From Anger to Pity

How should the philosopher, the person making progress toward wisdom, respond to wrongdoing? What is the appropriate response when someone behaves badly toward me?

In Discourses 1.18, Epictetus answers that if we must have any response at all, it would be far more appropriate to respond to wrongdoing with pity, rather than anger. But why? There are two lines of argument (which I will address in the opposite order of how he presents them).

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Appropriations of Stoicism; or, the Place(s) of Ethics in Philosophy

Recent discussions in real life, and in several corners of the internet, have got me thinking about the seemingly quite widespread appeal of Stoic philosophy as a “plug and play” system: the way in which the ethical or practical bits of the ancient Stoics are so often taken as if they can stand alone, apart from wider systematic concerns. As one blogger recently relates, this sort of modular Stoicism is something you can learn in a weekend.

On the one hand, this is certainly true, nor is it an entirely new phenomenon. Roughly 1,500 years ago, the Platonist philosopher Simplicius was using Epictetus’ Handbook as an introductory text for his students. The subsequent centuries have seen elements of Stoic ethics taken up enthusiastically by Christians and other atheists who by would no means be willing to adopt traditional Stoic views in physics and theology.

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Here for Hymnody

Just a pair of delightful quotes from the last few days:

While I lived, it was my part to sing hymns in praise of the Gods, whether by myself, or with another person, or with many.

Epictetus, Discourses III.26, 30

If people have any use for a voice, they should be using it for hymns.

Proclus, in Timaeum I 197, 6–7 (trans. Tarrant)

Choosing our Relations: Simplicius on Friendship

One of our most useful texts on Neoplatonist ethics is a commentary on the Handbook of Epictetus, written by Simplicius, one of the last Athenian Platonists, who was exiled together with Damascius and the other philosophers in 529.

Commenting on §30 of the Handbook, in which Epictetus explains how “the appropriate actions for us to do are usually measured out for us by our relations,” Simplicius offers a framework for classifying relations, and an extended discussion of friendship, as situated within that framework. It’s worth noting that Epictetus himself doesn’t mention friendship at all within §30. For Epictetus, this section deals with how to correctly apply our power of choice (prohairesis) to “natural” relations between human beings. §31 of the Handbook deals with our relations to the Gods, and only in §32 (in the context of the appropriate use of divination!) does Epictetus himself get around to mentioning friendship.

Simplicius classifies relations along three axes:

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