Theory and Training in Epictetus' Program of Moral Education
This dissertation examines the educational function of training, as contrasted with the study of theory, within Epictetus’ program of moral education. The motivation for this research is that there exists an apparent tension in Epictetus’ moral philosophy. According to Stoicism, knowledge is sufficient for virtue; however, many students of Stoicism have learnt that virtue is the only good, and endorsed this claim as true, and yet fail to act appropriately. Epictetus seems to resolve this problem through the introduction of applied exercises. That Epictetus requires his students to train themselves in this way seems in potential conflict with his moral psychology. In this dissertation, I resolve this tension through three contributions: (1) First, I develop an account of why Epictetus believes moral failure occurs in dedicated students of Stoicism who wish to achieve virtue. It occurs primarily because of two factors, precipitancy and weakness, which impede the progressing student of Stoicism from properly reflecting upon a situation. (2) Second, I argue for a novel explanation of the function of training in Epictetus. Epictetus tells us that training is necessary to ‘digest’ our theory. Building upon this neglected metaphor, I argue that the ‘digestion’ of theory is the process by which students move from weak commitments to general principles (i.e., virtue is the only good), which are vulnerable to instances of precipitancy or weakness, to specific actionable beliefs (i.e., I should not desire this bribe because is not an instance of virtue). (3) Lastly, I demonstrate, by way of examples, the function of Epictetus’ applied training exercises. These exercises are shown to facilitate the ‘digestion’ of theory by mitigating weakness and precipitancy. This explanation accounts both for why these exercises are considered necessary, and why they do not conflict with Epictetus’ psychological commitments.
URI for this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/1974/28873
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