Let's Read Epictetus: Enchiridion #9

In chapter 9 Epictetus makes the bold claim that things like sickness and physical disability are problems for the body, but not the mind. The strategy here is to realize that the body is outside of our control, and so not truly us. Thus, being outside of our control we should not seek to control it, nor should we worry about it. 

This is an odd passage for me to come back to this series on, as I find myself in disagreement with Epictetus here. Part of my problem with this passage is that I don't think such a strong line between the body and the mind can be drawn. The dependence of the mind upon the brain (which is part of the body of course), even if it is admitted that the brain is not the mind, makes Epictetus' conclusion suspect. The status of the brain has a direct bearing on the mind, for instance under the effect of different drugs a person might be open to all sorts of things to which they would normally be closed.  That is, the state of the body can effect our ability to hold to our choices and intentions. I don't believe we can draw such a strict line between the body and the mind, even if we define the mind as our most inner decision making center. Beyond drugs, regular exercise seems to be of benefit to the brain and therefore the mind. And sickness' long term effects on the brain and therefore the mind cannot be hand waved away by saying sickness only pertains to the body. 

But, perhaps we can simply soften the edge of what Epictetus is saying here. Although sickness can be difficult and certainly effect our body/brain/mind, outside of extreme circumstances we can chose to do what we know to be right. I have frequently had the experience of feeling sick, and being irritable because of it. Trying to tell myself that my cold is a problem for the body and not the mind doesn't do me much good. But I should remember that even though I am irritable, even if my lack of sleep from coughing all night has effected my mind, that I can still treat the people around me with love, respect, and dignity. 

J