Epictetus and His Handbook – Philosophy (200 Level Course)
While it would be a pretty fair personal assessment to say that philosophy is not the field of study that demands my interest, nor is it the field that I would enjoy devoting a considerable amount of time to, I was quite surprised when undertaking Epictetus’ handbook. Written as an introductory work in stoic philosophy and also written as a guide as to how to live one’s life, it comes across as much less boorish than other pieces of philosophical literature that I have read and although it was written some two thousand years ago it still applies to practical everyday events.
Epictetus delves into such things as how to handle relationships with loved ones, how to build character, how to deal with hardships as well as happiness and simply the best way to live one’s life and be able to be free and at peace. I personally found his twenty-first point to be quite intriguing. In it he states, Let death and exile and everything that is terrible appear before your eyes every day, especially death; and you will never have anything contemptible in your thoughts or crave anything excessively. This is a fascinating outlook on life and the experiences that one can surround themselves with and its effect on the person that they become.
So as I would agree with this statement affectionately, I feel that very few people today live by this standard. And while it is unfair to judge today to the past simply because it is impossible to ever know if people followed this philosophy throughout time, we can see that today this is not a reality. Perhaps some people do see death and other terrible things and still want things that would be thought to be excessive. Others still may have not been subjected to these evils of the world and if they are or when they do they will be grateful for all that they have. Many people probably do follow this moral code and do not want things that are not essential to their survival and they do so because they know that they have been blessed with good in their lives.
I personally know that I am guilty at times of contemptible thoughts and craving things in excess. And while I have not seen all of the bad that the world holds I have been subjected to some of it, including death and tragedy. Yet still I let those memories slip my mind at times and I long for things that I know I do not need. Maybe that is just human nature or the result of the world that we live in, a world in which more is good and there is a constant surge of new things and improved versions of things that we have and most likely did not need in the first place. Regardless of the reasons for the way that our society and culture behave, Epictetus was merely witness to the same types of behavior in his time and was able to predict its continuance in the future of all society.
So then we ask the question, will things ever change? Will people stop one day, reflect on all that they have and realize that they are the fortunate ones and never long for more? Most likely not, but it would be an interesting question to ponder, and it seems that if in fact that was the case, this world that we call home would be changed, and changed for the better at that. Greed has been the cause of war, poverty, starvation, and others man made disasters. And greed does not have to be limited to money or merely material possessions. The need for power has been one of the most abused actions in the past century throughout the world. A world without greed could be a very beautiful thing, but I fear that I will never live to witness that, nor will any of my offspring, or their offspring. For that would be asking an awful lot out of people that have been doing the same things for thousands of thousands of years. Still I would bet that Epictetus would have loved to see it happen and for the matter, so would I.