divine and called so. (Ench. 15) Epictetus uses a banquet as a metaphor in this lesson. However, this banquet appears different from anything we moderns would attend. The Greek word Epictetus used is συμποσίῳ. The title of Plato’s famous Symposium is derived from that same Greek word, and it provides a model for this metaphor. To make his point in this lesson, Epictetus asks us to imagine we are guests at such a banquet. However, to apply this lesson in our life, we must first understand the metaphor. A Greek banquet or symposium during the time of Plato was slightly different from those of Roman times. Epictetus’s students would have been familiar with the latter. However, those distinctions don’t affect the metaphor or the lesson. Let’s set the scene for such a banquet to help us understand this lesson. The host, a person you know, has invited you to a banquet. When you arrive, you’re led to a room filled with pillow-covered sofas. Participants are reclined on those sofas eating food, drinking wine, talking about important topics, and possibly delivering speeches. The room has a predetermined seating arrangement, so you recline on your assigned sofa and engage in conversation with others you know at the banquet. Occasionally, someone might deliver a speech, read a poem, or bring up a topic of political concern for discussion. While this is going on, servers enter the room with platters of food and pitchers of wine. The servers approach each reclined guest in a predetermined order and offer them a portion of what they are serving. You know the proper etiquette for a banquet, and that means you must wait for each server to come to you to take your portion. The preceding lessons in the Encheiridion focus on the distinction between what is up to us and not up to us. As a banquet guest, many things are not within your power—they are not up to us. So, let’s begin by determining what is and is not in our power in this banquet metaphor. Guests don’t choose the date or time of the banquet. Guests don’t choose who is invited. Guests don’t choose their seating location. Guests don’t choose what, if any, entertainment is provided. Guests don’t choose what food and wine are served. Guests don’t choose the portions of the dishes being served. Guests don’t choose the order in which the dishes and drinks are served, Guests don’t choose the order in which they will be served. The host makes all of those decisions. Therefore, Epictetus is reminding us of the only thing within our power. As guests at the banquet of life, the only thing up to us is the choice to reach out and take a portion of each item as it is offered. Interestingly, even though the items served at a banquet are indifferents, Epictetus encourages us to reach out and take a portion of those items offered to us. We are beginning to see why Epictetus chose an ancient banquet as a metaphor for this lesson—many of the circumstances and events in life are not in our power. Moreover, one of the essential aspects of Epictetus’ training program is understanding what is in our power and choosing only those things which are up to us. Nevertheless, there is an interesting change in Epictetus’ training program in Encheiridion 15. Chapters one through fourteen directed our attention away from...
If you want your children and your wife and friends to survive no matter what, you are silly; for you are wanting things to be up to you that are not up to you, and things to be your own that are not your own. You are just as foolish if you want your slave to make no mistakes; for you are wanting inferiority not to be a flaw but something else. But if your wish is not to be frustrated in your desires, this is in your power. Train yourself, then, in this power that you do have. Our master is anyone who has the power to implement or prevent the things that we want or don’t want. Whoever wants to be free, therefore, should wish for nothing or avoid nothing that is up to other people. Failing that, one is bound to be a slave. (Ench 14) There's nothing new in this chapter of the Encheiridion for those following the Exploring Encheiridion series. That is the nature of the Encheiridion, which Arrian created as a handbook a Stoic prokopton could keep readily available as a primer for Stoic doctrines. Therefore, many of the lessons are repeated in different forms. Nevertheless, as I was preparing for this podcast episode, I was struck by a question that inspired me to take this episode in another direction. The question is this: Why would anyone with a conscious or unconscious allegiance to the modern secular worldview consider Stoicism a viable way of life. Consider some other passages we’ve already covered in this Exploring Encheiridion series: When you kiss your little child or your wife, say that you are kissing a human being. Then, if one of them dies, you will not be troubled. (Encheiridion 3) Don’t ask for things to happen as you would like them to, but wish them to happen as they actually do, and you will be all right. (Encheiridion 8) Never say about anything, “I have lost it”; but say, “I have returned it.” Has your little child died? “It has been returned.” Has your wife died? “She has been returned.” “I have been robbed of my