Applying The Views Of Epictetus To Everyday Living

  • Category: Philosophy
  • Words: 2510
  • Grade: 100
Robert Mathias
PHIL 2316
October 4, 2001

Paper One: Applying the views of Epictetus to Everyday Living

        The human condition is in a constant state of evolution. Through experiences that are usually thrusted into a category of either positive or negative depending on their direct effect on us, we are always changing. Early on in life we become aware of this certainty and learn to accept it on some levels. But as human nature would have it we are determined to be in full control of our environment and ourselves at all times. This is the nature of the beast and a human characteristic that both limits and enslaves us all in relation to our own mental and emotional levels. Life is given to us as a gift. What we do with it from there is for the most part in our control, in addition to our own actions and judgments. Other than that, there is little that is in our direct control. But as nature must have it human beings refuse to accept this and spend the majority of their time in this gift of life at a constant battle with that with which they have absolutely no control over. Thus there levels of joy and sorrow, honor and pleasure all become based primarily on what else, but that which is un-controllable. This is a fact that many would both deny and cast aside upon first approach, but with honesty and true insight into ones own actions and thoughts it would quickly become apparent. Although this is in fact human nature, that in no way means that it is irreversible. The Handbook of Epictetus presents the views of the stoic Epictetus. Through his advice we immediately become aware of the faults of many men. It becomes apparent how we all seem to make our own lives that much more difficult. Through a careful presentation of Epictetus views I will attempt to summarize his thoughts in a way that will give an explicit view on how one should live their life. I will then interpret these views into modern day living so that through its application ones life will become simplified and therefore enhanced.
        The most succinct statement on Epictetus view of the best possible condition for a human being to be in is: " Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well." He is here stating that the best possible human condition is not being of a matter of external events but of ones state of mind. The given way to achieve this state is by setting ones desires so that they are in line with the way the external world actually is. And thus realizing that all events, at least in the external world, are completely determined by prior states of the universe as a whole. It's with this, that we realize that much of which we make our primary concerns in life is in fact out of our control. Therefore we are somewhat foolish to make these our primary concerns. For instance, many people spend enormous amounts of time stressing such petty everyday events such as something as simple as traffic. Millions of people across America must dread work for no other reason than it to get there they must dredge through a stagnant sea of noisy automobiles and exhaust. They no that this is certain, every workday without fail there will be traffic. It is this the uncontrollable, which causes so many a mass of anger and stress . Even to the point in which they will quit jobs in which they really liked, or get involved in fits of road rage which can many times lead to death. This, the everyday trial and tribulation known as traffic, is on some level in a small way controlling millions of peoples lives for the simple fact that they attach emotions to this very event.
        In the Handbook of Epictetus we are given some primary advice on how one should order and live one's life. Epictetus states that we should first realize that some things are up to us and some are not. The things that are up to us are those things that are by nature free, the things that are not up to us are enslaved. He further explains that we must behave in life like we do at a banquet. If something is passed around and it comes to you, reach out and take some. If it goes by, do not hold back. Since it has not arrived yet, do not stretch out your desire towards it but wait till it comes to you. With this he is saying that in life there will often be opportunities that will come to us that we should take full advantage of and gain everything we possibly can from these experiences. For it is this that is living. But if perhaps there is something in which we miss out on we should in no way hold on to it emotionally. It is with this that we get disappointed and discouraged and have therefore let that which is out of our control has a direct effect on us.
        An important passage in the handbook is that concerning the role of judgment. It states that it is in fact people's judgments about things instead of the actual things that upset people. For example, if someone is cut off in traffic it is their judgment that they are in control of. This judgment is in fact the only thing they are in control of, not the others driver's original action of cutting them off or even his reaction to cutting them off. It is for this reason that through our judgments about specific things and situations we control ourselves and our very lives. Thus, if we are ever for some reason or another upset, we should never blame someone else but rather ourselves, or more importantly our judgments. The role of judgment is a very powerful one in the everyday lives of human beings all around the world. Judgment can be cast upon any and everything from an event to a person. Through our judgments we can either open up doors of opportunity and experience or limit ourselves to a very closed and artificial existence. From the grand scheme of things to the small events of everyday living the role of judgment is present. This role as a decision on how we will let that which is the uncontrollable factors of the world effect us directly. It is all of these decisions and judgments that come together to be the single determining factor in not only how we live our very lives but more importantly the state in which we live it.
