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The Externals


The Externals (ta ektos) are any of those things that fall outside the province of one's moral character (prohairesis), including health, wealth, sickness, life, death, and pain. As things which are subject to external causation, they are things not in our power, the "indifferent" things (Seddon, modified).

The habitual false valuation of externals as good and bad is the basis of personality disorder.



Epictetus, Discourses 1.4.18-27

"Where then is progress? If any of you, withdrawing himself from externals, turns to his own will to exercise it and to improve it by labour, so as to make it conformable to nature, elevated, free, unrestrained, unimpeded, faithful, modest; and if he has learned that he who desires or avoids the things which are not in his power can neither be faithful nor free, but of necessity he must change with them and be tossed about with them as in a tempest, and of necessity must subject himself to others who have the power to procure or prevent what he desires or would avoid; finally, when he rises in the morning, if he observes and keeps these rules, bathes as a man of fidelity, eats as a modest man; in like manner, if in every matter that occurs he works out his chief principles as the runner does with reference to running, and the trainer of the voice with reference to the voice � this is the man who truly makes progress, and this is the man who has not traveled in vain. But if he has strained his efforts to the practice of reading books, and labours only at this, and has traveled for this, I tell him to return home immediately, and not to neglect his affairs there; for this for which he has traveled is nothing. But the other thing is something, to study how a man can rid his life of lamentation and groaning, and saying, "Woe to me," and "wretched that I am," and to rid it also of misfortune and disappointment and to learn what death is, and exile, and prison, and poison, that he may be able to say when he is in fetters, "Dear Crito, if it is the will of the gods that it be so, let it be so"; and not to say, "Wretched am I, an old man; have I kept my gray hairs for this?" Who is it that speaks thus? Do you think that I shall name some man of no repute and of low condition? Does not Priam say this? Does not OEdipus say this? Nay, all kings say it! For what else is tragedy than the perturbations of men who value externals exhibited in this kind of poetry? But if a man must learn by fiction that no external things which are independent of the will concern us, for this? part I should like this fiction, by the aid of which I should live happily and undisturbed. But you must consider for yourselves what you wish" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 2.5.1-9

"Things themselves are indifferent; but the use of them is not indifferent. How then shall a man preserve firmness and tranquillity, and at the same time be careful and neither rash nor negligent? If he imitates those who play at dice. The counters are indifferent; the dice are indifferent. How do I know what the cast will be? But to use carefully and dexterously the cast of the dice, this is my business. Thus in life also the chief business is this: distinguish and separate things, and say, "Externals are not in my power: will is in my power. Where shall I seek the good and the bad? Within, in the things which are my own." But in what does not belong to you call nothing either good or bad, or profit or damage or anything of the kind.

"What then? Should we use such things carelessly?" In no way: for this on the other hand is bad for the faculty of the will, and consequently against nature; but we should act carefully because the use is not indifferent and we should also act with firmness and freedom from perturbations because the material is indifferent. For where the material is not indifferent, there no man can hinder me nor compel me. Where I can be hindered and compelled the obtaining of those things is not in my power, nor is it good or bad; but the use is either bad or good, and the use is in my power" (trans. Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 2.22.15-21

"For universally, be not deceived, every animal is attached to nothing so much as to its own interest. Whatever then appears to it an impediment to this interest, whether this be a brother, or a father, or a child, or beloved, or lover, it hates, spurns, curses: for its nature is to love nothing so much as its own interest; this is father, and brother and kinsman, and country, and God. When, then, the gods appear to us to be an impediment to this, we abuse them and throw down their statues and burn their temples, as Alexander ordered the temples of AEsculapius to be burned when his dear friend died.