land.” No, that has been returned as well. (Encheiridion 11) These statements by Epictetus contradict what all moderns, those raised in the West at least, are taught from childhood. When a person views these statements from the perspective of modernity, they will likely ask: How can anyone past or present assent to ideas like this? What kind of worldview could possibly support such apparently odd and counterintuitive ideas? Therein lies the conundrum moderns face when moderns encounter the Stoic texts. We are confronted with words like God, logos, and providence from the ancient Stoic worldview and likely lack the necessary knowledge to understand the meaning of these words within the context of Hellenistic Greek culture and the holistic philosophical system known as Stoicism. If moderns have any familiarity with words like God, logos, and providence, it likely comes from religious training or college professors who mocked these ideas. Therefore, secular-minded, enlightened, educated moderns might feel justified in rejecting those ideas. In fact, moderns may feel compelled to reject them as antiquated, pre-Enlightenment ideas. Unfortunately, that judgment of Stoicism is based on a modern worldview with some underlying assumptions and consequences moderns may have never considered. I know that was true for me. As I’ve previously said on this podcast, I was a hardcore atheist when I started studying Stoicism. It took me almost a year to overcome the misconceptions and cognitive biases of my modern worldview. Worldviews are essential because they guide our beliefs and actions in ways that may evade our conscious awareness and circumspection. Jean-Baptiste Gourinat wrote about this in a paper titled Stoicism Today in 2009. He discussed the connection between Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—CBT—which is partly derived from Stoic principles. He wrote: Cognitive therapy is based on three hypotheses: (1) one’s behaviour springs from one’s view of oneself and the world,
If you want to make progress, don’t mind appearing foolish and silly where outward things are concerned, and don’t wish to appear an expert. Even if some people think you are somebody, distrust yourself. It is not easy, you can be sure, to keep your own will in harmony with nature and simultaneously secure outward things. If you care about the one, you are completely bound to neglect the other. (Ench 13) After a short break from the Encheiridion, I start again with chapter 13. I will continue to work through the Encheiridion, chapter by chapter. However, I will take breaks from it occasionally to cover other topics or conduct interviews as I did recently with the authors of two new Stoic books. Epictetus opens Encheiridion 13 with a familiar refrain, “If you want to make progress,” and then lists what a prokopton must do to progress along the Stoic path. So, what is Epictetus prescribing for us to make progress? He lists two things in this lesson: First, don’t mind appearing foolish and silly where outward things are concerned. Why? Because it’s difficult to keep our will (prohairesis)—that which is within our power and up to us—in harmony with Nature while simultaneously desiring and seeking externals—those things not within our power and therefore not up to us. Second, don’t wish to appear as an expert. Why? Again, if we desire to appear as an expert, we seek something not up to us. Before we consider these two specific things Epictetus lists in this passage, let’s look at the overarching message. Some things are up to us, and others are not up to us. We learned that in Encheiridion 1. As a refresher, the things that are not up to us are external to us, like our health, financial status, other people’s opinion of us, etc. Obviously, our behavior can influence these externals; nevertheless, they are not entirely within our power. We can live a healthy lifestyle and still get cancer; we can work hard and save money and still end up broke and destitute during a widespread economic crisis; we can be kind, helpful, and act appropriately, and some people will still have a low opinion of us. On the other hand, our reasoning faculty (prohairesis) is entirely within our power; it is up to us. So much so, as Epictetus teaches in Discourses 3.3, not even Zeus can override this power granted to us by Nature. Therefore, once again, Epictetus confronts us with the distinction between what is up to us and not up to us. We will continue to see this theme in the Encheiridion because it is central to Epictetus’ teaching and critically important for developing our moral excellence and progress toward well-being. Now, let’s look at these two things not up to us Epictetus chose to highlight in this lesson. I will tackle the second item first because this episode will focus on the first. Epictetus warns us not to wish to appear an expert. If some people have that opinion of us, that’s fine, but it’s not up to us. Because it’s not up to us, desiring that others think of us as an expert is not in accordance with the nature of things. As Keith Seddon points out in his commentary, this passage could have two different meanings. When Epictetus warns against not wishing to appear knowledgeable about anything, he may mean this in a wholly general way – to have knowledge is one thing, but to have a desire to show it off and be regarded as a knowledgeable person is altogether something else, and is inappropriate for the Stoic prokoptôn – for placing one’s well-being (to however small a degree) on the satisfaction of this desire is to rely on something that is not in one’s power, something external and indifferent, and risks undermining one’s ‘good flow’ (euroia). But I suspect Epictetus means ‘knowledgeable’ to refer only to knowledge of good and bad, moral excellence, the indifferent and external things, and of Stoic ethics as a whole. However advanced our progress, it is unlikely ever to be complete,