        The handbook goes further in explaining the role of reason in ones life. It states that we should use the skill of reason in each of our actions to consider what leads up to this action and what will follow it, and approach this action in light of that. In using this reason one will avoid coming into an undertaking overly enthusiastic only to give up disgracefully when difficulties arise. In short, Epictetus is stating that with the use of reason one should be able to forecast any problems which may arise with a given action and therefore be better prepared to handle them if and when the time comes. Naturally we all are sometimes blinded by our desires for a certain thing or event to come to us or happen to us. We act quickly on these occurrences in high hopes of the best only to a lot of times be set up for a downfall which will most definitely bring about resentment. Through reason, patience, and a bit of honesty any action can be thought through to it's very final stages with all reprocutions and problems included. With this we are fully aware of what exactly this action fully entails and can then make a beneficial decision on whether to proceed with it based on these findings. Reason is our central checkpoint; if used correctly it is an honest tool, which will create a life filled with decisions, and actions, which reflect that of well thought out, mature choices.
        The handbook states that the role of joy is positive if used with honesty. It states we should be joyful only when we are in accord with nature in our way of dealing with appearances. With this it is certain that we will be joyful about a good of our own. Simply put, Epictetus is stating that we should first become aware of that which is the nature of appearances. Further, that appearances for the most part can be deceiving and therefore in no way concrete grounds for bringing about true joy in ones life. If we cast aside all that is artificial, and more importantly superficial things in our life that bring us joy. Such as material items like cars, houses, and clothes. It is perfectly understandable for one to be overwhelmed with a sense of joy when they purchase a new automobile or house. But when these items become the sole source of joy in ones life, as many often do, they are living a life filled with artificial joy. The same is true with that of personal appearances. Such as how people tend to categorize each other as beautiful, pretty, average, or down right ugly. This is natural but all the same artificial. Epictetus is saying that once we become fully aware of that which brings about true joy in our life and that which rightfully should, then we will thus be living a fuller and happier life entirely.
        Epictetus goes on to state that the role of sorrow in one life is in accord with their judgments upon that which is causing them sorrow. For it is not the object that is causing them sorrow but rather their judgment upon it. With this he is going back to his view on that which is in our control is our judgments about things rather than the actual things themselves. With the death of a loved one most are immediately overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow concerning what they feel is a personal loss for them. It is with this their judgment of what this death was, a personal loss to them, which brings about this state of sorrow rather than the actual death itself. This very same person could lose a loved one and if they came to terms with this loss with an attitude of happiness for this loved one who they feel is now in a better place, then they would thus be casting a different judgment upon the same action and therefore avoiding what most feel is the only emotion after a loss, sorrow.
        Epictetus states that the role of honor in ones life should be carried without the influence of others. And that it is up to the individual to be someone only in the things that are up to them. One must carry honor in only the things, which he controls, and not those, which are set before him by others and their standards of what is to be considered worth honor. Many strive to receive honor in that which does not satisfy themselves, but rather others. Epictetus is stating that this cannot be done. That we must strive to do that in which brings honor to ourselves. For the fact that it is not in our control if others perceive that in which we are doing as honorable or not. It is in this that human beings are open to be of their greatest worth.
        Finally, Epictetus states that when dealing with pleasures one should be on guard not to let them be carried away by it, but let it wait for you and allow yourself to delay. Then bring it before your mind two times, both the time when you enjoy this initial pleasure and the time when after enjoying it when you regret it. This is another way of thinking out your actions concerning a pleasure, rather than succumbing to the initial temptation and later regretting it. With this you will be able to make a confident decision on whether the action is worth undertaking. Pleasure is naturally and almost always accompanied by temptation whose job is to blind you therefore making you succumb to this temptation. Epictetus is saying that if you can posses the will power and self control to withstand this temptation for the amount of time it takes you to think over this given temptations reprocution. Then, you will make a decision that will benefit rather than harm you in the future.
        We are born into the world not knowing anything but what we have gathered in the womb, which consists of darkness, certain voices and sounds. From there we naturally come about certain knowledge which many will come to call given. We are told what are right and wrong and socialized in a way that we fall into a state of being which is considered the norm. We grow and mature and acquire what most consider the worries of everyday life. This is where we must stop and question all that we have come to know. For what reason should we not question it? If we are destined to live our lives to their very potential, we owe it to ourselves and our creator to question all that which we have come to know. It is with this that the Epictetus offers some light in areas of personal concerns and how they effect our lives. To come to an understanding of the roles of judgment, reason, joy, sorrow, honor and pleasure along with any other facet of life which causes a given emotion, is to be true to ourselves. With this understanding we cast away all impurities that inhibit so many of us from achieving our potential. With this understanding, gives us the chance to live a life filled with truth, and joy beyond the means of our comprehension. The views of Epictetus on how one should live ones life are a testament to the potential of the human spirit. A world where the human race is consciously living in and more so in touch with reality might be somewhat far fetched. But, it is up to the individual to make the decision of how they want to live their own life. With the plan that has been set out here in this handbook it would seem that any given individual who might set upon it would be on the road to a more full, prosperous way of life and thus bettering everyone else around them and the world as a whole.


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