The comparative analysis of the frequency of use of the term ‘hegemonic’ with respect to the apparently synonymous term ‘proairesis’ in the ‘Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta’, the ‘Meditations’ of Marcus Aurelius and the ‘Discourses and Manual’ of Epictetus, shows a striking discrepancy between the choice of Epictetus and that of the other Stoics. The results of the present research favor the conclusion that such dramatic difference has an exquisitely philosophical root. This root can be traced back to the highly original and convincing arguments that allow Epictetus to define the man not only as a creature equipped with ‘reason’ i.e. ’Homo sapiens’; but a ‘proairetic’ creature i.e. ‘Homo proaireticus’.


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It is well known that the Stoics abandoned all previous theories about the multiple partitions of the human soul, and established that it consists of eight parts. According to them, seven parts (the organs devoted to sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, speech and reproduction) are used as sensors for the eighth part: the one called ‘hegemonic’ (ἡγεμονικὸν), i.e. the ruling principle, the central governing body which collects the contents of the first seven parts, integrates them, and produces all human higher intellectual functions. Thus according to Aetius: ​​”The Stoics say that the hegemonic is the highest part of our soul; the part that gives rise to impressions, to assents, to sensations, to impulses, and they call this part reasoning power. The seven parts of the soul pop out from the hegemonic and spread out to the body like the tentacles of the octopus. Five of these seven parts are sense organs: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. Of them, the sight is a current of pneuma which extends from the hegemonic to the eyes; hearing is a current of pneuma which extends from the hegemonic to the ears; the sense of smell is a current of pneuma which extends from the hegemonic to the nostrils; the taste is a current of pneuma which extends from the hegemonic to the tongue; the touch is a current of pneuma which extends from the hegemonic to the tactile surface that senses the bodies. Of the remaining parts, one is called ‘semen’; and is also a current of pneuma which extends from the hegemonic to the sexual organs. The part that Zeno calls ‘vocal’ and that they also call ‘voice’, is a current of pneuma which extends from the hegemonic to the pharynx, tongue and the vocal organs [1]”. And Chrysippus, in turn, says: “As the spider in the middle of the web holds with its legs all the ends of the wires, and is able to immediately feel every bump of animals whatever be their origin; so the hegemonic of the soul perceives the first hints of activity of the senses and is immediately warned about what is going on [2]”.


The fact that our hegemonic contains all the higher intellectual functions obviously implies its great complexity, as is shown by these words of Iamblichus [3] quoted by Stobaeus: “The followers of Zeno share his opinion that the soul is made up of eight parts and, as to the faculties that it contains, that they are many. For example the hegemonic contains our impressions, assents, impulses and reason”. It is therefore not surprising that ‘hegemonic’, while remaining the canonical term used to indicate the ruling principle of the soul, could also be called, by different Stoics and for specific purposes, with the name of one of the several faculties in which it materialized itself. Some of the more frequent of these designations are the following:
a) ‘Intellect’ (διάνοια), as in the words of Plutarch: “All these Stoics (that is Ariston of Chios, Zeno and Chrysippus) legitimize the idea that the passionate and irrational part of the soul is not distinct from its rational part due to a difference of nature, but that it is the same part of the soul, precisely the one called 'intellect' or 'hegemonic', which is able to turn itself around and change completely its attitude if it happens to be prey to strong influences, becoming vice or virtue in itself, without containing any irrational part [4]”.
b) ‘Reason’ or ‘Spoken discourse’ (λόγος), as in the words of Diogenes Laertius: “The hegemonic is the dominant part of the soul, the one in which our imaginations and impulses arise, and from which issues reason [5]”.
c) ‘Sensation’ (αἴσθησις), as in the words of Aetius: “The Stoics say that when the human being is born, the hegemonic part of his soul is like a sheet of paper ready for handwriting and on which the concepts are written one by one. The first way to write on this paper is through the sensations. Those who have the sensation, for example, of something white, after the disappearance of the object have the memory of it. And when we have many correlated memories of an object, then we claim to have knowledge of it; because to be expert of something means to have a large number of mental images of it [6]”.
d) ‘Impulse’ (ὁρμή), as in the words of Iamblichus: “The followers of Zeno believe that the soul is divided into eight parts, but that its faculties are many more: for example, in the hegemonic there are imaginations, consents, impulses and reasoning [7]”.
e) ‘Proairesis’ (προαίρεσις) as in the words of Epictetus: “And all this with courage, relying on the one who has called you to do that, on what has judged you worth of this task, appointed to which you will exhibit what a rational hegemonic arrayed against aproairetic forces can do [8]”.


