Epictetus
Epictetus


The Role of Authority

Who says this? Is it only Chrysippus, and Zeno, and Cleanthes? And does not Antisthenes say so as well? And who wrote that the examination of terms is the beginning of education? Even Socrates agrees with this. Is it a great and wondrous thing to understand or interpret Chrysippus? Who says so? Is it a wondrous thing to understand the will of nature? Well then, do you apprehend it yourself by your own power? What more do you need?

Looking for authority to buttress his argument Epictetus relies on the classical stoic philosophers as well as a skeptic, Antisthenes. Then he subtly turns the argument to say that without faculty of reason, how could we even know to trust these great minds?

The question of authority is one that has been long battled over in the Christian church. Of course, Christians see God as the ultimate authority, but how do we know the will of God? The long accepted answer to this question is that the Bible as set down by the four Gospellers and a couple of letter writers (Paul, Peter, James and John) constitutes authority. Where Epictetus and the Stoics look to reason for their cannons, Christians look to faith. Yet faith is not so very different from reason. Faith grounded in philosophy is indeed the very essence of reason and reasonableness. Arguments for God based on, for example, Augustine's "prime mover" theory, or the order inherent in the universe, derive from philosophy and logic. Of course, these are not necessary or sufficient. Ultimately, a leap of faith is essential, but it is comforting to know that there are philosophic arguments to help us make the jump.

Chapter 17:

  1. The Logical Art is Necessary
  2. Logic and Philosophy (17a)
  3. The Logical Yardstick (17b)
  4. The Role of Authority (17c)
  5. Reason, Faith, and Understanding (17d)
  6. Reason Coupled with Faith (17e)
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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