How Stoicism Led Epictetus to Be Thrashed by a Stranger

Douglas C. Bates
4 min readMar 28, 2023

The Consequences of the Dichotomy of Control

Stoicism is promoted as a way of making yourself invincible. Entire books are devoted to cultivating Stoic indifference to train Stoics to dismiss distressing things as mere “externals” that one should be indifferent to. A key underpinning of these things is a part of Stoic philosophy commonly known as the “Dichotomy of Control.”

The Stoics believe that the following things are under a person’s control:

  • Their beliefs
  • Their opinions
  • What they like
  • What they dislike
  • Their decisions
  • Their intentions

Things other than this, such as one’s reputation, body, or material possessions are not under one’s control. These things are called “externals” and the Stoics consider external things to have no moral value.

Here’s a nice diagram of this, from the Stoic Handbook website. This chart points out what Stoicism says one can and should feel pride about, and that Stoics can take pride in having better beliefs, opinions, and preferences than other people do.

As Epictetus says in Enchiridion 6:

Don’t pride yourself on any assets but your own. We could put up with a horse if it bragged of its beauty. But don’t you see that when you boast of having a beautiful horse, you are taking credit for the horse’s traits? What quality belongs to you? The intelligent use of impressions. If you use impressions as nature prescribes, go ahead and indulge your pride, because then you will be celebrating a quality distinctly your own.

Stoic Invincibility

Not only do Stoics think they should be proud, they believe their pride makes them invincible.

To make this claim the Stoics redefine what “invincibility” means. Their definition of it excludes anything that happens with externals. This gives them a definition of invincibility that allows them to have everything taken away from them — including their…

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Douglas C. Bates

Ancient Greek philosophies of life. http://www.pyrrhonism.org Author of “Pyrrho’s Way: The Ancient Greek Version of Buddhism.”