Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 2/Chapter 1
That confidence does not conflict with caution
Perhaps the following contention of the philosophers appears paradoxical to some, but nevertheless let us to the best of our ability consider whether it is true that "we ought to do everything both cautiously and confidently at the same time." For caution seems to be in a way contrary to confidence, and contraries are by no means consistent. But that which appears to many to be paradoxical in the matter under discussion seems to me to involve something of this sort: If we demanded that a man should employ both caution and confidence in regard to the same things, then we would be justly charged with uniting qualities that are not to be united. But, as a matter of fact, what is there strange about the saying? For if the statements which have often been made and often proved are sound, namely that "the nature of the good as well as of the evil lies in a use of the impressions of the senses, but the things which lie outside the province of the moral purpose admit neither the nature of the evil, nor the nature of the good"; 5what is there paradoxical about the contention of the philosophers, if they say, "Where the things that lie outside the province of the moral purpose are involved, there show confidence, but where the things that lie within the province of the moral purpose are involved, there show caution"? For if the evil lies in an evil exercise of the moral purpose, it is only in regard to matters of this kind that it is right to employ caution; but if the things which lie outside the province of the moral purpose and are not under our control are nothing to us, we ought to employ confidence in regard to them. And so we shall be at one and the same time both cautious and confident, yes, and, by Zeus, confident because of our caution. For because we are cautious about the things which are really evil, the result will be that we shall have confidence in regard to the things which are not of that nature.
However, we act like deer: when the hinds are frightened by the feathers and run away from them, where do they turn, and to what do they fly for refuge as a safe retreat? Why, to the nets; and so they perish because they have confused the objects of fear with the objects of confidence. So it is with us also; where do we show fear? About the things which lie outside the province of the moral purpose. Again, in what do we behave with confidence as if there were no danger? In the things which lie within the province of the moral purpose. 10To be deceived, or to act impetuously, or to do something shameless, or with base passion to desire something, makes no difference to us, if only in the matters which lie outside the province of the will we succeed in our aim. But where death, or exile, or hardship, or ignominy faces us, there we show the spirit of running away, there we show violent agitation. Therefore, as might be expected of those men who err in matters of the greatest concern, we transform our natural confidence into boldness, desperateness, recklessness, shamelessness, while our natural caution and self-respect we transform into cowardice and abjectness, full of fears and perturbations. For if a man should transfer his caution to the sphere of the moral purpose and the deeds of the moral purpose, then along with the desire to be cautious he will also at once have under his control the will to avoid; whereas, if he should transfer his caution to those matters which are not under our control and lie outside the province of the moral purpose, inasmuch as he is applying his will to avoid towards those things which are under the control of others, he will necessarily be subject to fear, instability, and perturbation. For it is not death or hardship that is a fearful thing, but the fear of hardship or death. That is why we praise the man who said
Not death is dreadful, but a shameful death. 
Our confidence ought, therefore, to be turned toward death, and our caution toward the fear of death; whereas we do just the opposite—in the face of death we turn to flight, but about the formation of a judgement on death we show carelessness, disregard, and unconcern. But 15Socrates did well to call all such things "bugbears." For just as masks appear fearful and terrible to children because of inexperience, in some such manner we also are affected by events, and this for the same reason that children are affected by bugbears. For what is a child? Ignorance. What is a child? Want of instruction. For where a child has knowledge, he is no worse than we are. What is death? A bugbear. Turn it about and learn what it is; see, it does not bite. The paltry body must be separated from the bit of spirit, either now or later, just as it existed apart from it before. Why are you grieved, then, if it be separated now? For if it be not separated now, it will be later. Why? So that the revolution of the universe may be accomplished; for it has need of the things that are now coming into being, and the things that shall be, and the things that have been accomplished. What is hardship? A bugbear. Turn it about and learn what it is. The poor flesh is subjected to rough treatment, and then again to smooth. If you do not find this profitable, the door stands open; if you do find it profitable, bear it. 20For the door must be standing open for every emergency, and then we have no trouble.
What, then, is the fruit of these doctrines? Precisely that which must needs be both the fairest and the most becoming for those who are being truly educated—tranquillity, fearlessness, freedom. For on these matters we should not trust the multitude, who say, "Only the free can be educated," but rather the philosophers, who say, "Only the educated are free."—How is that?—Thus: At this time is freedom anything but the right to live as we wish? "Nothing else." Tell me, then, O men, do you wish to live in error? "We do not." Well, no one who lives in error is free. Do you wish to live in fear, in sorrow, in turmoil? "By no means." Well then, no man who is in fear, or sorrow, or turmoil, is free, but whoever is rid of sorrows and fears and turmoils, this man is by the self-same course rid also of slavery. 25How, then, shall we any longer trust you, O dearest lawgivers? Do we allow none but the free to get an education? For the philosophers say, "We do not allow any but the educated to be free"; that is, God does not allow it.—When, therefore, in the presence of the praetor a man turns his own slave about, has he done nothing?—He has done something.—What?—He has turned his slave about in the presence of the praetor,—Nothing more?—Yes, he is bound to pay a tax of five per cent, of the slave's value.—What then? Has not the man to whom this has been done become free?—He has no more become free than he has acquired peace of mind. You, for example, who are able to turn others about, have you no master? Have you not as your master money, or a mistress, or a boy favourite, or the tyrant, or some friend of the tyrant? If not, why do you tremble when you goto face some circumstance involving those things?
