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First and foremost, Epictetus was a deeply religious man. He was convinced that God created the world according to Reason, and that human beings, in so far as we have the gift of rational thought, can attain happiness by living according to our own nature--which meant for Epictetus according to reason. But what does it mean to live "according to nature" or reason? For Epictetus, Stoicism offers a guide to happiness and serenity in life, and Epictetus was, perhaps, the greatest Stoic philosopher.
For Epictetus, as for other Stoics, one central part of that is recognizing how insignificant material things are. This recognition is liberating, he tells us: "What tyrant, what robber, what tribunals have any terrors for those who thus esteem the body and all that belong to it as of no account.
They think these things will make them happy, and when they are disappointed, rather than change course, they just keep going on the same road. Epictetus also anticipated some insights from modern psychology. And then you upbraid the gods. Such meanness of spirit can have but one result--impiety. And he pointed out the futility of worrying about things that are out of our control.
Again, anticipating modern psychology in cognitive behavioral therapy , he argues that it is not outside events that make us miserable, but our reactions to those events. And this is his fundamental psychological insight. Like Jesus and Buddha, Epictetus also teaches that we should be kind, generous and forgiving with others.
And to the extent that I have become more Stoical, my life has been enriched by it. The Stoics are not widely read or discussed now. They have a lot to teach us about us about what constitutes a good life, if only we will pay attention.
He wrote dialogues and not discourses, and so his meaning is often not clear. For his clarity and his wisdom, Epictetus is well worth reading. For a reader looking for happiness, it would be hard to find a better guide than this book.
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