Epictetus
Epictetus


The Devil Made Me Do It

Do I convince you of this or not? "You do convince me." Such, then, are the causes and effects in this case. When, then, we do wrong, from this day we shall impute it to nothing else than to the will from which we have done it. It is that which we shall endeavor to take away and to extirpate more than the tumors and abscesses out of the body. In like manner we shall give the same account of the cause of the things which we do right. We shall no longer allege as causes of any evil done to us to be slave or neighbor, wife or child. We must be persuaded that, if things are not as we think they ought to be, it is through our own faults in our thinking. As to thinking or not thinking, that is in our power and not in externals. From this day we shall inquire into and examine nothing else, what its quality is, or its state. Neither land nor slaves nor horses nor dogs, nothing other than the way we see the world is important. You see, then, that you must become a humble student if you really intend to make an examination of your own opinions. This is not the work of one hour or day, you know yourself.

In the 1970s there was a famous catch phrase that made the rounds of society. "The Devil made me do it," was used as an excuse for every mischief and misdemeanor known to man. People spoke this phrase with a bit of a leer on their faces as if they knew that giving in to their baser desires was not an uncontrollable act, but just an excuse to indulge.

As Christians we know that we are, indeed, responsible for our actions. Certainly temptation is put in our paths. Yet we also have available the assistance of the Almighty. If we fail to be good, can we blame this on God? Can we blame it on the Devil? Can we blame our mothers? our upbringing? our schooling? the economy? TV? the media?

In the play, "Julius Caesar", Shakespeare has Cassius talking to Brutus about the woeful condition of the Roman World as it lay in thralldom to the mighty boot of Caesar. The two men muse on why Romans are too cowardly to stand up to Caesar. Cassius clinches the discussion with the line, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Cassius was reminding Brutus of what, as a Stoic, he already knew: we are responsible for ourselves. If we fail to do what is right we have only ourselves to blame.

This seems an uncompromising philosophy, but Epictetus leaves open the road of redemption. It might be a long and hard road, but he tells us that it is possible. One need simply begin the change today. Christianity and stoicism both have this aspect of redemption about them. As Epictetus points out, to begin living a good life, one must study and think about one's actions. Of course, with Christianity there is only one requirement, this is the acceptance of Christ into our lives. Even so, this acceptance, if heartfelt, will prompt the study which Epictetus shows us to be so necessary.

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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