A synopsis of all the occurrences of the terms ‘proairesis’, ‘proairetic’ and ‘aproairetic’ in the works of Epictetus has been recently published [9]. The present paper offers a synopsis of all the occurrences of the term ‘hegemonic’ in Epictetus, as well as a synthetic summary of the total occurrences of the terms ‘proairesis’, ‘proairetic’, ‘aproairetic’ and ‘hegemonic’ in the ‘Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta’ [11] (from now on referred to as ‘SVF’) and in the ‘Meditations’ of Marcus Aurelius [16].
For the sake of a greater clarity, it seems appropriate to divide this synopsis in three sections.
The first section contains all the quotations of the works of Epictetus in which the term ‘hegemonic’ is directly and certainly synonymous with ‘proairesis’. This assurance comes from the consideration of the way in which Epictetus, in these fragments, qualifies the hegemonic status, explicitly associating to it at least one of the key features of his own definition of ‘proairesis’ [9]: a) to operate the diairesis between what is proairetic, that is in our exclusive power, and what is aproairetic, that is not in our exclusive power; b) to be able to recognize the nature of things and to make the proper use of the impressions; c) to be able to take an attitude that is in harmony with the nature of things or that is in contrast with it. I shall tag these fragments as P4 (Proairesis) followed by a number (P41, P42, etc.) according to the choice explained in [9] and more analytically in [10].
The second section contains the quotations of the term ‘hegemonic’ in which there is an explicit reference to intellect (διάνοια), or to reason (λόγος), or to impression (φαντασία), or to sensation (αἴσθησις), all of which we already know to be faculties of the hegemonic. I shall tag these fragment as HEG (HEGemonic) followed by a number (HEG1, HEG2, etc.)
The third section contains the quotations in which the term ‘hegemonic’ has no explicit reference. These fragments are tagged as HEGX1, HEGX2 etc.


All the present quotations of the works of Epictetus are taken from F. Scalenghe’s new English translation of all Epictetus [17]. The Greek text of Epictetus on which the translation has been made is the text edited by W. A. Oldfather.

