Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 15


What does philosophy profess?

When someone consulted Epictetus as to how he could persuade his brother to cease being angry with him, he replied, Philosophy does not profess to secure for man any external possession. Otherwise it would be undertaking something that lies outside its proper subject-matter. For as wood is the material of the carpenter, bronze that of the statuary, just so each man's own life is the subject-matter of the art of living.—Well, what about my brother's life?—That again is the subject-matter of his own art of living, but with respect to your art of living it comes under the category of externals, like a farm, like health, like good repute. Philosophy promises none of these things, but rather, "In every circumstance I will keep the governing principle[1] in a state of accord with nature."—Whose governing principle?—"His in whom I am."5—How, then, shall I keep my brother from being angry at me?—Bring him to me and I will tell him, but I have nothing to say to you on the subject of his anger.

And when the man who was consulting him said. What I seek to know is this, how, even if my brother refuses to be reconciled with me, I may yet be in accord with nature, Epictetus replied: Nothing great comes into being all at once; why, not even does the bunch of grapes, or a fig. If you say to me now, "I want a fig," I shall answer, "That requires time." Let the tree blossom first, then put forth its fruit, and finally let the fruit ripen. Now although the fruit of even a fig-tree is not brought to perfection all at once and in a single hour, would you still seek to secure the fruit of a man's mind in so short a while and so easily? Do not expect it, not even if I should tell you so myself.


  1. The soul of man, as feeling and thinking, often equivalent to "reason," but not exclusively intellectual. See Bonhöffer, Epictet und die Stoa, i. 9 ff.