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Exploring Encheiridion 5 (part II) – Episode 36


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Uneducated people blame others when they are doing badly. Those whose education is underway blame themselves. But a fully educated person blames no one, neither himself nor anyone else. (Ench 5) In Episode 35, I covered the first part of Encheiridion 5, where Epictetus added death to the list of things outside of our full control and, therefore, not inherently bad. If you’ve listened to Stoicism on Fire for a while or read my Traditional Stoicism blog, you likely understand this concept, which is frequently called the Dichotomy of Control, and you’ve probably been attempting to adopt this Stoic mindset toward externals. However, understanding this concept intellectually and putting it into practice are entirely different things. The practice of Stoicism is hard. I have been at it diligently for ten years, and I occasionally feel like a complete beginner. I understand the Stoic doctrines; I had a firm grasp of those within a couple of years. But, the goal of Stoicism is perfect practice, not perfect doctrinal knowledge. Perfect practice is the ideal of Stoicism. That is the standard attributed to the Sage and one none of us are likely to achieve. Which begs the question, “What then is the point of Stoic practice?” The answer, of course, is progress. Even though we will likely never arrive at the level of wisdom the Sage possesses, we can make progress toward that ideal. In the second part of Encheiridion 5, Epictetus outlines a three-step progression by placing all people into one of three categories: the uneducated, those whose education is underway, and finally, those whose education is complete. I think it is vital for us to understand these categories and their implication for our Stoic practice. Before we get into the categories, it is essential to note that education for the Stoics was more than memorization of doctrines. Education meant training (askesis). The Stoic training regimen required the student to put Stoic principles into practice. In other words, the distinction in Encheiridion 5 is not between those who are entirely ignorant of Stoic doctrines and those who memorized them all and can recite them at will. Epictetus infers more than book knowledge in this passage. We could relabel these categories as follows: those who are untrained in Stoic practice, those whose training in Stoic practice is underway, those who have completed their Stoic training and are completely wise—the Sage. Now, let’s consider these categories in a little more detail. Pay attention to the observable behavioral characteristics Epictetus provides for each of these categories. The uneducated person lives his or her life desiring and seeking things that are not within their complete control (wealth, pleasure, fame, political power, a good reputation, etc.). Simultaneously, they fear and attempt to avoid other things beyond their complete control (poverty, pain, obscurity, death, etc.). Now, here’s the behavioral characteristic of the uneducated person: When they are doing badly, they blame others. The uneducated blame others when they are not getting what they desire and getting what they fear instead. If you doubt this truth, turn on the news for a few minutes. You will observe an endless parade of uneducated people who are angry because they don’t have what they think they deserve to make them happy. They frequently claim to be victims of circumstances or someone else’s bad behavior, and think others have the power to make them happy or miserable. Marcus described them in Meditations 2.1 as “ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people.” Then, he proposes that he remind himself each morning that these are the people he will encounter during the day. Marcus continues this passage by noting the reason uneducated people behave this way:  They are subject to all these defects because they have no knowledge of good and bad. (Meditation 2.1) The uneducated seek well-being in externals that a...

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