"For this reason if a man put in the same place his interest, sanctity, goodness, and country, and parents, and friends, all these are secured: but if he puts in one place his interest, in another his friends, and his country and his kinsmen and justice itself, all these give way being borne down by the weight of interest. For where the "I" and the "Mine" are placed, to that place of necessity the animal inclines: if in the flesh, there is the ruling power: if in the will, it is there: and if it is in externals, it is there. If then I am there where my will is, then only shall I be a friend such as I ought to be, and son, and father; for this will he my interest, to maintain the character of fidelity, of modesty, of patience, of abstinence, of active cooperation, of observing my relations. But if I put myself in one place, and honesty in another, then the doctrine of Epicurus becomes strong, which asserts either that there is no honesty or it is that which opinion holds to be honest" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 3.12.3-6

"Everything, which is difficult and dangerous is not suitable for practice; but that is suitable which conduces to the working out of that which is proposed to us as a thing to be worked out. To live with desire and aversion, free from restraint. And what is this? Neither to be disappointed in that which you desire, nor to fall into anything which you would avoid. Toward this object, then, exercise ought to tend. For, since it is not possible to have your desire not disappointed and your aversion free from falling into that which you would avoid, great and constant practice you must know that if you allow your desire and aversion to turn to things which are not within the power of the will, you will neither have your desire capable of attaining your object, nor your aversion free from the power of avoiding that which you would avoid. And since strong habit leads, and we are accustomed to employ desire and aversion only to things which are not within the power of our will, we ought to oppose to this habit a contrary habit, and where there is great slipperiness in the appearances, there to oppose the habit of exercise" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 3.15.10-13

"Do you think that, if you do, you can be a philosopher? Do you think that you can eat as you do now, drink as you do now, and in the same way be angry and out of humour? You must watch, labour, conquer certain desires, you must depart from your kinsmen, be despised by your slave, laughed at by those who meet you, in everything you must be in an inferior condition, as to magisterial office, in honours, in courts of justice. When you have considered all these things completely, then, if you think proper, approach to philosophy, if you would gain in exchange for these things freedom from perturbations, liberty, tranquillity. If you have not considered these things, do not approach philosophy: do not act like children, at one time a philosopher, then a tax collector, then a rhetorician, then a procurator of Caesar These things are not consistent. You must be one man either good or bad: you must either labour at your own ruling faculty or at external things: you must either labour at things within or at external things: that is, you must either occupy the place of a philosopher or that of one of the vulgar" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 3.24.54-57

"In Athens did you see no one by going to his house? "I visited any man that I pleased." Here also be ready to see, and you will see whom you please: only let it be without meanness, neither with desire nor with aversion, and your affairs will be well managed. But this result does not depend on going nor on standing at the doors, but it depends on what is within, on your opinions. When you have learned not to value things which are external, and not dependent on the will, and to consider that not one of them is your own, but that these things only are your own, to exercise the judgment well, to form opinions, to move toward an object, to desire, to turn from a thing, where is there any longer room for flattery, where for meanness? why do you still long for the quiet there, and for the places to which you are accustomed? Wait a little and you will again find these places familiar: then, if you are of so ignoble a nature, again if you leave these also, weep and lament" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 4.3.1-3

"Keep this thought in readiness, when you lose anything external, what you acquire in place of it; and if it be worth more, never say, "I have had a loss"; neither if you have got a horse in place of an ass, or an ox in place of a sheep, nor a good action in place of a bit of money, nor in place of idle talk such tranquillity as befits a man, nor in place of lewd talk if you have acquired modesty. If you remember this, you will always maintain your character such as it ought to be. But if you do not, consider that the times of opportunity are perishing, and that whatever pains you take about yourself, you are going to waste them all and overturn them" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 4.4.1-7

"Remember that not only the desire of power and of riches makes us mean and subject to others, but even the desire of tranquillity, and of leisure. and of traveling abroad, and of learning. For, to speak plainly, whatever the external thing may be, the value which we set upon it places us in subjection to others. What, then, is the difference between desiring, to be a senator or not desiring to be one; what is the difference between desiring power or being content with a private station; what is the difference between saying, "I am unhappy, I have nothing, to do, but I am bound to my books as a corpse"; or saying, "I am unhappy, I have no leisure for reading"? For as salutations and power are things external and independent of the will, so is a book. For what purpose do you choose to read? Tell me. For if you only direct your purpose to being amused or learning something, you are a silly fellow and incapable of enduring labour. But if you refer reading to the proper end, what else is this than a tranquil and happy life? But if reading does not secure for you a happy and tranquil life, what is the use of it? But it does secure this," the man replies, "and for this reason I am vexed that I am deprived of it." And what is this tranquil and happy life, which any man can impede; I do not say Caesar or Caesar's friend, but a crow, a piper, a fever, and thirty thousand other things? But a tranquil and happy life contains nothing so sure is continuity and freedom from obstacle. Now I am called to do something: I will go, then, with the purpose of observing the measures which I must keep, of acting with modesty, steadiness, without desire and aversion to things external; and then that I may attend to men, what they say, how they are moved; and this not with any bad disposition, or that I may have something to blame or to ridicule; but I turn to myself, and ask if I also commit the same faults. "How then shall I cease to commit them?" Formerly I also acted wrong, but now I do not: thanks to God" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 4.7.7-11

