Epictetus
Epictetus


Zeno and Jesus Agree

To be unable to distinguish between good and evil is like being deprived of the sight of your eyes. If you consider your present circumstance you will discover you are far from feeling as you ought in relation to good and evil.

Not being able to distinguish between good and evil is like being without your senses. A person who is blind of morality is led to all manner of difficulties and creates difficulties for others.

"But this is a matter which requires much preparation, much labor and much study," a student objects. Well then do you expect to acquire the greatest of arts with small labor? And yet the chief doctrine of philosophers is brief. If you would know, read Zeno's writings and you will see how few words it requires to say man's end is to follow God's will. The nature of good is a proper use of experience. But if you say, "What is 'God,' what is 'experience', and what is 'particular' and what is 'universal nature'?" then, indeed, many words are necessary.

Nearly 400 years before Epictetus, Zeno founded Stoicism. He was actually a Phoenician (rather than your typical Greek philosopher) who was in a shipwreck off the shores of Attica. He found his way to Athens and there studied philosophy. It is thought that he founded Stoicism in large part as a response to Epicureanism. Zeno emphasized duty and self-control. Stoicism is based on these very fundamental ideas, but it takes considerable study and self-discipline to master it. Similarly Christianity is as simple as accepting Jesus, but to walk the path of Jesus requires study and discipline.

Chapter 20:

  1. How Reason Contemplates Itself
  2. Informed Conscience (20a)
  3. Zeno and Jesus Agree (20b)
  4. Mind or Body? (20c)
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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