Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 5


Against the Academics[1]

If a man, says Epictetus, resists truths that are all too evident, in opposing him it is not easy to find an argument by which one may cause him to change his opinion. The reason for this is neither the man's ability nor the teacher's weakness; nay, when a man who has been trapped in an argument hardens to stone, how shall one any longer deal with him by argument?

Now there are two kinds of petrifaction: one is the petrifaction of the intellect, the other of the sense of shame, when a man stands in array, prepared neither to assent to manifest truths nor to leave the fighting line. Most of us dread the deadening of the body and would resort to all means so as to avoid falling into such a state, but about the deadening of the soul we care not at all. 5Indeed, by Zeus, even in the case of the soul itself, if a man be in such a state that he cannot follow an argument step by step, or even understand one, we regard him too as being in a bad way; but if a man's sense of shame and self-respect be deadened, this we go so far as to call strength of character!

Do your senses tell you that you are awake? "No," he answers, "any more than they do when in dreams I have the impression that I am awake." Is there, then, no difference between these two impressions? "None." Can I argue with this man any longer? And what cautery or lancet shall I apply to him, to make him realize that he is deadened? He does realize it, but pretends that he does not; he is even worse than a corpse. One man does not notice the contradiction—he is in a bad way; another man notices it, indeed, but is not moved and does not improve—he is in a still worse state. His self-respect and sense of shame have been lopped off, and his reasoning faculty has been—I will not say cut away, but brutalized. 10Am I to call this strength of character? Far from it, unless I am so to describe the strength that lewd fellows have, which enables them to say and do in public anything that comes into their heads.


  1. See also II. 20. 4. Epictetus condemns the exaggerations of the Academic principle of suspended judgement, which was based on the doctrine that nothing could be actually known. Cf. Cicero Acad. I. 45: Arcesilas (a prominent Academic) negabat esse quidquam quod sciri posset . . . sic omnia latere in occulto: neque esse quidquam quod cerni aut intellegi posset: quibus de causis nihil oportere neque profiteri neque adfirmare quemquam neque adsensione approbare, etc.