Mind or Body?

If Epicurus says, "The good must be in the body," in this case also many words become necessary. We must be taught the leading principle within us, the fundamental and the substantial. As it is not probable that the good of a snail is in the shell, is it probable that the good of a man is in the body? But you yourself, Epicurus, possess something better than this. What is in you that deliberates? What is in you that examines everything? What is in you that forms a judgment about the body itself of which it is the principle part? Why do you light your lamp and labor for us, and write so many books? Is it that we may not be ignorant of the truth of who we are, and what we are with respect to you? Thus the discussion requires many words.

We now come back to the root of our dispute over the primacy of body or mind. The main philosophic enemies of the Stoics were the Epicureans. Epicureanism was basically the notion that pleasure was good and pain was evil. It was a body-centered view of good and evil. Here Epictetus chides the Epicureans by asking them, "Why even bother with philosophy if the body is so important?" For Epictetus, Epicureanism was just so much justification for harmful self-indulgence.

Just as Epictetus would argue against Epicureanism on various grounds, Paul would take his own stab at it in his Letter to the Galatians (5:16), "Let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature. For what our human nature wants is opposed to what the Spirit wants, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to what our human nature wants. These two are enemies and this means that you cannot do what you want to do."

Thus we see essentially the same argument fought down the ages. Epicurus, Sartre, as well as the modern moral relativists, arguing that anything goes..."If it feels good do it." Stoicism, Christianity and Descartes respond by requiring forward thinking, spiritual introspection and intelligent self-control. Ultimately, it is obvious, that one leads the world in a random, higgedly-piggedly path toward self-destruction, while the other allows for an intelligent movement toward the improvement of life here on Earth and the ultimate reward in the here-after.

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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