That is why I say over and over again, "Practise these things and have them ready at hand, that is, the knowledge of what you ought to face with confidence, and what you ought to face with caution—that you ought to face with confidence that which is outside the province of the moral purpose, with caution that which is within the province of the moral purpose."30—But have I not read to you, and do you not know what I am doing?—What have you been engaged upon? Trifling phrases! Keep your trifling phrases! Show me rather how you stand in regard to desire and aversion, whether you do not fail to get what you wish, or do not fall into what you do not wish. As for those trifling periods of yours, if you are wise, you will take them away somewhere and blot them out.—What then? Did not Socrates write?—Yes, who wrote as much as he? But how? Since he could not have always at hand someone to test his judgements, or to be tested by him in turn, he was in the habit of testing and examining himself, and was always in a practical way trying out some particular primary conception. That is what a philosopher writes; but trifling phrases, and "said he," "said I"[† 1] he leaves to others, to the stupid or the blessed, those who by virtue of their tranquillity live at leisure, or those who by virtue of their folly take no account of logical conclusions.
And now, when the crisis calls, will you go off and make an exhibition of your compositions, and give a reading from them, and boast, "See, how I write dialogues"? 35Do not so, man, but rather boast as follows: "See how in my desire I do not fail to get what I wish. See how in my aversions I do not fall into things that I would avoid. Bring on death and you shall know; bring on hardships, bring on imprisonment, bring on disrepute, bring on condemnation." This is the proper exhibition of a young man come from school. Leave other things to other people; neither let anyone ever hear a word from you about them, nor, if anyone praises you for them, do you tolerate it, but let yourself be accounted a no-body and a know-nothing. Show that you know this only—how you may never either fail to get what you desire or fall into what you avoid. Let others practise lawsuits, others problems, others syllogisms; do you practise how to die, how to be enchained, how to be racked, how to be exiled. Do all these things with confidence, with trust in Him who has called you to face them and deemed you worthy of this position, in which having once been placed you shall exhibit what can be achieved by a rational governing principle when arrayed against the forces that lie outside the province of the moral purpose. 40And thus the paradox of which we were speaking will no longer appear either impossible or paradoxical, namely, that at the same time we ought to be both cautious and confident, confident in regard to those things that lie outside the province of the moral purpose, and cautious in regard to those things that lie within the province of the moral purpose.
- The beaters used to frighten deer into the nets by stretching a cord, with brightly coloured feathers on it, across the safe openings in the wood. Compare Vergil, Georgics, III. 372; cf. Aen., XII. 750., "(In Scythia) men drive them (stags) not (into nets, as they do here) with the terrors of the crimson feather."
- From an unknown tragic poet (Nauck, Fragm. Trag. Adesp., 88); included also among the Monostichs of Menander, 504.
- Plato, Phaedo 77E; compare Crito 46C. Epictetus seems to use μορμολύκειον and μορμολυκεία in the unusual sense of a terrifying form of mask.
- A favourite idea of the Stoics (Zeno in Diog. Laert. VII. 137; Marcus Aurelius V. 13 and 32; X. 7, 2; XI. 2). Briefly expressed, it is a theory of "cyclical regeneration" (Marc. Aur. XI. 2), i.e., that all things repeat themselves in periodic cycles. Cf. Norden, Geburt des Kindes (1924), 31.
- "Freedom" in the days of the older Greek philosophers connoted primarily the exercise of political rights, but in the time of Epictetus, under the Roman rule, it meant nothing more than the privilege to live the kind of life that one pleased under the authority of the Imperial government. There is a play also on the double meaning of free, i.e., in a social and in a moral sense.
- Part of the ceremony of manumission in Roman law. The tax of "five per cent." mentioned just below is the fee that had to be paid to the State.
- The words of a pupil who has read and correctly interpreted some passage set him, or has read aloud to Epictetus some essay of his own composition.
- A very strange passage, for it was generally believed that Socrates did not write. Still there seems to have been some doubt on the question (Diog. Laert. I. 16 makes the statement that he did not write as resting "on the authority of some"), and the style of writing which Epictetus here describes seems not to have been intended for publication, so that it may be possible that Socrates wrote copiously, but only as a philosophical exercise, and not for others to read.
- Characteristic expressions in dialogue, an especially popular type of composition for philosophy which aspired to a refined literary form; compare the critical note.
Select critical notes
- "ἦ δ᾽ ὄς," "ἦν δ᾽ ἑγώ," Kronenberg: ἡ ὁδός, ἢν λέγ** S (λέγω Sc).