Chapter 1: Of the Things Which Are and Are Not in Our Power

Although Epictetus seems to jump in the middle of things from the first sentence of his Discourses, he is laying down the basis of his philosophy with some fundamental ideas.

Of all the faculties, you will not find one which is capable of contemplating itself. Consequently a faculty is not capable of approving or disapproving its own parts. How far does the art of writing possess the contemplating power as far as forming a judgment about what is written and spoken? And how far does music judge melody? Does either contemplate itself? By no means does it do so.

But when you must write something to your friend, grammar will tell you what words you must use. However, it will not tell you whether you should write or not. So it is with music, as to notes, measures and beats; but whether you should sing at the present time or play on the lute, or do neither, music will not tell you. What faculty then will tell you? That faculty which contemplates both itself and all other things may tell you. And what is this faculty? It is the rational faculty; for this is the only faculty that we have received which examines itself, what it is, and what power it has. It also examines all other faculties. For what else is there which tells us that golden things are beautiful? They do not say so themselves. Evidently it is the faculty which is capable of judging of appearances. What else judges of music, grammar, and other faculties, proves their uses and points out the occasions for using them? Nothing else!

When Epictetus speaks of faculties here, he means certain disciplines, here specifically in the realm of communication. He tells us that we can do many things and there are rules that govern those things, but it is only the mind, reason, our conscience, that can tell us whether to perform any act and whether that act is proper or good.

Throughout history man has been shown to be the "rational animal". Of all the animals he is the one who has been shown to possess the self-assessing faculty we might call "understanding" or even common sense. The Discourses will show that Epictetus is a great exponent of common sense.

Chapter 1:

  1. Of the Things Which Are and Are Not in Our Power
  2. What Is Fitting (1a)
  3. Mind Control (1b)
  4. Don't Worry, Be Happy (1c)
  5. Lateranus the Stoic (1d)
  6. Free Will and Zeus (1e)
  7. Thrasea the Roman Senator (1f)
  8. The Reaction of Aggripinus (1g)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus

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