"Everyone has a price at which he sells himself": Epictetus and Kant on Self-Respect

In Kant and Stoic Ethics. Cambridge University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

“Everyone has a price at which he sells himself”: Immanuel Kant quotes this remark in the 1793 _Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone_, attributing it to “a member of English Parliament”. I argue, however, that the context of the quotation in the _Religion_ alludes to the arresting pedagogical practices of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who famously said that “different people sell themselves at different prices” (Discourses 1.2). I argue that there are two sides of Epictetus’s pedagogical strategies: a jolting side meant to expose self-deception and practical inconsistency; and an uplifting side meant to arouse the resources by which it is possible to progress towards virtue — specifically, our sense of kinship with the divine insofar as we are rational. I argue that Kant develops a conception of self-respect in later practical works that plausibly draws on Epictetus, and his distinctive version of the traditional Stoic account of rational agency.

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Melissa M Merritt
University of New South Wales

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