June 30, 2021 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Stoic Foundations: Epictetus’ Ten
[An outline of Discourses, Book 1]
Epictetus makes this bold claim:
If you want, you are free. If you want, you will blame no one, you will accuse no one — if you want, everything will happen according to your plan. (Epictetus, Discourses 1.17.28).
His teachings explore how we may achieve this unconditional freedom.
Stoicism, especially as taught by Epictetus, consists of a few major themes that he repeats over and over again — sometimes in exactly the same way, sometimes in a different way. The first book of his Discourses summarizes all his basic themes. This summary is based on my book Stoic Foundations (https://amzn.to/2PjlwAH) which is a plain English version of Discourses, Book 1. Stoic Foundations revolve around ten themes, which are also repeated in other places throughout Discourses. These are:
1. Concern yourself with only what is in your power
Unlike other animals, we can reason. Reason enables us not to get carried away with first impressions but judge them properly. This is the only thing we need to do to live well. Instead, we concern ourselves with so many external things — such as wealth, reputation, and the way we look — that are irrelevant to our living well. We have control over certain things in life but not over others. We make ourselves miserable by trying to control things that are not under our control and failing to control things that are. Train yourself to be concerned only with what is under your control and not with things that are beyond your control.
2. Be content to let things happen as they do
The law of life is to live in accordance with nature. You are responsible only for things under your control. We always have the option of choosing what happens, as it happens.
3. Always act your best
You can handle anything that comes your way. We act according to the way we think. Our thinking drives our behavior. By changing our thinking, we can act differently. Never blame outside forces for your behavior.
4. Don’t value external things
It is not antisocial to be self-interested. But placing value on externals makes us become subservient to others and creates conflicts. We create our own problems by choosing to attach importance to external things. We are social beings. External things are of no importance. Our fear and envy are the results of valuing external things. External impressions can be deceptive. Good and evil come from our choices, not from externals.
5. Evaluate your first impressions using reason
We get into conflict because different people interpret the same impression differently. Placing value on externals results in contradiction and conflict.
6. Don’t give in to your anger or animal instincts
People act in a way that appears right to them. So anti-social people such as thieves are misguided and deserve our pity, not hatred. We get angry at such people because we value external things (such as our property).
7. Always act your best
You can handle anything that comes your way. No difficulty in life is unbearable as long as you can find a reason for it. So always act your best, even if you can never be as good as the best.
Be diligent in your pursuits.
Do not be upset if things don’t happen the way you expect them to.
Don’t put yourself above others even when you have authority over them. Don’t seek admiration.
Be aware of God’s gifts, and always be thankful.
Don’t envy others. You have all the resources you need.
Choose the right tool for the right job. For example, to combat a habit, choose a counter habit.
You have no reason to complain.
You have all the resources you need to cope with any challenge in life. Understand this, and don’t complain. God watches over us.
Have these principles handy at all times.
8. Learn to think correctly and logically
Beware of rigid thinking. Learn logic so you can think rationally. Learn what is essential in a given context and don’t be carried away with incidental things. We need logic to understand what is true and what is false.
9. Practice, not knowledge, results in progress
Nothing happens instantly. Be patient. Difficult times reveal what we are made of. Difficulties are opportunities for training. Play wholeheartedly or leave. Be steadfast in your practice.
10. Only you can make you unhappy
Remember your divine aspect, and you have no need to worry. Only you — not others — can make you miserable. Be a citizen of the universe.
This summary is based on
Stoic Foundations (Epictetus Discourses, Book 1)
by Chuck Chakrapani