Epictetus
Epictetus


Theory Is Easy

First, philosophers exercise us in theory, which is easier than the next step when we are led to more difficult things. In theory, there is nothing which draws us away from following what is taught. Yet, in the matters of life, many are the things which distract us. He is ridiculous who says he wishes to begin with the matters of real life, for it is not easy to begin with the more difficult things. We ought to employ this fact as an argument to those parents who are vexed at their children learning philosophy: "Am I doing wrong then, my father, and do I not know what is suitable to me and becoming? If indeed this can neither be learned nor taught, why do you blame me? But if it can be taught, teach me. If you cannot teach me, allow me to learn from those who claim they can. For what do you think? Do you suppose that I voluntarily fall into evil and miss the good? I hope that it may not be. Can ignorance then be the cause of my doing wrong? Wouldn't you rather I get rid of my ignorance? Who was ever taught by anger the art of a pilot or music? Do you think that by means of your anger I shall learn the art of life?

Theory is easy. Life is Hard. Yet, we should still understand theory, philosophy and religion, because it is these fundamentals that will help us to understand how to live life. An analogy can be made to a discussion over the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in Galatians, Chapter 3. Paul says (verse 19), "What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added in order to show what wrongdoing is, and it was meant to last until the coming of Abraham's descendant, to whom the promise was made." The Old Covenant, or the Law, was put in place by God to teach right and wrong. Jesus came later and clarified and magnified the law. In Chapter 5 of Galatians Paul goes on to say, "The whole law is summed up in one commandment, Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

The law, the theory, the theology is quite simple. But implementation is not so easy, as Paul shows when he speaks of the war between what the body wants and what the spirit wants (later in Chapter 5). Paul's answer, of course, is summed up finally in Chapter 6 of Ephesians when he encourages the individual to put on the "Whole Armor of God". (6:14) "So stand ready, with truth as a belt tight around your waist, with righteousness as your breastplate and as your shoes the readiness to announce the Good News of peace. At all times carry faith as a shield...accept salvation as a helmet, and the Word of God as a sword."

Some would wish that we not gird this armor, that we not learn this philosophy. It was common in the days of Epictetus for parents to try to keep their children from learning philosophy. Many saw it as a distraction, others saw it as a corrupting influence. Socrates himself was tried by the Senate in Athens for "corrupting the youth", because he wanted to teach them a life affirming philosophy. Epictetus told his students to answer these nay-sayers by telling them that a student wishes to learn philosophy in order to understand the right way to live. This is what ethical philosophy and above all, Christianity, have to teach us.

Chapter 26:

  1. What is the Law of Life?
  2. Theory Is Easy (26a)
  3. Philosophy at a Banquet (26b)
  4. The Reader (26c)
  5. Understanding Is the Beginning (26d)
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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