This interview of David Fideler covers his 2021 book titled, Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Living. His book provides a detailed look at the life of Seneca as a Stoic prokopton. David's book is intended for a general audience, and it is an easy and enjoyable read. Nevertheless, he provides extensive notes for those wishing to dig deeper. This book is rather unique because it provides a solid introduction to the basics of Stoic philosophical theory through the life and writings of a single ancient Stoic: Seneca. Chapter 9, titled Vicious Crowds and the Ties That Bind is particularly insightful and relevant in our time of political and social divisiveness. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Seneca's life and works. I will also make a great gift to friends and loved ones who are curious about Stoicism. A video version of this interview is available on YouTube
This interview of Kai Whiting and Leonidas Konstantakos covers their 2021 book titled, Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In. Their book provides a short (136 pages, excluding notes) yet highly informative introduction to Stoicism as a way of life. Being Better was written for a general audience, and it is the best book I've read for two types of people. First, for those new to Stoicism, Being Better provides an excellent introduction. It includes just enough philosophical theory and history to acquaint the reader with Stoicism. The second audience is the person considering Stoicism but is unsure it's right for them. After reading Being Better, readers will know if Stoicism is a philosophical way of life worth pursuing further. Finally, I cannot think of a better book for those who want to give a short, easy-to-read, informative, and interesting book to a friend or family member who is curious about Stoicism. A video version of this interview is available on YouTube
Our situation is like that at a festival. Sheep and cattle are driven to it to be sold, and most people come either to buy or to sell, while only a few come to look at the spectacle of the festival, to see how it is proceeding and why, and who is organizing it, and for what purpose. So also in this festival of the world. Some people are like sheep and cattle and are interested in nothing but their fodder; for in the case of those of you who are interested in nothing but your property, and land, and slaves, and public posts, all of that is nothing more than fodder. Few indeed are those who attend the fair for love of the spectacle, asking, ‘What is the universe, then, and who governs it? No one at all? (Discourses 2.14.23-25) In this passage, Epictetus paints an unflattering picture of the mass of humanity. He suggests some of us treat the festival of life as a marketplace; we are distracted by the superficial endeavors of life. This chapter of the Discourses tells the story of a wealthy, influential Roman who was attending one of Epictetus’ with his son. Midway through the lecture, Epictetus instructs his students they must imitate God. With this, the father asked, “Where are we to start then?” The father now has Epictetus's undivided attention. I can only assume he did not know what that would entail. Epictetus acknowledges the father is wealthy and likely known to Caesar. Nevertheless, he informs the father he lacks what is most essential for happiness: …you know neither what God is, nor what a human being is, nor what is good, nor what is bad. (Discourses2.14.19) Next, Epictetus suggests most people behave like sheep and cattle, driven here and there by our appetites (desires). He argues that only a few love the spectacle of the festival of life. These few are the ones who inquire about the nature of the festival: The nature of the cosmos – “What is the universe, then, and who governs it? No one at all? And yet when a city or household cannot survive for even a very short time without someone to govern it and watch over it, how could it be that such a vast and beautiful structure could be kept so well ordered by mere chance and good luck?” (2.14.25-26) The nature of the divine – “So there must be someone governing it. What sort of being is he, and how does he govern it?” (2.14.27) Human nature – “And we who have been created by him, who are we, and what were we created for?” (2.14.27) The relationship between humans and the divine – “Are we bound together with him in some kind of union and interrelationship, or is that not the case?” (2.14.27) Epictetus continues to elaborate on this small group of