Chapter 28: On Good and Evil

Why do we agree with anything? We agree if it appears true. It is not possible to assent to that which appears not to be true. Why? This is the nature of human understanding, to incline to the true, to be dissatisfied with the false. What is the proof of this? "Imagine, if you can, that it is now night." It is not possible. "Take away your persuasion that it is day." It is not possible. "Persuade yourself that the stars are even or odd in number." It is impossible. Thus, when any man assents to that which is false, be assured that he did not intend to assent to it as false. As Plato says, "Every soul is unwillingly deprived of the truth." He only agreed because the falsity seemed to him to be true.

We assent to ideas and actions when we believe that they are true or based on truth. Epictetus says we have a natural inclination toward seeking the truth. Indeed, this is the case. If we tried to live outside the truth, we would soon find ourselves in serious trouble. People who disobey the basic laws of economics generally find themselves deep in debt and struggling. People who disobey the basic laws of physics find themselves wrecking automobiles at high speeds or falling from high places.

From a practical standpoint, then, truth is important, whether it is philosophic or physical. How do we measure a philosophic truth? We can measure it by how effective it is. By this standard Christianity is a vital truth because its benefits are both spiritual and palpable. People who live a Christian life are generally happier than the rest of humanity. Thus it is easy to assent to this truth.

In spite of this there are people who perceive good or truth where it is not and this is the root of bad conduct:

Chapter 28:

  1. On Good and Evil
  2. The Strange Medea (28a)
  3. Christianity and Logic (28b)
  4. Paris, Helen, and Menelaus (28c)
  5. Perception (28d)
  6. A Deal with the Devil (28e)
  7. WWJD - What Would Jesus Do? (28f)
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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