Epictetus
Epictetus


We Control Our Own Actions

Well then, what was it that induced you to leave your child? It might be something of the kind which moved a man at Rome to close his eyes and plug his ears while a horse was running which he favored. Contrary to expectation the horse won. The man required sponges to recover from his fainting fit. What then is the thing which moved?things which are according to nature? By using your faculties will you also determine good and evil?

Was it the horse or was it the man's mind which caused his fainting fit?

The exact discussion of this does not belong to the present occasion perhaps. It is enough to be convinced of this, that we must not look for it anywhere without, but in all cases it is one and the same thing which is the cause of our doing or not doing something, of saying or not saying something, of being elated or depressed, of avoiding anything or pursuing. The very thing which is now the cause to me and to you, to you of coming to me and sitting and hearing, and to me of saying what I do say is within us. Is it any other than our will? "No other."

Our every act is controlled by our will.

But if we had willed otherwise, what else should we have been doing than that which we willed to do? This, then, was the cause of Achilles' lamentation, not the death of Patroclus. Most men do not behave thus on the death of their companions. Achilles lamented because he chose to do so. And to you this was the very cause of your then running away, that you chose to do so. On the other side, if you should stay with her, the reason will be the same. And now you are going to Rome because you choose. If you should change your mind, you will not go thither. And in a word, neither death nor exile nor pain nor anything of the kind is the cause of our doing anything or not doing, but our own opinions and our wills.

Epictetus now comes back to one of his favorite subjects, a subject that underpins all his philosophy...the idea of personal responsibility. He wants the magistrate to understand that all people are responsible for their own actions. Feelings of panic, love, desire, hate, fear and whatnot cannot be allowed to rule our lives. Other people do not rule our lives. Events do not rule our lives. It is only our "opinion and our wills".

We know what is right and correct. God tells us what this is. It is up to us to do what is right in the face of whatever opposition comes in our path.

Chapter 11:

  1. On Natural Affection
  2. The Sixth Sense - Conscience (11a)
  3. Good and Evil (11b)
  4. Lack of Fortitude (11c)
  5. We Control Our Own Actions (11d)
  6. The Devil Made Me Do It (11e)
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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