Digestion and Moral Progress in Epictetus

Journal of Ancient Philosophy 13 (1):100-119 (2019)
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The Stoic Epictetus famously criticizeshis students for studying Stoicism as ‘mere theory’ and encouraged them to add training to their educational program. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that Epictetus, as a Stoic, was committed to notion that wisdom is sufficient to be virtuous, so theory should be all that’s required to achieve virtue. How are we then to make sense of Epictetus criticism of an overreliance on theory, and his insistence on adding training? This paper argues that this tension can be resolved through an appeal to the metaphor of ‘digesting theory’. Epictetus discusses the digestion of theory in three parts of his existent work. While the use of digestion as a metaphor for moral progress in Epictetus has been noted, an explanation as to exactly what this process consists of has yet to be provided. This paper attempts to provide such an account. I argue that digestion consists of assimilating what we have learnt conceptually, at the level of general principles, into specific beliefs concerning existent objects. I argue further that this process of digestion can only be achieved through what Epictetus calls training (askesis).
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