4.1 Quotations of the term ‘hegemonic’ as a direct synonym of ‘proairesis’.

(P41) - “In every circumstance I shall keep my hegemonic in accord with the nature of things”.
‘Discourses’ I,15,4
(P44) - And all this with courage, relying on the One who called you to do that and judged you worth of this task, appointed to which you will exhibit what a rational hegemonic arrayed against aproairetic forces can do.
‘Discourses’ II,1,39
(P49) - The subject matter of the virtuous man is his own hegemonic, the body is the subject matter of the physician and of the masseur, the land is the subject matter of the farmer. The work of the virtuous man is the use of the impressions in accord with the nature of things.
‘Discourses’ III,3,1
(P410) - Go away; take care of things at home. For if your hegemonic cannot stay here in accord with the nature of things, a bit of land will do the job: you will grow your small coins, you will assist your old father, you will revolve around the market-place, you will hold office. Bad yourself, what will not you badly do of what comes next?
‘Discourses’ III,5,3
(P411) - Now one has labored to resolve syllogisms, and there are profits. Then, instead, one labored with the aim of keeping our hegemonic in accord with the nature of things, and there were profits.
‘Discourses’ III,6,3
(P412) - But to what end have the philosophers, then, general principles?- To this end: to have our hegemonic in accord with the nature of things and enjoy ourselves, whatever will come about. Do you think this to be a small thing? -No, the greatest.
‘Discourses’ III,9,11
(P413) - What prevents you, when you have a fever, from having your hegemonic in accord with the nature of things? Here is the control of the business, the evaluation of the one who does philosophy.
‘Discourses’ III,10,11
(P414) - For it is not the deed of the philosopher to keep these external objects, neither the wine nor the oil nor the body but what? His own hegemonic. And how to manage what is outside? As far as to conduct himself not unreasonably with regard to it.
‘Discourses’ III,10,16
(P415) - These things do not harmonize. You must be one person only, either good or bad. You must work at your hegemonic or at external objects; to be industrious upon inside things or upon outside things: that is to have the station of a philosopher or of a layman.
‘Discourses’ III,15,13
(P420) - But if he toils in reference to his own hegemonic, that he may have it and enjoy himself in accord with the nature of things, only then do I call him industrious.
‘Discourses’ IV,4,43
(P421) - For <Socrates> very safely remembered that nobody dominates another's hegemonic and wanted nothing else but what was exclusively his own.
‘Discourses’ IV,5,4
(P422) - For this is always the program of the virtuous man. To obtain a praetorship? No; but if this is given to him, to keep his hegemonic, upon this subject matter, in accord with the nature of things.
‘Discourses’ IV,5,6
(P423) - <Only bend your mind towards these studies at some time>, allot some time to your hegemonic. Analyze why you have it and whence it has come, this thing that uses all the rest, that evaluates all the rest, that selects and does not select.
‘Discourses’ IV,7,40
(P424) - You cannot give full attention to the external objects and to your hegemonic at the same time. If you want those things, give up this one. Otherwise you will have neither one nor the other, being distracted by both.
‘Discourses’ IV,10,25
(P425) - You must work at your hegemonic or at the external objects; elaborate artfully your inside or things outside; that is to have the position of a philosopher or of a layman.
‘Manual’ E29,7
(P426) - Precisely as in walking you pay attention not to step on a nail or to twist your foot, so pay attention not to damage your hegemonic.
‘Manual’ E38

4.2 Quotations of the term ‘hegemonic’ with an explicit reference to the terms ‘intellect’ or ‘reason’ or ‘impression’ or ‘sensation’.

(HEG2) - While over our paltry hegemonic we gape and sleep, accepting heedlessly every impression: for in this case no penalty befalls us!
‘Discourses’ I,20,11
(HEG3) - This, then, is the foundation of philosophy: the sensation of how our own hegemonic stands; for after we recognize that it is weak, we will no longer use it for great things.
‘Discourses’ I,26,15
(HEG5) - The philosophers say that our infirmities too, without doubt, spring up in this way. For when you crave once for money, if a reasoning appraising the evil of this judgement is brought near to your conscience, the craving is stopped and our hegemonic is restored to its original state.
‘Discourses’ II,18,8
(HEG6) - Since remove the fear of death and bring forth as many thunders and lightnings you want. You will recognize how much stillness and fine weather there is in the hegemonic!
‘Discourses’ II,18,30
(HEG7) - The hegemonic of an insipient fellow is not faithful, it is insecure, it is unscrupulous, it is overcome now by an impression and now by another one.
‘Discourses’ II,22,25
(HEG8) - For he knew what moves a rational mind and that like the beam of a scale it will incline, whether you want it or not. Show a contradiction to a rational hegemonic and it will divert from it; but if you do not show it, bring charges to yourself rather than to those who do not obey you.
‘Discourses’ II,26,7
(HEG17) - You must, then, in the first place make your hegemonic pure and this must be your institute of life…
‘Discourses’ III,22,19

