Monday, July 22, 2013

Epictetus on Living One's Philosophy

Today I was reading that grand old Stoic, Epictetus (what else is summer for?), and I was struck by this passage:

Observe yourselves thus in your actions, and you will find of what sect you are. You will find that most of you are Epicureans; a few are Peripatetics, and those without convictions. For by what action will you prove that you think virtue equal, and even superior, to all other things? Show me a Stoic, if you have one. Where? Or how should you? You can show, indeed, a thousand who repeat the Stoic reasonings.... Show me one who is sick, and happy; in danger, and happy; dying, and happy; exiled, and happy; disgraced, and happy. Show him to me; for by heaven! I long to see a Stoic. But you have not one fully developed? Show me then one who is developing; one who is approaching towards this character. Do me this favor. Do not refuse an old man a sight which he has never yet seen (Discourses II.19, Higginson trans.)
I imagine myself his Stoic student, listening to this speech, feeling thoroughly and rightly and personally rebuked.

Although I reject the Stoic value system -- happiness under all conditions seems to me to require a problematic emotional disengagement from the world -- the passage beautifully connects two of my central interests: an approach to belief on which believing something is at least as much a matter of how one lives as a matter of what words come out of your mouth, and a practical, first-person approach to ethics that focuses on self-criticism and self-improvement.


Howie Berman said...

Epictetus sounds like a TV evangelist. In his rhetorical stance and his moral pitch.
Is there a commonality between ancient moral philosophers and modern preachers?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Interesting comparison!

cam said...

hi eric

i was wondering if you had a email address which i could contact you on