Education Is Adapting General Principles

What then is education? Education should be learning how to adapt general principles to particular things. Then we must decide which things are in our power, and which things are not. What is in our power is the will and all acts which depend on the will. The things not in our power include the body, the parts of the body, possessions, parents, brothers, children, country, and, generally, all with whom we live in society. In what, then, should we place the good? To what kind of things shall we adapt it? "Should we adapt it to the things which are in our power?" Is not health then a good thing, and soundness of limb, and life? and are not children and parents and country? Who will tolerate you if you deny this?

So Epictetus tells us that it is possible to apply general principles to specifics and this is what education is all about. For example, understanding physics would be to take a formula for gravity and apply it to the motion of a particular planet or the orbit of a satellite. For grammar, education would help the student transform grammatical rules into intelligent and cogent essays.

As Epictetus points out, a good education is built to give the student the tools to understand his or her world. This means that it also teaches self-discipline. For the single thing that every individual has power over is his own will and really nothing more than this. I commonly tell my daughter, "You must learn to control yourself before you can control anything else." This is what Epictetus is driving at. He doesn't mean to tell us that we do not have any way of dealing with the physical world, but that we only affect it in a positive manner if we ourselves are under positive control.

Chapter 22:

  1. General Principles
  2. Education Is Adapting General Principles (22a)
  3. Place Happiness in the Will (22b)
  4. What if They Laugh at You? (22c)
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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