I have been going through this philosophical journey and finding out about the different philosophies and how they correlate to the happiness and meaning of life. Although there are many intriguing topics to discuss, one book stood out to me. This book is called Epictetus The Handbook. The book is based on the Stoic philosophy and the guidelines in order to live a good life. In Epictetus, The Handbook, Epictetus discussed many ideas and guidelines that we should live by. He creates a handbook so that people that who want to follow the Stoic philosophy may have a way a way of doing so. As I proceed to write this essay, I will begin to expound on the main philosophical ideas of this book which are the metaphysics and the ethics of how to live well.
In, The Handbook, the metaphysical idea that is presented is the idea of cosmic determination. A Cosmic determination is the mindset that everything in life has been pre-determined by an outside force or being. That there is no way to change the map that has been preordained specifically for you. This also means that human freedom is limited to what you have been given. Epictetus believes that we should accept what we have been given and make the most of it. In the book, it states, “Remember you are an actor in a play, which is as the playwright wants it to be if it to be: short if he wants it to be short, long if he wants it long.” (pg.16 pp.17) This means that your life has already been mapped out like an actor given a script and your job is to play the part. Our roles are not up to us nor do we get to choose anything that has to do with what we have been assigned. Epictetus also states that, ” Our opinions are up to us and our impulses, desires, aversions- in short, whatever is your own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations or our public offices”(pg.1 pp.1). This quote means that although our life has been set out for us by a cosmic determination, that just like an actor the way we play the role is up to us play the role and we should play it well. This relates to how we should view the happiness and meaning of life because in The Handbook gives us guidelines on how to live a good life but in order to do so we must play the roles we have been assigned well. By playing the role you’ve been given well you will increase your happiness and knowledge about the meaning of life. By doing this, one would be following the Stoic philosophy while also coming closer to a happy life.
The first main ethical idea being presented in The Handbook is that the key to happiness is to limit and master your desires. Epictetus believes that for one to truly be happy one must not focus on the materialistic things and the things that you desire to have, but instead limit them and focus on the growth of yourself. This idea being presented expresses if you are not focused on what others give you, you can be closer to be receiving full happiness. Meaning that in focusing on oneself , one can be happy. In the book, it states, ” Do not seek to have events to happen as you want to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.”(pg.13 pp.8) This quote explains the idea that the key to happiness is to limit and master your desires. If you don’t desire for everything to work out great and go as you planned, then your life will go well. If one is focused on what you want in life and the things that you don’t have but want there is no way to live a good life according to The Handbook. By limiting your desires, you are focusing your whole mind on how to achieve and follow the guidelines set forth by the Stoic philosophy.
The second main ethical idea is the idea of having self-control. In The Handbook, it focuses on the idea that order to be happy one must keep your emotions under control. This is because emotions have a big impact on how people act and can take over your mind to where the focus is on how you feel about the situation. One must control one’s emotions in order to live life well. In The Handbook it states, “Something is passed around and comes to you: reach out your hand politely and take some. It goes by: do not hold it back.”(pg.15 pp.15) This means don’t go out looking for things to come to you but instead wait for them to arrive. One must have self-control in order to be happy in life. By going out and searching for things to come you are not focused on what you can do in order to live well. In the book, it also states that “If you are fond of a jug, say “I am fond of a jug!” for then when it is broken you will not be upset.” (pg. 12 pp.3)This means that if you are aware of things you are that you are fond of or have emotions for you then are showing self-control. This relates to the happiness and meaning of life because in order to live well one must have self-control and be aware of the thing that can control you if you don’t control them, like emotions.
As I read, I was able to reflect on this the metaphysics and ethics which are the main philosophical points in The Handbook. The first point that I will reflect on is cosmic determination which correlates with metaphysics. I have realized that cosmic determination is a part of our lives whether we believe it is or not. This is because if we obtain that we desire everyone would be happy and not worry about the unexpected. There would be no question as to how the world works it would just be “I want this, so I will receive it”. The world does not work in this manner. We are not able to choose our lives or even how we look, that is predetermined for us, which goes to show that our lives include cosmic determination. I have learned that this idea not only contributes to just the Stoic philosophy but also to my own religion which is Christianity. We believe that God has our life already mapped out although we don’t know what lies ahead, we must have faith that what the Lord has planned for us is for our good. This relates to cosmic determination because both Stoic philosophy and Christianity believe that a higher being has decided our lives for us and that there is no way for us to change what the higher being has planned for us. It is our job to have faith, be positive, and play our role well. This idea is needed in order to understand the happiness and meaning of life. I have learned that cosmic determination is everywhere and is very influential in our life. The second main philosophical idea that I will be reflecting on is the idea is that the key to happiness is to limit and master your desires which correlates with ethics. I have learned that if you want everything and long for things that aren’t obtainable then you will be miserable. If I am focused on the things that I do not have, then how will I truly be happy with the things that I do have. Materialistic things can make you happy for the moment but living life well can make you happy long term. I have learned that by limiting your desires you are increasing the amount that you can grow spiritually. This relates to me because when I longed for having everything I wanted, I was not living a good life. I was living life in the moment of short-term happiness, but by limiting my desires and focusing on living well, I can receive long-term happiness. The last idea I will be reflecting on is the idea of having self-control. I have learned that by having self-control one can obtain peace in knowing that you are in control of your emotions and that you can best obtain happiness by keeping your emotions under control.
In conclusion, the book Epictetus The Handbook, is based upon the Stoic philosophy and how one should live in order to obtain a good life. The book is based on the ideas of metaphysics and ethics. The metaphysics involves the idea of outside forces having an impact on life. This brings up the point of cosmic determination and how everything in life has already been predetermined and it is our job to play the roles in life that we have been given well. The ethical side of the book deals with how one should act in order to live life well and the right things to do to follow the Stoic philosophy. The ethics of this book are presented through the main idea that order to obtain happiness one must limit and master their desires. This is so that one can be focused on how to live a good life and not be focused on the wants and the things you do not have in life. Instead one should focus on living a well and happy life. I leave you with this quote to reflect on “In the life of the individual man, virtue is the sole good; such as health, happiness possessions, are of no account. Since virtue resides in the will, everything really good or bad in a man’s life depends only upon himself.”-Stoic Doctrine