people who seek to understand this festival of life. He asserts, “they devote their leisure to this one thing alone, to finding out about the festival before they have to take their leave” (2.14.28). Our quest as philosophers is to discover as much as we can about this festival we call life before we take our leave from it. Like Socrates, the true philosopher is naturally curious and cannot be stopped from inquiring—it is in a philosopher’s nature to seek wisdom. It is part of our human nature to inquire about the nature of the cosmos and humankind. Epictetus tells us: But God has brought the human race into the world to be a spectator of himself and of his works, and not merely to observe them, but also to interpret them. It is thus shameful for a human being to begin and end where the irrational animals do. Rather, he should start off where they do and end where nature ended with regard to ourselves. Now it ended with contemplation, and understanding, and a way of life that is in harmony with nature. Take care, then, that you don’t die without having contemplated these realities. (Discourses 1.16.19-22) Seneca offers a similar list of inquiries. Seneca’s list is found in his work appropriately titled Natural Questions. That list includes the following:
The wise person is still not harmed by the storms of life—poverty, pain, and the rest. For not all his works are hindered but only those that pertain to others. He is himself, always, in his actions, and in the doing of them he is greatest when opposed by fortune. For it is then that he does the business of wisdom itself, which as we just said is his own good as well as that of others. (Letters 85.37) Fortuna, for Seneca, is not an anthropomorphized divinity with malicious intentions. Instead, Fortuna (fortune) is a metaphor for those events in life which appear to hinder or help us achieve our desires and intentions. Fortuna is the slow driver in front of us, making us late for work or school, the overbearing boss, the unexpected bill, the life-threatening medical diagnosis, the termination letter from an employer, the breakup of a relationship, etc. Alternatively, as Seneca points out, Fortuna may masquerade as an apparent good, tempting us to succumb to desires and aversions outside of our control. The appearance of good fortune may include lottery winnings, promotion, fifteen minutes of fame, a new lover, etc. As we can see, Fortuna can present herself as either an apparent good or an apparent evil when, in fact, she is neither. Fortuna is a metaphor for the externals outside our control and serves as grist for our character's mill. As such, those external circumstances, which Seneca labels Fortuna, are indifferents that have no inherent ability to affect our moral character (virtue). Nevertheless, they are the very things and events that challenge us and allow us to develop our moral character toward excellence. Without the challenges offered by Fortuna, we lack the means to develop our excellence of character fully. As Seneca points out: In fair weather anyone can be a helmsman. (Letters 85.34) Our character is not challenged and developed when the seas of life are smooth and the winds are calm and steady, blowing in the direction of our wishes. Instead, our character is tested and can thereby develop most rapidly, at those times when the sea becomes turbulent and blustering winds threaten to shred our sail. Therefore, the storms of life that threaten to drive the bow of our ship under the waves are the events that serve to test and strengthen our character. In Seneca’s words: To fashion a man [or woman] who can genuinely be called a [Stoic], a stronger fate is needed. For him, the way will not be flat: he must go up and down, he must be tossed by waves, and must guide his vessel on a stormy sea. He must hold his course against fortune. Many things will happen that are hard and rough—but things he can soften and smooth out himself. Fire proves gold; misery, brave men [and women]. (On Providence 5.9) When Fortuna stirs up a storm in your life and appears intent on driving your ship onto the rocks or into the depths, keep this truth from the Stoics in mind: Fortuna is not your enemy; she is your teacher. You can choose to welcome her into your life and learn the lessons she offers, or you can ignore the lessons of Fortuna, resist fate, and suffer the psychological consequences. We learn that Fortuna is not an existential threat by trusting the benevolence of a providential cosmos and focusing our attention on what is up to us. Our struggle with Fortuna is not a fight against external circumstances. Instead, it is a struggle with our desire for circumstances to be other than they are. As we learned from Encheiridion 8, the goal of Stoicism training is learning to wish for things to happen as they do. Again, this does not mean we wish for dispreferred outcomes in advance; that’s not what the Stoics taught. However, when those events occur, we need to use them to develop our character. Stoicism teaches us to look for the lesson in the storms of life. Fortuna may use a storm to redirect our ship toward a destination we did not originally intend. Alternatively, the squall we face today may prepare us for a m...
