CHAPTER 27: On Appearances

In appearances there are four possibilities: things appear as they are, or they are not, and do not even appear to be, or they are, and do not appear to be, or finally they are not, and yet appear to be. Further, it is the province of an educated man to discern between these possibilities. Whatever it is that annoys us should be dealt with. If the sophisms of Pyrrho and of the Academics we find annoying, we must apply the remedy to them. If some things appear to be good when they are not good, let us seek a remedy for this.

Our first job in understanding this discourse is to analyze the "four possibilities" put forth by Epictetus. He tells us there is reality; then there is our perception of reality. Because these two things are not always the same, every incident or thing can fall into one of four categories:

1) An object exists, we see the object;

2) An object does not exist, neither do we see an object;

3) An object exists, but we do not see it as it really is;

4) An object does not exist, but we see some form that seems to exist.

Epictetus believes that right judgment requires that we be able to distinguish between these possibilities. We can see that this is indeed an important faculty in the realms of investment, entrepreneurship, game playing, philosophy, religion and our daily life.

Pyrrho is mentioned by Epictetus as a philosophic obstruction to understanding appearances. Pyrrho lived 360-270 B.C. He proposed that we could not hope to connect appearances to reality because we live behind the screen of our senses and our senses are notoriously apt to lie to us and return contradictory data. Pyrrho's philosophy was a strong anti-intellectual influence in the ancient world. Some of his followers disdained even to take notice of the weather or imminent dangers on the basis that their reality could not be confirmed. Pyrrho himself was said to be always on the verge of poisoning himself, getting run over by a cart or walking off a precipice, and it was only the constant attention of his friends that saved him.

Chapter 27:

  1. On Appearances
  2. Bad Habits (27a)
  3. The Undiscovered Country (27b)
  4. Our Interests and Our Religion (27c)
  5. Epistemological Skepticism (27d)
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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