Epictetus part 6: Exaltation

Note: this is the sixth part of a weekly series, in which I translate and discuss the Enchiridion (Handbook) of Epictetus. New posts will be released every monday morning (GMT).

In paragraph six of the Enchiridion, Epictetus first teaches us what we should not be exalted about, which is the good of other things or people. This is so, because objects, animals or other people do not belong to us, and neither do their attributes or traits:

Don’t be exalted by the excellence of others. If a horse, while exalted, says ‘I am beautiful’, it might be tolerated. But if you are exalted and say ‘I have a beautiful horse’, know that you are exalted by the good of the horse.

Instead, he argues, we should only be exalted about our own good. But what is our own good? As we have learned in the first paragraph, we only control our own actions and therefore can only consider our own actions to be truly ours. Moreover, our own actions are in our mind: aspiration, opinion, desire, aversion, etc. This is why (in the fifth paragraph) Epictetus teaches us that our worry is only in our mind. In conclusion, our own good is not in appearances (external attributes), but in our employment or reaction to appearances. It is our reaction to external events or traits that really counts.

What, then, is yours? The employment of appearances. So if you hold the employment of appearances in accordance with nature, then be exalted. Because in that case, you will be exalted by something good of yourself.

If we want to be exalted about something, let it be about the way we deal with appearances. More specifically, we can be proud if we deal with appearances in accordance with nature. This means that we should accept things as they are. If we do this, we will be one step closer to eudaimonia.

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