Everything suits me that suits your designs, O my universe. Nothing is too early or too late for me that is in your own good time. All is fruit for me that your seasons bring, O nature. All proceeds from you, all subsists in you, and to you all things return. (Meditations 4.23) The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was a deeply spiritual person, and that fact comes across clearly in his Meditations. The American philosopher and religious scholar Jacob Needleman suggests the combination of “metaphysical vision, poetic genius, and the worldly realism of a ruler” within the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius inspire us and give us “honorable and realistic hope in our embattled lives.” As a result, he argues, [The Meditations] deserves its unique place among the writings of the world’s great spiritual philosophers. Needleman elaborates on the spiritual impact Marcus’ Meditations has on many of its readers, Marcus is seeking to experience from within himself the higher attention of what he calls the logos, or Universal Reason, so too the sensitive reader begins to listen for that same finer life within his own psyche. That is to say, the reader— you and I— is not simply given great ideas which he then feeds into his already formed opinions and rules of logic. The action of many of these meditations is far more serious than that, and far more interesting and spiritually practical. In a word, in such cases, in many of these meditations, we are being guided—without even necessarily knowing what to call it—we are being guided through a brief moment of inner work. We are being given a taste of what it means to step back in ourselves and develop an intentional relationship to our own mind. The practice of Stoicism for Marcus was a means to find his place in the cosmos. He sought congruity with Nature and learned to love what fate had in store for him because he trusted in a providential cosmos. As David Hicks asserts, The Stoicism in which Marcus believed is rooted in an all-encompassing nature. Everything in man and in the universe, everything that is or ought to be, everything fated and everything free, and the logos or rational principle that informs everything and ties everything together and is ultimately identified with the deity – all of this is found in nature, and there is nothing else. Stoicism provided Marcus with more than an abstract, intellectual understanding of human and cosmic Nature. The religious nature of Stoic philosophy differentiated it from other philosophies as well as organized religions. I covered the religious nature of Stoicism previously, so I will not address it fully here. However, it is important to understand that Stoicism was more than an intellectual endeavor for Marcus. Stoicism provided a rational form of spirituality for Marcus, and it offers the same for moderns. Stoicism is an alternative for those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. If you're uncomfortable with the dogmas of organized religion and the nihilism of atheism, Stoicism offers a middle ground. Stoicism provides a spiritual way of life guided by reason. Stoicism relies on our innate connection with the rationality permeating the cosmos to guide our human reason toward a relationship with the divine that inspires us to develop our moral character and thereby experience true well-being. As Mark Forstater wrote in his insightful book The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius: Until the time of Neoplatonism, Stoicism was the most highly spiritualised form of philosophy in ancient Greece and Rome. It was so spiritualised that it is as accurate to call it a religion as a philosophy. As Henry Sedgewick points out in his biography of Marcus Aurelius, the traditional religions did not provide what he was looking for, Marcus was seeking a religion, as I have said, but there was none at hand that he could accept. The old Roman religion was a mere series of ceremonies,
Seneca’s writings reveal a committed Stoic, a pious soul, and an inspirational moral philosopher. Nevertheless, some of his actions and financial dealings have generated doubt about his genuineness. Seneca is a mixed bag if the historical record can be trusted. However, it is crucial to keep in mind that Seneca engaged in politics at the highest levels of the Roman Empire, which was the dominant world power of his time. Thus, he had powerful enemies, not the least of which was the infamous Emperor Nero. When I imagine a man like Seneca in our modern political game of character assassination, I can easily find room to believe much of his negative press was politically motivated. I’m not going to dive into the morass of conflicting scholarship about Seneca; However, I offer the following quote as a balanced opinion, Naturally, we can have no more certainty that Seneca actually followed his own moral teaching than we can have about any person from antiquity. At best, the sources allow us to extract certain implications for a prominent individual like Seneca. But common opinion about his person seems very much affected, first, by the bare fact that he was a wealthy man, as if that alone would have made him selfish and hypocritical by definition, and, second, by a peculiar fusion of the tutor and counselor Seneca with the student and Emperor Nero, who is best remembered for his bad morality. Here it seems to matter little that our sources suggest that the emperors ‘good period’ was in fact precisely when he was under Seneca's influence. The stereotyped image of Seneca as a pretentious hypocrite is amazingly widespread, often simply found ‘as a stock assertion dragged from one second-hand work to another’. As Stoics, I think we should take Seneca's writings at face value. They inspired multitudes in the past, and they do the same today. Many of the early Christian Church Fathers thought highly of Seneca and considered him a moral exemplar. Tertullian, a second-century Christian apologist, even referred to him as “our Seneca.” Regardless of the ambiguous historical record, Seneca’s writings reveal his deep philosophical thought and reverence for divine Nature. Letters to Lucilius Throughout his writings, Seneca refers to the relationship between the gods and us. In Letters 1.5, he calls this relationship a “kinship” and claims it is “sealed by virtue.” Later, in Letters 31, titled Our mind’s godlike potential, he suggests a committed devotion to philosophy, as a way of life, raises us above our human nature toward our godlike potential. How? Through virtue, which he defines as: [T]he evenness and steadiness of a life that is in harmony with itself through all events, which cannot come about unless one has knowledge and the skill of discerning things human and divine. (Letters 31.8) Again, in Letters 53, Seneca argues that a mind committed to philosophy will be near to the gods and can experience the “tranquility of God.” He points out the tremendous power of philosophy to “beat back all the assaults of chance” and claims, No weapon lodges in its flesh; its defenses cannot be penetrated. When fortune’s darts come in, it either ducks and lets them pass by, or stands its ground and lets them bounce back against the assailant. (Letters53.11-12) In Letters 41, titled God dwells within us, Seneca covers the topics of Stoic physics and theology in some detail. First, he makes a clear distinction between the practices of personal religion and those of conventional religions. As I discussed in previous episodes, Stoicism was never a religion in the traditional sense, with altars, temples, and priests. Nevertheless, the Stoics were deeply spiritual and reverential toward God, which they conceived as an immanent and creative force that permeates and providentially guides the cosmos and humankind. Seneca begins Letters 41 by asserting, You need not raise your hands to heaven; you need not beg the temple keeper for ...
