Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 3/Chapter 2

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The fields of study in which the man who expects to make progress will have to go into training; and that we neglect what is most important

There are three fields of study[1] in which the man who is going to be good and excellent must first have been trained. The first has to do with desires and aversions, that he may never fail to get what he desires, nor fall into what he avoids; the second with cases of choice and of refusal, and, in general, with duty, that he may act in an orderly fashion, upon good reasons, and not carelessly; the third with the avoidance of error and rashness in judgement, and, in general, about cases of assent. Among these the most important and especially pressing is that which has to do with the stronger emotions; for a strong emotion does not arise except a desire fails to attain its object, or an aversion falls into what it would avoid.[2] This is the field of study which introduces to us confusions, tumults, misfortunes and calamities; and sorrows, lamentations, envies;[3][† 1] and makes[4] us envious and jealous—passions which make it impossible for us even to listen to reason. The second field of study deals with duty; for I ought not to be unfeeling like a statue, but should maintain my relations, both natural and acquired, as a religious man, as a son, a brother, a father, a citizen.

5The third belongs only to those who are already making progress; it has to do with the element of certainty in the matters which have just been mentioned, so that even in dreams, or drunkenness, or a state of melancholy-madness, a man may not be taken unawares by the appearance of an untested sense-impression.—This, says someone, is beyond us.—But philosophers nowadays pass by the first and second fields of study, and concentrate upon the third, upon arguments which involve equivocal premisses, which derive syllogisms by the process of interrogation, which involve hypothetical premisses,[5] and sophisms like The Liar.[6]—Of course, he says, even when a man is engaged in subjects of this kind he has to preserve his freedom from deception.—But what kind of a man ought to engage in them?—Only the one who is already good and excellent.—Do you, then, fall short in this? Have you already attained perfection in the other subjects? Are you proof against deception in handling small change? If you see a pretty wench, do you resist the sense-impression? If your neighbour receives an inheritance, do you not feel a twinge of envy? And is security of judgement now the only thing in which you fall short? Wretch, even while you are studying these very topics you tremble and are worried for fear someone despises you, and you ask whether anybody is saying anything about you. 10And if someone should come and say, "A discussion arising as to who was the best of the philosophers, someone who was there said that So-and-so was the only real philosopher," immediately your poor little one-inch soul shoots up a yard high.[7] But if another party to the discussion says, "Nonsense, it's a waste of time to listen to So-and-so. Why, what does he know? He has the rudiments, but nothing else," you are beside yourself, you grow pale, immediately you shout, "I'll show him who I am, that I am a great philosopher!" Yet we see what a man is by just such conduct. Why do you wish to show it by anything else? Do you not know that Diogenes[8] showed one of the sophists thus, pointing out his middle finger at him,[9] and then when the man was furious with rage, remarked, "That's So-and-so; I've pointed him out to you." For a man is not something like a stone or a stick of wood to be pointed out with a finger, but when one shows a man's judgements, then one shows him as a man.

Let us take a look at your judgements too. Is it not evident that you set no value on your own moral purpose, but look beyond to the things that lie outside the province of the moral purpose, namely, what So-and-so will say, and what impression you will make, whether men will think you a scholar, or that you have read Chrysippus or Antipater? Why, if you have read them and Archedemus too, you have everything! Why are you any longer worried for fear you will not show us who you are? Do you wish me to tell you what kind of a man you have shown us that you are? A person who comes into our presence[10][† 2] mean, hypercritical, quick-tempered, cowardly, finding fault with everything, blaming everybody, never quiet, vain-glorious; these are the qualities which you have exhibited to us. 15Go away now and read Archedemus; then if a mouse falls down and makes a noise, you are dead with fright. For the same kind of death awaits you that carried off—what's his name?—oh, yes, Crinus.[11] He, too, was proud of himself because he could understand Archedemus. Wretch, are you not willing to let alone those things that do not concern you? They are appropriate for those who can study them without disturbance of spirit, who have the right to say, "I do not yield to anger, or sorrow, or envy; I am not subject to restraint, or to compulsion. What do I yet lack? I enjoy leisure, I have peace of mind. Let us see how we ought to deal with equivocal premisses in arguments; let us see how a person may adopt an hypothesis and yet not be led to an absurd conclusion." These things belong to men of that type. When men are prospering it is appropriate to light a fire, to take luncheon, and, if you will, even to sing and dance; but when the ship is already sinking you come up to me and start to hoist the topsails!


  1. Compare II. 17, 15 ff. This triple division of philosophy is the one original element in the teaching of Epictetus, and even it is rather a pedagogical device than an innovation in thought. Compare Vol. I. p. xxi, and the literature there cited.
  2. A briefer definition is given in I. 27, 10.
  3. See critical note.
  4. The expression is not logical, for the field of study obviously can do nothing of the kind, but the fault is probably not in the MS. tradition.
  5. See I. 7, 1, and note for these first three.
  6. i.e., if a man says he is lying, is he really lying, or telling the truth? See II. 17, 34, and note. Ψευδομένους is used without the article, as in II. 21, 17.
  7. Literally, "from a finger's breadth (.7 in.) to two cubits."
  8. See Diogenes Laertius, 6. 34, who says that Demosthenes was the man thus pointed at.
  9. Regarded in antiquity as an insulting gesture.
  10. See critical note.
  11. A Stoic philosopher of no great prominence, who must be supposed to have died from an apoplectic stroke occasioned by fright at a mouse falling down from the wall. See Von Arnim in the Real-Encylopädies.v.

Select critical notes

  1. φόβους ("fears") conjectured by Reiske, very plausibly.
  2. ἀνθρωπάριον ("a mean little person") very plausibly suggested by Reiske.