Last time we saw how internal purpose revolves around the tetrad of a good life, self-perfection, happiness, and meaning; and reviewed purpose as seeking one’s preferred life using the example of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Today we flip the coin over and consider individual purpose in efforts to see one’s actual life in whatever form it happens to take as a good one, where now Epictetus is our guide.
Where Aristotle was part of the aristocratic class, Epictetus was a slave who adopted stoicism and was later freed. For him instruction in the good life begins with the urging “to learn to wish that everything may happen as it does.”3 He does not view self-sufficiency as the provision of the necessities of life, but instead teaches that “a man should be prepared to be sufficient unto himself – to dwell within himself alone, even as God wells within himself alone.” This is done through self-denial and self-discipline “for ascetic ends.” He discourages material wealth and luxuries, suggesting rather that one “fast, drink water only, abstain altogether from desire, that thouest may hereafter conform thy desire to reason.”4 In other words the good life for Epictetus is one of inner tranquility. To this he adds the performance of one’s duties and thinking correctly about one’s self and the world.5
These seemingly diametrically opposed visions of a good life, the one of Aristotle and the other of Epictetus, are not ultimately incompatible, in fact, they potentiate each other and together allow for all possible situations. So it turns out a good life requires the individualized balancing of two efforts; (1) the pursuit of necessities for survival and reasonable leisure, and (2) the proper acceptance and re-orientation to the reality of the circumstances of one’s life. The first offers expanded potential while the second assures every person the hope and method of a good life.
Next time we will look at the other three pieces of individual purpose.
3Epictetus, Discourse Book 1, Chapter 13 in Great Books of the Western World, Volume 12, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., page 119.
4Epictetus, Discourse Book 1II, Chapter 12 in Great Books of the Western World, Volume 12, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., page 189.
5Magill, Frank, Masterpieces of World Philosophy in Summary Form. Harper & Row Publishers, 1961, page225.