Digestion and Moral Progress in Epictetus
The Stoic Epictetus famously criticizes his students for studying Stoicism as ‘mere theory’ and encouraged them to add training to their educational program. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that Epictetus, as a Stoic, was committed to notion that wisdom is sufficient to be virtuous, so theory should be all that’s required to achieve virtue. How are we then to make sense of Epictetus criticism of an overreliance on theory, and his insistence on adding training? This paper argues that this tension can be resolved through an appeal to the metaphor of ‘digesting theory’. Epictetus discusses the digestion of theory in three parts of his existent work. While the use of digestion as a metaphor for moral progress in Epictetus has been noted, an explanation as to exactly what this process consists of has yet to be provided. This paper attempts to provide such an account. I argue that digestion consists of assimilating what we have learnt conceptually, at the level of general principles, into specific beliefs concerning existent objects. I argue further that this process of digestion can only be achieved through what Epictetus calls training (askesis).
Braicovich, Rodrigo Sebastián. “Critical Assent, Intellectualism, and Repetition in Epictetus.” Apeiron 45.4 (2012): 314–337. https://doi.org/10.1515/apeiron-2012-0004
Cooper, John M. “The Relevance of Moral Theory to Moral Improvement in Epictetus.” The Philosophy of Epictetus. Ed. T. Scaltsas and Andrew S. Mason. Oxford: New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 9–19. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199233076.003.0002
Cooper, John M. Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus. Princeton University Press, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400842322
Epictetus. Discourses and Selected Writings. Trans. Robert F Dobbin. London: Penguin, 2008.
Epictetus. The Discourses of Epictetus. Trans. Robin Hard. London: Rutland, Vt: J.M. Dent: C.E. Tuttle, 1995. Print. Everyman Library.
Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Trans. Arnold I. Davidson. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1995.
Hadot, Pierre. The Inner Citadel: the “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius. Trans. Michael Chase. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Hadot, Pierre. What Is Ancient Philosophy? Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002.
Johnson, Brian E. The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014.
Long, A. A. Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life. Oxford: Oxford: New York: Clarendon Press: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Long, A. A., and D. N. Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511808050
Nussbaum, Martha Craven. The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1994.
Crivelli, Paulo. “Epictetus and Logic.” The Philosophy of Epictetus. Ed. T. Scaltsas and Andrew S. Mason. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 20–31. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199233076.003.0003
Sandbach, F.H. “Ennoia and Prolepsis in the Stoic Theory of Knowledge.” Problems in Stoicism. Ed. A. A. Long. London: Athlone Press, 1971. 22–37.
Scaltsas, T., and Andrew S. Mason, eds. The Philosophy of Epictetus. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199233076.001.0001
Sellars, John. “Stoic Practical Philosophy in the Imperial Period.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 50.94P1 (2007): 115–140.
Sellars, John. The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004. Print. Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Philosophy. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2041-5370.2007.tb02420.x
Sharpe, Matthew. “It’s Not the Chrysippus You Read: On Cooper, Hadot, Epictetus, and Stoicism as a Way of Life.” Philosophy Today 58.3 (2014): 367–392. https://doi.org/10.5840/philtoday20145225
Copyright (c) 2019 Journal of Ancient Philosophy
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC By 4.0) that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).