Understanding Is the Beginning

The beginning of philosophy is a man's perception of the state of his ruling faculty. When a man knows that it is weak, then he will not employ it on things of the greatest difficulty. But at present people who cannot swallow even a morsel buy whole volumes and attempt to devour them. This is the reason they vomit them up or suffer indigestion. Then come aches, vomiting, and fevers. Such men ought to consider their ability. In theory it is easy to convince an ignorant person. But in the affairs of real life no one offers himself to be convinced, and we hate the man who has convinced us. But Socrates advised us not to live our lives unexamined.

The beginning of philosophy, the beginning of faith, the beginning of knowledge, is understanding the state of our own "ruling faculty". Freud would have called this the ego. It is the part of our minds that makes the decisions. It is where our free will resides. Just as God is represented by the Trinity, our lives are made up of a trinity composed of the mind, the body and the soul. Although it is our souls that are ultimately important, it is our minds that dictate the shape of our souls. Epictetus, in his sometimes humorous way, is telling us that we must have a strong mind, a strong will, in order to first understand our faith and philosophy, and ultimately, to apply it to our daily life.

To end this discourse, Epictetus quotes his hero, Socrates, who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." To live a worthy life we must have some cognition or understanding of what we are about. This is where philosophy and study of the Bible come into play. Read, study and apply. These are our mandates; these are the commands of nature, the commands of God.

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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