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Durham e-Theses
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Freedom and responsibility of the individual in Epictetus discourses

Ross, Leonard John (1971) Freedom and responsibility of the individual in Epictetus discourses. Masters thesis, Durham University.



The thesis examines the philosophic basis and validity of the Stoic freedom expressed in Epictetus' Discourse. The concept of prohairesis, which he introduces into Stoic thought, is central to Epictetus doctrine and indicates an advance in ancient theory on will. Aristotle's definition of prohairesis in discussing voluntary action, and its part in phronesis and akrasia, provides a basis for considering the co-ordination of reason and desire, which is important in Epictetus. Plato's Republic, Philebus and Laws alsoshow the involvement of non-rational factors in right conduct. The strict rational system of the Stoics led them to examine free will. Voluntariness was confined to sugkatathesis - the assent to logical conclusions - controlled by the hegemonikon. Two influences inStoicism from Posidonius to Seneca weakened the strict rational dogmatism: first, an appreciation of the total personality at man involving conscience and feelings as well as reaon ; second, a spiritualising tendency towards a religious interpretation of the rationalsystem. Epictetus adheres to the Stoics concept of reason, through which alone his freedom is possible. The relation of human reason to cosmic reason as apospasma eases the apparent lack of freedom in the 'live according to nature' rule. The notion of false phantasiai reveals a subjective element in the initial data of reason, marking a significant intrusion of the non-rational into Epictetus • basically rational position. The orientation of the subjective phantasiai is controlled by different capacities (dynameis) and characteristics of personality. Each man has a responsibility of maintaining the inner virtue of self-respect, and applying knowledge, aided by a properunderstanding of oneself, and possibly by religion. Both the rational and personal aspects of man contribute to and understanding of prohairesis, which is the reciprocation between choice in each decision and the free character, each influencing the other, thuscombining the aspects of hegemonikon and sugkatathesis of the stoa into a single idea of will. Prohairesis embraces three stages of freedom: freedom of choice, freedom from anxiety, and freedom for rational existence. Considered in relation to modem thought on freedom, Epictetus' theories are notable because they are contained in the Stoic rational monism. His concept of prohairesis exhibits some essential qualities of the 'will', and isolates the aspects of a person which contribute to his free self-identity. Provided that the full benefits of the free personality, as proffered by E Epictetus, are appreciated in the term Stoic freedom, rather than just 'resignation to nature', the self- centredness of the Stoic freedom, criticised by Berlin, is valid both philosophically and in practical conduct. The association of Epictetus' writings with Christian thought is examined in an Epilogue.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Letters
Thesis Date:1971
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:10

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