July 3, 2021 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Ten Stoic Choices of Epictetus
[An outline of Discourses, Book 2]
1. Should you act upon internal or external things?
This is one of the most fundamental choices one can make. Things under your control — what you think, how you feel, how you choose to act — are internal to you. Things not under your control — such as your wealth and reputation — are external to you. As long as you confine your choices to what is under your control, you will be free, happy, and serene. But, if you start choosing things that are not under your control, you will be hindered. What is not under your control is neither good nor bad and you don’t have to fear it. There is no reason to fear the future.
2. Should you be cautious or confident?
In any given situation, should you be confident or cautious? Here is a basic rule to guide decision making: If the decision depends on your choice, be cautious. If it does not, be confident. For example, you don’t have to be cautious about what someone will say about you — it is not under your control. But be cautious about what you say about someone — that is under your control.
3. Should you protect external or internal things?
Human beings are born with excellent qualities: modesty, faithfulness, dignity, patience, calmness, and poise. Animals and plants don’t have these qualities. Therefore, you should cultivate and defend the human qualities you were born with rather than trying to protect external things such as your possessions.
4. Should you be concerned about knowledge or action?
Knowledge is important. However, to preserve any quality, we need to act on it. For example, modesty is preserved through modest actions. Anyone can talk the talk. What differentiates a Stoic practitioner is consistent action that relates to Stoic principles.
5. Should you seek knowledge or ease your anxiety?
Anxiety arises because you want something from others or the outside world and you think you may not get it. But the external world is not under your control and it has nothing that you need. Once you train yourself to align your desires and aversions in line with what happens, there is no need to be anxious. Your anxiety is the result of unexamined assumptions.
6. Should you study logic?
We may agree on the basic principles we must follow, but we may interpret them incorrectly unless we apply logic. If we don’t know logic, we will confuse ourselves and others. Logic also helps us to choose the correct doctrine that we should follow. In fact, logic is needed even to know if logic is needed. We should study logic and guard ourselves against inconsistencies.
7. Should you be faithful?
We are born to be faithful. We compromise our humanity when we are not faithful. We have different roles to play — father, son, daughter, friend, etc. Play these roles fully and faithfully. Be a true friend.
8. Should you develop habits to fight impressions?
When you repeat a behavior, it becomes a habit. Because our behavior is the result of impressions, false impressions mislead us and take us away from pursuing the good life. The best way to fight false impressions is to form habits that will fight them.
9. Should you seek recommendations from others or show yourself worthy?
If you want a knowledgeable person to talk to you, show yourself to be worthy of his or her time. Don’t seek recommendations from others.
10. Should you be skillful in your dealings?
If you want to change people, don’t be brash. Learn how to point out their contradictions skillfully. Be aware of what is truly important. Don’t be distracted by faculties that may be useful otherwise, but not important in a given context.
This summary is based on
Stoic Choices (Epictetus Discourses, Book 2)
by Chuck Chakrapani