Book Club: The Inner Citadel, 5, The beautifully coherent Stoicism of Epictetus
The Inner Citadel, Pierre Hadot’s classic that helped putting Stoicism back on the map of practiced philosophies, is an in-depth commentary on Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. But we have seen last time that this in turn cannot be done without taking in due consideration the enormous influence Epictetus had on the emperor-philosopher. The fifth chapter of the book is, accordingly, devoted to an overview of Epictetus’ philosophy, which is followed by three more chapters each dedicated to one of the three Epictetean disciplines: desire & aversion, action, and assent. Let’s take a look at the overview first.
Hadot begins without mincing words:
Ancient philosophy had nothing in common with our contemporary philosophers, who imagine that philosophy consists, for each philosopher, in inventing a ‘new discourse’ or new language, all the more original the more it is incomprehensible and artificial. (p. 73)
Although he has a point, this isn’t quite fair. Yes, modern academic philosophy has gotten carried away doing precisely what Hadot is charging it with, and moreover has pointedly ignored any practical application of philosophy for real people in real life. But most of the Pre-Socratics also invented new discourses and new language, and they too were fairly incomprehensible…
A very important point made by Hadot, however, is that Stoicism was born out of the confluence of three preceding traditions: the Socratic one, as far as ethics is concerned; the Heraclitean one, regarding metaphysics; and the Megarean one (named after Euclides of Megara, a student of Socrates) in terms of logical discourse. (It’s interesting to know that Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, studied with the Megarean philosophers Stilpo and Diodorus Cronus.) These traditions got merged and adapted to yield the three areas of study of the standard Stoic curriculum.
As is well known, the Logos is a crucial concept in Stoic philosophy, and Hadot does a good job at interpreting it in three distinct, yet related, ways: the logos of the Socratic approach, which uses reason to arrive at ethical truths; the logos of Heraclitus, in the sense of the rational principle by which the cosmos is organized; and the logos of the Megarians…