Faculty of Understanding

"But give me directions," a student pleads. Why should I give you directions? Has not God already given you directions? Has he not given to you what is your own, free from hindrance and impediment. And what is not your own is difficult to acquire. What then has God commanded? Keep what is your own [your will]. Do not desire what belongs to others [everything else]. Fidelity is your own, conscience is your own. Who then can take these things from you? Who else other than yourself will hinder you from using them? But how do you act when you seek what is not your own? You lose that which is your own.

God has given us the faculty for choosing and the facility for understanding the implications for our choices. Epictetus tells us to employ this faculty. The great thing about fundamental ideas is that, they have huge implications that can be applied profitably to nearly every circumstance. They serve as a guide at every crossroad. Here, we see that when we seek what is the property of others we plainly lose what is our own, our soul.

In the commercial world every acquisition is bought with something. As is often said, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." This paragraph reminds me of the classic story of Faustus and all of the analogies since which show characters striking devious bargains with the devil. The fact is that every gain requires a sacrifice, no matter what it is. Though we do not literally sell our souls to the devil when we make material gain our only focus, we are giving up the time, effort and energy that we might have otherwise dedicated to God. Again, this is not a call for every person to become a "Diogenes" or a monk who takes a vow of poverty. It is rather a call to have a sense of proportion when dealing in the workaday world.

Chapter 25:

  1. More on Struggle
  2. Faculty of Understanding (25a)
  3. God Gave Us a Brain (25b)
  4. The Saturnalia (25c)
  5. Conjecture and Life (25d)
  6. Examples of Application (25e)
  7. Where to Sit in the Amphitheater (25f)
  8. Give Up the Material (25g)
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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