4.3 Quotations of the term ‘hegemonic’ without any precise and explicit reference.

(HEGX1) - Once you have assimilated them show us, instead, some transformation of your hegemonic; as the athletes, as a result of their trainings and eating, show their shoulders; and those who learned some art show the result of what they learned.
‘Discourses’ III,21,3
(HEGX2) - Paltry hegemonic, the only thing neglected and with no cure!
‘Discourses’ III,22,33
(HEGX3) - But first of all, the hegemonic of the Cynic must be purer than the sun; otherwise, he is necessarily a gambler and one who plays the rogue, because he will reproach other people while he himself is ensnared in some vice.
‘Discourses’ III,22,93

Occurrences of the term ‘hegemonic’ in the first section             16   (62%)     
Occurrences of the term ‘hegemonic’ in the second section          7   (27%)
Occurrences of the term ‘hegemonic’ in the third section              3   (11%)
Total occurrences                                                                          26


The previous synopsis was dedicated to the examination of the texts of Epictetus, but it appears of the highest interest to explore how many are the occurrences of the terms ‘hegemonic’ and ‘proairesis’, ‘proairetic’ and ‘aproairetic’ in two other fundamental Stoic texts.
The first text is the ‘Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta’, for the analysis of which I took advantage of the new Italian translation of F. Scalenghe [11]. The three books of the SVF deserve to be taken into account, as they are still today the essential key texts for the knowledge of ancient Stoicism. Now, in the Greek fragments of the SVF the term ‘hegemonic’, in the proper sense of the ruling principle of the human soul, appears many times: 10 times in book I; 114 times in book II and 17 times in book III, for a total of 141 times. The striking fact is that in all cases the term ‘hegemonic’ is never used with a direct or indirect reference to ‘proairesis’; while we have just seen that the fragments with such a reference are the wide majority, up to 62%, in Epictetus. In turn, the terms ‘proairesis’, ‘proairetic’ and ‘aproairetic’ are present in the Greek fragments of the SVF only 18 times.
The second fundamental Greek text is represented by the ‘Meditations’ of Marcus Aurelius, for the analysis of which I also took advantage of the new Italian translation of F. Scalenghe [16]. The results of my examination clearly show that in order to indicate the ruling principle of the human soul, Marcus systematically prefers the canonic term ‘hegemonic’. He uses it 41 times in his book, while the noun ‘proairesis’ and the adjectives ‘proairetic’ and ‘aproairetic’ are used by Marcus only 8 times (in fragments XI,36,1; VIII,56,1; XII,33,2 (twice); III,6,1; VI,41,1; XII,3,3; XII,23,5).
If we consider, as became evident from the synopsis, that Epictetus is not averse to the use of the term ‘hegemonic’, but that he uses it only 26 times in comparison with the 169 times that he employs the terms ‘proairesis’, ‘proairetic’ and ‘aproairetic’ in his works [9]; the difference in choice between, on the one hand, Epictetus, and on the other hand, Marcus Aurelius and the many authors of the Greek texts collected in the SVF, turns out to be amazing. This finding becomes even more surprising and clear if we sum it up in the following data: the use of the term ‘hegemonic’ exceeds that of the terms linked to ‘proairesis’ by 783% (141/18 x 100) in the Greek texts of the SVF, and by 513% (41/8 x 100) in the ‘Meditations’ of Marcus Aurelius. On the contrary, in the works of Epictetus the use of the terms linked to ‘proairesis’ exceeds that of the term ‘hegemonic’ by 650% (169/26 x 100). How can the particular choice of Epictetus be explained?


