Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 2/Chapter 10


How is it possible to discover a man's duties from the designations which he bears?

Consider who you are. To begin with, a Man; that is, one who has no quality more sovereign than moral choice, but keeps everything else subordinate to it, and this moral choice itself free from slavery and subjection. Consider, therefore, what those things are from which you are separated by virtue of the faculty of reason. You are separated from wild beasts, you are separated from sheep. In addition to this you are a citizen of the world, and a part of it, not one of the parts destined for service, but one of primary importance;[1] for you possess the faculty of understanding the divine administration of the world, and of reasoning upon the consequences thereof. What, then, is the profession of a citizen? To treat nothing as a matter of private profit, not to plan about anything as though he were a detached unit, but to act like the foot or the hand, which, if they had the faculty of reason and understood the constitution of nature, would never exercise choice or desire in any other way but by reference to the whole. 5Hence the philosophers well say that if the good and excellent man knew what was going to happen, he would help on the processes of disease and death and maiming, because he would realize that this allotment comes from the orderly arrangement of the whole, and the whole is more sovereign than the part, and the state more sovereign than the citizen. But as it is, seeing that we do not know beforehand what is going to happen, it is our duty to cleave to that which is naturally more fit to be chosen, since we are born for this purpose.

Next bear in mind that you are a Son. What is the profession of this character? To treat everything that is his own as belonging to his father, to be obedient to him in all things, never to speak ill of him to anyone else, nor to say or do anything that will harm him, to give way to him in everything and yield him precedence, helping him as far as is within his power.

Next know that you are also a Brother. Upon this character also there is incumbent deference, obedience, kindly speech, never to claim as against your brother any of the things that lie outside the realm of your free moral choice, but cheerfully to give them up, so that in the things that do lie within the realm of your free moral choice you may have the best of it.[2] For see what it is, at the price of a head of lettuce, if it so chance, or of a seat, for you to acquire his goodwill—how greatly you get the best of it there!

10Next, if you sit in the town council of some city, remember that you are a councillor; if you are young, remember that you are young; if old, that you are an elder; if a father, that you are a father. For each of these designations, when duly considered, always suggests the acts that are appropriate to it. But if you go off and speak ill of your brother, I say to you, "You have forgotten who you are and what your designation is." Why, if you were a smith and used your hammer amiss, you would have forgotten the smith you were; but if you forget the brother you are, and become an enemy instead of a brother, will you seem to yourself to have exchanged nothing for nothing? And if, instead of being a man, a gentle and social being, you have become a wild beast, a mischievous, treacherous, biting animal, have you lost nothing? What, must you lose a bit of pelf so as to suffer damage, and does the loss of nothing else damage a man? 15Yet, if you lost your skill in the use of language or in music, you would regard the loss of it as damage; but if you are going to lose self-respect and dignity and gentleness, do you think that does not matter? And yet those former qualities are lost from some external cause that is beyond the power of our will, but these latter are lost through our own fault; and it is neither noble to have nor disgraceful to lose these former qualities, but not to have these latter, or having had them to lose them, is a disgrace and a reproach and a calamity. What is lost by the victim of unnatural lust? His manhood. And by the agent? Beside a good many other things he also loses his manhood no less than the other. What does the adulterer lose? He loses the man of self-respect that was, the man of self-control, the gentleman, the citizen, the neighbour. What does the man lose who is given to anger? Something else. Who is given to fear? Something else. No one is evil without loss and damage. Furthermore, if you look for your loss in pelf, all those whom I have just mentioned suffer neither injury nor loss; nay, if it so chance, they even get gain and profit, when, through some of their deeds just mentioned, they also acquire pelf. 20But observe that if you make paltry pelf your standard for everything, not even the man who loses his nose will in your eyes have suffered an injury.—"Oh yes, he has," someone says, "for his body is mutilated."—Come now, and does the man who has lost his entire sense of smell lose nothing? Is there, then, no such thing as a faculty of the mind, the possession of which means gain to a man, and the loss, injury?—What faculty do you mean? Have we not a natural sense of self-respect?—We have.—Does not the man who destroys this suffer a loss, is he not deprived of something, does he not lose something that belonged to him? Do we not have a natural sense of fidelity, a natural sense of affection, a natural sense of helpfulness, a natural sense of keeping our hands off one another? Shall, therefore, the man who allows himself to suffer loss in such matters, be regarded as having suffered neither injury nor loss?

Well, what then? Am I not to injure the man who has injured me?—First consider what injury is, and call to mind what you have heard the philosophers say. 25For if the good lies in moral purpose, and the evil likewise in moral purpose, see if what you are saying does not come to something like this, "Well, what then? Since so-and-so has injured himself by doing me some wrong, shall I not injure myself by doing him some wrong?" Why, then, do we not represent the case to ourselves in some such light as that? Instead of that, where there is some loss affecting our body or our property, there we count it injury; but is there no injury where the loss affects our moral purpose? For the man who has been deceived or who has done some wrong has no pain in his head, or his eye, or his hip, neither does he lose his land. But these are the things we care for and nothing else; yet the question whether we are going to have a moral purpose characterized by self-respect and good faith, or by shamelessness and bad faith, does not so much as begin to disturb us, except only in so far as we make it a topic of trivial discussion in the classroom. 30Therefore, so far as our trivial discussions go, we do make some progress, but, apart from them, not even the very least.


  1. Cf. II. 8, 6 f. and note.
  2. πλέον ἔχειν (πλεονεχία), "getting the best of it," usually had a bad sense, but there is a πλεονεχία which should attract the good man.