Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Epictetus: Of the Things which are in our Power, and not in our Power

I'm studying the Discourses of Epictetus, and this is the first in the NuVision Publications, LLC 2006 edition.

Summary:
- Our ability to think enables us to choose when to act and what action to take.
- It's also the only real power we have: the power to choose.
- It's what can lead us to a good life within our limitations.
- Since we can't control our circumstances, we must control our ability to think.
- No one can affect us unless we let them; the physical world is less important than our ability to think.
- It's better to be detached from fate and physical things, and be ready to die without resentment and lament. This is the proper study of humans.

Reaction:

I agree that focusing on what I can control is the best way to pursue a good life. I'm not sure detachment and stoicism make for a good life, though.

The ability we have to choose our actions and reactions is the foundation of my approach to life. Not only is this ability the only power we have to affect our lives, it's important to exercise it--this exercise of the power of choice is the point of life.

4 comments:

Bryan Hasson said...

I sometimes find that constantly expecting death, or at least being harmonious enough to believe yourself ready for it, makes for quite a fine experience indeed.

Kami said...

I can see detaching myself from fate in the sense that I don't want to obsess too much about what might happen or what my destiny might or might not be. Fate was more literally interpreted in his time and that might affect it's true meaning. He might have meant for people to try not to second guess, either optimistically or pessimistically, how far the Fates allow us to go.

But as far as separation from the world around us so that we don't miss it so much when it comes time to leave it seems like cutting off our noses to spite our faces. I think loving the world fiercely just like I love my children fiercely is a positive force in my life. I just have to be careful not to consider the beautiful things in our world a right. They're a privilege.

Bryan Hasson said...

That fierce love is exactly what is granted to you when you understand the importance of things. Your appreciation of them might be enhanced by the expectance or acceptance of a cessation of all that you know.

Believing death to be on your front door does not mean living life grimly, it means -- depending on your own experience -- being able to appreciate things more, perhaps to their full value.

Kami said...

In this translation, however, it says detachment from fate *and physical things.* I include my children, my garden, the sky, the stars, etc. as physical things. I'm not sure how else to interpret that.

I do agree that being fully aware of death helps me live life fully and appreciate my family and friends.