"All other animals indeed are incapable of comprehending the administration of it; but the rational animal, man, has faculties for the consideration of all these and for understanding that it is a part, and what kind of a part it is, and that it is right for the parts to be subordinate to the whole. And besides this being naturally noble, magnanimous and free, man sees that of the things which surround him some are free from hindrance and in his power, and the other things are subject to hindrance and in the power of others; that the things which are free from hindrance are in the power of the will; and those which are subject to hinderance are the things which are not in the power of the will. And, for this reason, if he thinks that his good and his interest be in these things only which are free from hindrance and in his own power, he will be free, prosperous, happy, free from harm, magnanimous pious, thankful to God for all things; in no matter finding fault with any of the things which have not been put in his power, nor blaming any of them. But if he thinks that his good and his interest are in externals and in things which are not in the power of his will, he must of necessity be hindered, be impeded, be a slave to those who have the power over things which he admires and fears; and he must of necessity be impious because he thinks that he is harmed by God, and he must be unjust because he always claims more than belongs to him; and he must of necessity be abject and mean" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 4.10.1-7

"The difficulties of all men are about external things, their helplessness is about externals. "What shall I do, how will it be, how will it turn out, will this happen, will that?" All these are the words of those who are turning themselves to things which are not within the power of the will. For who says, "How shall I not assent to that which is false? how shall I not turn away from the truth?" If a man be of such a good disposition as to be anxious about these things, I will remind him of this: "Why are you anxious? The thing is in your own power: be assured: do not be precipitate in assenting before you apply the natural rule." On the other side, if a man is anxious about desire, lest it fail in its purpose and miss its end, and with respect to the avoidance of things, lest he should fall into that which he would avoid, I will first kiss him, because he throws away the things about which others are in a flutter, and their fears, and employs his thoughts about his own affairs and his own condition. Then I shall say to him: "If you do not choose to desire that which you will fall to obtain nor to attempt to avoid that into which you will fall, desire nothing which belongs to others, nor try to avoid any of the things which are not in your power. If you do not observe this rule, you must of necessity fall in your desires and fall into that which you would avoid. What is the difficulty here? where is there room for the words, 'How will it be?' and 'How will it turn out?' and, 'Will this happen or that?'" (trans. George Long).



Epictetus, Discourses 4.12.15-18

"First, then, we ought to have these in readiness, and to do nothing without them, and we ought to keep the soul directed to this mark, to pursue nothing external, and nothing which belongs to others, but to do as He has appointed Who has the power; we ought to pursue altogether the things which are in the power of the will, and all other things as it is permitted. Next to this we ought to remember who we are, and what is our name, and to endeavour to direct our duties toward the character of our several relations in this manner: what is the season for singing, what is the season for play, and in whose presence; what will be the consequence of the act; whether our associates will despise us, whether we shall despise them; when to jeer, and whom to ridicule; and on what occasion to comply and with whom; and finally, in complying how to maintain our own character. But wherever you have deviated from any of these rules, there is damage immediately, not from anything external, but from the action itself" (trans. George Long).



'the externals' (ta ektos). See Discourses [1.4.18-27], 1.15.2, 1.27.11, 2.2.10-15/25-6, 2.5.4-9/24, 2.16.11, 2.22.19, 3.3.8, 3.7.2, 3.10.16, 3.12.6, 3.15.13, 3.24.56, 4.3.1, 4.4.1-6, 4.7.10/41, 4.8.32, 4.10.1, 4.12.15; Handbook 13, 23, 29.7, 33.13, 48.1 (referrences, Seddon, forthcoming).



Seddon, Keith (2002). The Handbook of Epictetus.
http://www.btinternet.com/~k.h.s/epictetus_handbook.htm



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Key to the Stoic Philosophy of Epictetus