July 10, 2021 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Ten Marks of a Free Person
[An outline of Epictetus’ Discourses, Book 4]
Epictetus was born unfree. He was a slave because his mother was a slave. When he became free, he thought and taught a lot about how to be free. In fact, his longest discourse in his four-book Discourses deals with human freedom. While the theme of freedom permeates all his discourses, Book 4, in particular, pays considerable attention to the theme. Here is a summary of the fourth book of Discourses which deals with human freedom.
1. A free person is not imprisoned by desire
Your desires imprison you. If you confine your desire only to what is under your control, then you will never be unfree. When we desire something that is not under our control, then anyone who has control over what we desire has power over us. When someone has power over us, we cannot be free. But if you don’t desire anything that is not under your control, then you cannot be compelled, obstructed, or controlled; your choices cannot be blocked; you get your desires fulfilled and you don’t face anything you want to avoid. External things themselves are not the problem, but our hanging on to them is. You can still enjoy things that the world has to offer if you are willing to lose them any time without warning. When you align what you want to happen with what actually happens, you will be completely free.
2. A free person is willing to pay the price
Freedom has a price. If you want to be free, be prepared to pay. Your freedom is a valuable thing. If you want it, you should give up something that is of equal value to you now. You may have to choose between being restrained and dignified over pointlessly wasting time over frivolous things. Make your choice. But no matter what you choose, do it wholeheartedly. If you try to do two things at once, you will achieve neither.
3. A free person is not attached to external things
The more value you attach to external things, the less free you are to choose. Don’t attach value to external things. Take them as they come. It is not what you do, but your judgments behind what you do that will decide whether you will be free or not. The more value you attach to any external thing — even if it a desirable thing — the less free you become. You become fearless when you stop valuing external things.
4. A free person is not in conflict with anyone
Pay attention to what you truly care about. Then you won’t be upset by what others think or say about you. When you don’t value external things, other people’s opinions and their behavior become irrelevant to you. So, you cannot be upset by them or be in conflict with them.
5. A free person is patient
Free people are not carried away by external things but take their time to judge things properly. They know that poor judgments are the cause of all evil and make sure they judge impressions correctly. They are patient and don’t try to show off before they are ready.
6. A free person is not envious
When someone has things that you don’t have, don’t assume they got them for free. They paid a price in terms of flattering others and putting up with things that they really didn’t want to do. You, on the other hand, have your freedom. There is no need to envy others.
7. A free person is not anxious
When you are anxious about the future, you want something that is not under your control. By being anxious about things you cannot control, you let go of things that are under your control. If you paid more attention to what is under your control and less attention to what is not, you would not be anxious.
8. A free person is pure
A free person keeps themselves clean both in body and in mind. While they are cultivating their inner qualities, they won’t neglect their outer appearance.
9. A free person is steadfast
When you let your mind wander, it is not easy to bring it back. Therefore, you should constantly keep the basic principles in mind and practice them. You don’t need to be perfect. But if you let your mind wander or procrastinate, it will lead to more procrastination.
10. A free person chooses what to reveal and when.
Free people are not quick to divulge their secrets, just because someone else did so. They are not compelled to reciprocate confidences. They judge for themselves whether to divulge confidences.
This summary is largely based on the plain English version of
the Fourth Book of Epictetus’ Discourses, Stoic Freedom
by Chuck Chakrapani