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Practice Ancient Stoic Concept of ‘Three Topoi' To Lead A Happier Life
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Practice Ancient Stoic Concept of ‘Three Topoi' To Lead A Happier Life

Epictetus was ancient Greek stoic philosopher who lived in the second century C.E. For Epictetus, philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. One of the key premises of Epictetus' teaching was that all external events are beyond our control; we should accept calmly and dispassionately whatever happens. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

One of the key teachings of Epictetus was the concept of three topoi or three fields of study that a prokopton or stoic student should exercise in order to accomplish 'eudaimon' (happiness) in life. The text of Discourses, that contains the teachings of Epictetus, says there are "three areas of study, in which a person who is going to be good and noble must be trained". The three areas of study that are mentioned include:

Also Read: 4 Lessons From Stoic Philosophy To Stay Happy

1. The Discipline of Desire

The discipline of desire concerns with someone striving for excellence, in other words, this deals with people and their ambitions. Epictetus points out that we must be aware of ourselves, our capabilities and limitations. Our desires and goals should be formed from this understanding of oneself. Epictetus remarks: "When I see a man anxious, I say, what does this man want? If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he be anxious?"

According to Epictetus, the real source of misery in human beings is to be afflicted with desires that are not in our power. We should place our hope not in 'external things' that are not in our power, but in our own disposition and moral character. In short, we should limit our desire to virtue and become the best versions of ourselves.

2. The Discipline of Action

The discipline of action is about our impulses to act and not to act. The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy explains it as the outcome of our actions is not wholly in our power, but our inclination to act one way rather than another, to pursue one set of objectives rather than others - this is in our power.

Epictetus uses the analogy of an archer shooting at a target to explain this concept. Although the ideal result is to hit the centre of the target, this is not entirely in the archer's power. The archer cannot be certain how the will deflect the arrow, or whether his fingers will slip. However, an excellent archer does all within his power to shoot well. He will recognize that giving his best is the best he can do. The archer here strives shoot excellently, and will not be disappointed if he shoots well but fails to hit the centre of the target, explains the Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.

The lesson here is to see success in terms of taking your best shot, and not in terms of hitting the target.

3. The Discipline of Assent

The third of the three topoi is the discipline of assent, which focuses on 'assenting to impressions'. Generally, we assent or agree to an impression, we are committing ourselves to it as a correct representation of how things are and confirm this is how it is. According to the Encyclopaedia of Philosophy , the discipline of assent is an exercise applied to our impressions in which we interpret and judge them in order to move from having the impression of something or other, to a declaration that such -and- such is the case.

"Don't let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it, "Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test", says Epictetus.

We should do this with a view to avoiding falling prey to false evaluations so that we can be free from deception and from making rash judgments about to how to proceed in the first two disciplines. In short, Epictetus points out the danger of running into haste judgment over something or someone, without examining properly.

(Image Credit: Thinkstock)

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