If I were a nightingale, I would perform the work of a nightingale, and if I were a swan, that of a swan. But as it is, I am a rational being, and I must sing the praise of God. This is my work, and I accomplish it, and I will never abandon my post for as long as it is granted to me to remain in it; and I invite all of you to join me in this same song. (Discourses 1.16.20-21) Epictetus is typically considered the most religious of the Roman Stoics. As such, some attempt to portray him as an outlier among the Stoics. However, as A.A. Long points out, In his conception of divine providence, creativity, and rationality, Epictetus is completely in line with the general Stoic tradition. His distinctiveness, in what I have discussed so far, extends mainly to the enthusiasm with which he commends obedience to God and to the warmth he infuses in his expressions of God's concern for human beings. We find this same “notable religious sensibility” in the philosophy of Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius, and, as A.A. Long further notes, it is “broadly in line with traditional Stoicism.” To a large degree, these religious sentiments result from the inherent “structural resemblance” between the rationality of humans and that of the divine logos, which allows for a “certain degree of personalistic theism in thinking and speaking about god” in Stoicism. We see this language used frequently by Epictetus. Likewise, over the history of the Stoa, God will “assume more and more spiritual and personal traits” and “religiousness will tend to permeate” Stoicism and move it toward theism without fully arriving there. Nevertheless, it is essential to balance the religious sentiments of Epictetus with the realization that he never claimed nor adhered to any form of divine revelation; neither did he express a need for religious faith, in the forms those concepts are commonly understood today. For Epictetus, to follow God means “we should pay attention to the God in us, i.e. to our reason, in order to determine what is the right thing for us, namely how we are to live in accordance with nature.” As Andrew Mason, Teaching Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, points out in the introduction of a beautiful little volume on The Philosophy of Epictetus: Talk of God’s seeing, helping, guiding, speaking to and punishing us, and of God as our father, can be explained in terms either of God’s overall providence, or of our inner god or daemon, our reason, which is a fragment of the cosmic deity. Likewise prayer, for Epictetus, is not an appeal for intervention by an external God, but rather an admonition to oneself. Epictetus does differ from the early Stoics in the extent to which he uses personalistic language about God; this may be explained partly by his personal outlook, but also by the purpose of the Discourses, in the context of which God’s providence and his status as an ethical example are more important than the cosmological aspects of him which played an important part in early Stoicism. A.A. Long sums up the difference between Epictetus and his predecessors in the Stoa by arguing he “proceeds from rather than to God.” He points out, “Epictetus’ favourite formula for the goal of human life is ‘to follow the gods’ (Discourses1.12.5; 1.30.4; 4.7.20).” The earlier Stoics used oikeiosis as the starting point to explain Stoic ethical theory; they taught theology last. Epictetus reversed that approach and made theology the starting point of ethics. Epictetus builds his ethical theory and practice on what Long calls THEONOMIC FOUNDATIONS. Epictetus argues we are born with an innate moral sense (preconception) of the good and the divine. Because each of us possesses a fragment of divine Reason (logos) as our guiding principle, we are innately capable of understanding and living according to the laws of God that are written in Nature. Thus, Epictetus’ instruction to ‘follow God’ is equivalent to ‘li...