Morality Trumps Legalism

"But I have purchased them. They have not purchased me." Do you see in what direction you are looking, that it is toward the earth, toward the pit, that it is toward these wretched laws of dead men? You should be looking toward the laws of God.

Epictetus, his patience strained, continues to try to open the eyes of his students. He finally comes out and says that the laws of God are greater than the laws of men. Morality trumps legalism.

This simple statement has tremendous implications. For example in the war crimes trials at Nuremburg after World War II many of the Nazi's being prosecuted used the fact that they were only obeying orders as a defense. This defense was disallowed as even the sovereign states that organized the trials understood that morality is the greater principle.

Of course, this is not a license to break laws with impunity if we simply conjure up some moral argument. Yet it does mean that we are responsible for our actions whether we are "slave" or "master", employer or employee, soldier or bureaucrat. A position of power in the work-a-day world should not fundamentally change our relationship with others. We are all brothers and sisters under God.

Chapter 13:

  1. How to Act According to God's Will
  2. Do Not Be Vexed (13a)
  3. Brotherhood of Man (13b)
  4. Morality Trumps Legalism (13c)
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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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