As we have just seen, Epictetus is the only Stoic philosopher who clearly prefers the use of the term ‘proairesis’ to that of the term ‘hegemonic’ in order to define the sovereign and ruling part of the human soul. It seems to me that the most decisive explanation for his choice has not been caught so far and that its nature is deeply philosophical. Let me try to explain why.
I take for granted that for Epictetus the term ‘hegemonic’ incorporates the term ‘reason’ (λόγος), because he is not averse to use it in this sense, and because he qualifies ‘proairesis’ as ‘a logical faculty’ already in the first chapter of the first book of his ‘Discourses’. In fact he says: “Among the other arts and faculties you will find none that is able to know its own general principles and therefore none able to self-evaluate positively or negatively. To what extent is grammar able to know general principles? To the extent of screening literature. Music? To the extent of screening melody. Does either of them know its own general principles? Not at all. But when, if you write something for a fellow, there is need of the letters that have to be written, these grammar will tell; yet whether one has to write or not for a fellow, grammar will not tell. On melodies also, in the same way, music. It will not say whether one now has to sing and play the lyre or neither sing nor play the lyre. What, then, will? The faculty that knows both its own general principles and all the rest. And what is this? The logical faculty: for this one only has been assumed from nature in order to apprehend itself - what it is, what it can do, how very valuable it has come to be - and all the others. What else says that the gold is wonderful? As the gold does not say so itself, it’s plain: it is the faculty able to use the impressions. What else distinguishes music, grammar, the other arts and faculties; evaluates their uses and points out the right times? Nothing else” [12].
It appears however clear that if we interpret these words as an explicit decision of Epictetus to defend the characterization of man as a creature specifically and solely endowed with ‘reason’, we forget that we are talking here about philosophers for whom the ‘reason’, the λόγος, permeates not only human beings but all living and non-living creatures and the entire cosmos. Because of this, if we do not first define unambiguously what is meant by ‘reason’, it becomes impossible to find a satisfactory answer to the problem of correctly defining the term ‘man’.
The preference of Epictetus for the use of the term ‘proairesis’ seems therefore to me highly justified, as soon as we consider that not only the man but any animal is fitted with a ‘hegemonic’ and a soul which is also divided into various parts. The wonders of which the bees, the wolves, the swallows and many other living and non-living creatures are capable, do not show the presence in them of a soul in some cases even more developed and sophisticated than the human soul? It appears to be a highly unsatisfactory answer to maintain that all the other animals are simply not equipped by nature with the human ‘reason’. This is also generously highlighted by Chrysippus when he says: “Even animals without speech show many basic capacities of their soul, thanks to which they are able to distinguish the foods, to imagine, to avoid the pitfalls, to jump over cliffs and precipices, to recognize many links, I shall not say logical but rather natural. However, among the mortal creatures, only man is endowed with that extraordinary faculty of the mind which is the reason [13]”. Moreover, if we accept the standard conceptions about happiness as defined by most of the philosophers, both Epicureans and Stoics, we can be forced to involve in happiness even creatures without reason. With regard to this, it is very appropriate to quote here the compelling argument attributed to Michael of Ephesus: “If, as the Stoics say, the good life is to live in accordance with nature; and if to live well, both for the Stoics and for Epicurus, is to be happy, then to live in accordance with nature is to be happy. But it is indeed peculiar of the irrational animals to live in accordance with nature from the moment of their generation to that of their death: therefore nature grants to the animals without reason to be happy. On the other hand if, according to the Stoics, happiness is the supreme of natural desires and we believe that once a natural creature has attained happiness, having its ‘for what’ and its ‘highest good’, it craves nothing more than to keep this good and to never lose it, then this desire exists also in the case of beings devoid of reason and thus also irrational creatures partake of happiness [14]”. In my opinion, this argument is as simple as deep and unassailable. Has anyone ever seen a tiger, an apple, a piece of granite to act ‘against nature’ and to desire something that is bad or dangerous for them? Evidently not. Therefore it is distinctive of all beings devoid of reason to live according to nature and then to be happy.


