In the time of Epictetus the Sophist school of philosophy preached a method for social advancement by rhetoric. Because of this, Sophists gained a reputation for being able to pursue both sides of any argument. It was thought by some that the Sophists had no belief whatever. However, the Sophists did have a unifying view based primarily on skepticism. Plato and Aristotle decried especially their tendency to see phenomena as self-motivated, without any purpose or form outside of themselves. In other words, Sophists had no place in their 6system for God.
This is one reason that Epictetus refers scornfully to the Sophists in this chapter. Epictetus very much believed in God (although for him this god was Zeus). We might find some similarity between the Sophist's beliefs and our own society's emphasis on skepticism and complete disregard for God. In fact, historically the Sophist school had pretty much died out as a philosophic movement until it was rehabilitated by modern philosophers such as Hegel and Eduard Zeller.
Epictetus wishes us to understand that it is not enough to believe that Sophists are out there and that we should reject their arguments. We must understand what they are about in order not to be confused by them, in order to counter their arguments and in order to see the truth when it is before us.
Many do not understand that sophistical arguments, hypothetical arguments, and deriving conclusions from questioning are acts related to the duties of life. In every discussion we must inquire how the wise and good man may discover the proper path and the proper method of dealing with a particular matter. Some people say that the grave man will not descend into debate, or if he does descend into the contest, that he will take no care, conducting himself rashly or carelessly in questioning and answering. These people must at least admit that some inquiry ought to be made into those topics on which questioning and answering are generally employed.
Although this chapter is an indirect refutation of Sophistry and its tenets, we may also take it at face value. In this paragraph, Epictetus simply wants to demonstrate that inquiry into ideas and events is important. For Epictetus, inquiry was a matter of philosophical discussion regarding our observation of human activity and natural phenomena.
Stoicism and Christianity Index
- On Sophistry
- The End Proposed in Reasoning (7a)
- Why Stoics Learn to Argue (7b)
- Granting Premises (7c)
- Inferences (7d)
- Wise Men Should Argue (7e)
- A Syllogistic Crime (7f)