Here are the words of Epictetus: “You sir […] are you such as to be able to hear the truth? I would that you were! And yet, since I was somehow condemned to have a hoary beard and a cloak and you enter here like coming to a philosopher, I’ll use with you neither cruelty nor despair but I’ll say: younker, whom do you dispose to make beautiful? In the first place recognize who you are and as such adorn yourself. You are a human being: that is a mortal creature able to use the impressions rationally. What is ‘rationally’? Acknowledging the nature of things and perfectly. What is, then, special about you? The creature? No. The mortal? No. The use of impressions? No. The ability to acknowledge the nature of things is the special element that you have: adorn and embellish that [15]”.
According to Epictetus, what is then the rightly understood human reason, and therefore the hegemonic? It is the ability to recognize the nature of things and then to behave in every situation in a way consistent with it. And which is the nature of things? The nature of things is their essential bipartition in proairetic things and in aproairetic things. And which is the human faculty specifically dedicated to put in place this diairesis and to recognize the difference between what is proairetic and what is aproairetic? It is the proairesis. As can be easily seen, Epictetus is the only philosopher who has been able to define the issue at stake in its exact terms and who has given the correct answer. So the characteristic that distinguishes the man from all other creatures is not the ‘reason’ but the ‘proairesis’. And I find this solution absolutely valid both for those, philosophers and non-philosophers, who understand it and for those who do not understand or deny it.


[1] Aetius ‘Placita’ IV, 21 in ‘SVF’ Vol. II, Fragment 836. For all the quotations of the Greek fragments of the ‘SVF’ in the present paper, I took advantage of the F. Scalenghe’s new Italian translation of all the Greek fragments of the ‘SVF’ available online at  www.epitteto.com
[2] Calcidius ‘Ad Timaeum’ cp. 220 in ‘SVF’ Vol. II, Fragment 879 H.
[3] Iamblichus ‘De anima’ in Stobaeus ‘Eclogae.’ I, 49, 36 p. 369, 6 W. in ‘SVF’ Vol. I, Fragment 143 (2)
[4] Plutarch ‘De virtute morali’ p. 441c. in SVF Vol. I, Fragment 202
[5] Diogenes Laertius ‘Vitae philosophorum’ VII, 159 in ‘SVF’ Vol. II, Fragment 837
[6] Aetius ‘Placita’ IV, 11 in ‘SVF’ Vol. II, Fragment 83
[7] Iamblichus ‘De anima’ in Stobaeus ‘Eclogae’ I, p. 369, 5 W in ‘SVF’ Vol. II, Fragment 831
[8] Epictetus ‘Discourses’ Book II, Chap. I, 39
[9] F. Scalenghe. ‘Proairesis’, ‘Proairetic’ and ‘Aproairetic’: Synopsis of All the Passages Containing these Terms in the ‘Discourses’ and the ‘Manual’ of Epictetus. International Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 3, No. 3, 2015, pp. 24-33. doi: 10.11648/j.ijp.20150303.11”
[10] F. Scalenghe. “About the Arithmetic and the Geometry of Human Proairesis and the Natural Asymmetry by Which Unhappiness Wins the Game Against Happiness 3 to 1”. International Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 3, No. 6, 2015, pp. 72-82. doi: 10.11648/j.ijp.20150306.14
[11] H. Von Arnim, et al. ‘Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta’ in aedibus BG Teubneri, 1905. F. Scalenghe’s new Italian translation of all the Greek fragments of the SVF is available online at www.epitteto.com
[12] Epictetus ‘Discourses’ Book I, Chap. I, 1-6
[13] Calcidius ‘Ad Timaeum’ cp. 220 in ‘SVF’ Vol. II, Fragment 879
[14] Michael of Ephesus ‘In Aristot. Eth. Nicom.’ p. 598, 20 in ‘SVF’ Vol. III, Fragment 17
[15] Epictetus ‘Discourses’ Book III, Chap. I, 23-26
[16] Marcus Aurelius ‘Ad se ipsum libri XII’. Joachim Dalfen ed. Teubner Verlag. 1979. F. Scalenghe’s new Italian translation of the work of Marcus Aurelius is available online at www.epitteto.com
[17] W. A. Oldfather (Ed.) Epictetus ‘The Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual and the Fragments’. London, Heinemann 1961. For all the quotations of Epictetus in the present paper, I took advantage of the F. Scalenghe’s new English translation of all Epictetus available online at www.epitteto.com











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