If we agree that Proairesis, and not simply Reason, is the fundamental and sovereign faculty the man is naturally endowed with, it appears appropriate to identify the actions that this reality sets in motion. With regard to them, Epictetus calls ‘deeds of proairesis’ our desires and aversions, our impulses and repulsions, our assents and dissents. The present paper is devoted to a discussion of desire and aversion only. It shows how the only four basic possible attitudes of human proairesis towards both proairetic and aproairetic things generate the corresponding kinds of desires and aversions.


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If we agree, as Epictetus [1] says, that Proairesis [2], [16] is the fundamental and sovereign faculty the man is naturally endowed with and the one that enables him: 1) to operate the diairesis [3] between what is proairetic, i.e. what is in his exclusive power; and what is aproairetic, i.e. what is not in his exclusive power; 2) to recognize the nature of things [4] and to make the proper use of the impressions [12]; 3) to take a diairetic attitude [13], that is an attitude that is in harmony with the nature of things and therefore makes his life virtuous and happy; or a counterdiairetic attitude [14], that is an attitude in contrast with the nature of things and that therefore makes his life vicious and unhappy; then it seems appropriate to try to identify the actions that the reality of proairesis sets in motion.
With regard to this, Epictetus identifies three main fields of action of the proairesis, and calls ‘deeds of proairesis’ [15] the operations in which the man who intends to live well has to train himself and achieve perfection. 1) The first field concerns our desires and aversions. The man must train himself in this field so as to obtain always what he desires and never run into what he averts. In the first field the human proairesis plays the game of virtue and vice, of good and evil. 2) The second field has to do with our impulses and repulsions, that is with our rights and duties as social beings, so that we may act rationally and without negligence. In the second field human proairesis plays the game of what is fair or unfair in natural and social rights and duties. 3) The third field concerns our assents and dissents, so that we may avoid logic mistakes and randomness of judgment. In the third field human proairesis plays the game of what is right or wrong in impressions and reasoning [5].
If we want to be more precise, it’s worth noticing that Epictetus quotes in his works at least ten different deeds of proairesis, but according to him the cardinal ones are only the following six: desire, aversion, impulse, repulsion, assent, dissent. Moreover, he explicitly tells us that according to him the order of importance for the man of the three fields is the same in which I have just listed them [5]. The present paper is devoted to a discussion of ‘desire’ and ‘aversion’ only.


In this synopsis the term ‘desire’ always translates the Greek noun ὄρεξις (‘òrexis’). In general, when Epictetus talks about desire he refers to a proairetic activity well distinct from the passionate craving or the desperate longing for something, that he qualifies as ‘passions’ and indicates with other words.
Desire is the first of the six cardinal deeds of proairesis and is the opposite of aversion. As we have just said, its action takes place in the field of ‘good and evil’, of ‘virtue and vice’ [5]. The desire is ‘proairetic’ [2] and can be addressed both to what is aproairetic (for example a sum of money) and to what is proairetic (for example the peace of mind).
Now, according to Epictetus there are two kinds of possible ways of desiring something aproairetic. The first kind of desire is the desire of the man who operates the diairesis between aproairetic and proairetic things and therefore knows and respects the existence both of the nature of things and of his own proairesis [16]. This man is the ‘Homo proaireticus’. The desire of this man is a desire that incorporates a perfect knowledge of the natural difference between the proairetic and the aproairetic things and, as a consequence, incorporates unequivocally the following reserve [17]: ‘I know that the fulfillment of my desire of an aproairetic thing is not in my exclusive power, and I shall blame nobody, not even myself, in case of failure, nor take it as something evil that has happened to me; and in case of success I shall never become elated [8] and never believe that something good has happened to me’ [6]. The second kind of desire is the desire of the man who ignores or denies the existence of the nature of things and therefore of his own proairesis. Due to the fact that he does not operate the diairesis between aproairetic and proairetic things, we cannot say that the desire of this man is directed to something aproairetic or to something proairetic, because the ignorance or the denial of the existence of the nature of things means by definition ignorance or denial of both aproairetic and proairetic things. This man is the ‘Homo sapiens’, the one who is proud to call himself a man endowed with and a strict follower of ‘Reason’ in every circumstances [18]. The desire of this man is a desire that incorporates the following explicit or implicit certitude: ‘I believe that the fulfillment of my desire is in my exclusive power. In case of failure I shall blame and curse other people or Nature, and take it as an evil that has happened to me; while in case of success I shall become elated [8] and believe that something good has happened to me’ [7].
There are also two kinds of possible ways of desiring something proairetic, and even in this regard the two men totally differ. The desire of the Homo proaireticus who knows and respects the nature of things and his own proairesis cannot be but successful, because by the definition itself of the nature of things, proairetic things are the only ones that are in our exclusive power. But what happens to the Homo sapiens who denies the existence of the nature of things? This man can well ignore or deny the existence of the nature of things and accordingly of his proairesis, but he has no power at all to cancel the existence of the nature of things, as he has no power at all to cease to be a natural creature. Thus he constantly reveals himself unprepared to face the consequences of his own desires and aversions and finds himself continually in contradiction, because he pretends to be able to get what the nature of things absolutely forbids: i.e. that both aproairetic and proairetic things be in his exclusive power. And if he denies to be able to fulfill his desire of something he is again ignoring or denying the existence of the nature of things [7].
To sum up the things very briefly, due to the existence and to the inviolability of the nature of things we can say that the man who desires or averts something without the due reserve [17] cannot be certain to succeed and inevitably, sooner or later, he is doomed to fail. And even if he could once fulfill his desire he would become elated [8], drawing the false conclusion that he has power over what he has no power at all. Epictetus, therefore, advises the beginner in philosophy to refrain completely from desire, because he is not yet able to clearly understand the difference between proairetic and aproairetic things and consequently he ignores what, of what is in our exclusive power, is contrary to the nature of things.
In this synopsis the term that translates the Greek noun ἔκκλισις (‘ékklisis’) is ‘aversion’. Aversion is the second of the six cardinal deeds of proairesis and is the opposite of desire. Like desire, aversion is ‘proairetic’ and can be directed both against what is aproairetic and against what is proairetic. But the aversion without reserve [17] against what is aproairetic (for example an illness), due to the inviolability of the nature of things has no guarantee of success and inevitably, sooner or later, he who averts an aproairetic thing is bound to run into what he averts. Epictetus, therefore, advises repeatedly the beginner in philosophy to never avert something aproairetic and to limit himself only to avert what, of what is proairetic, he knows well, has so far practiced and is against the nature of things: for example anger, disdain, envy and pity [17].
Although the two proairetic deeds, desire and aversion, at first sight might seem distinct, actually they are one and the same work, simply seen from two opposing points of view. Indeed the desire of something automatically means the aversion of its opposite. The desire (a proairetic thing) of good health (an aproairetic thing) means aversion (a proairetic thing) of illness (an aproairetic thing). The desire of serenity (a proairetic thing) automatically means aversion of disconcertment (also a proairetic thing) [11]. As we see desire and aversion are always proairetic things, while the objects of desire and aversion can be both proairetic things (such as anger and envy) or aproairetic things (like money and health).


The present synopsis collects the quotations of all the different grammatical forms (i.e. noun, adjective, adverb, verb, etc.) of the terms linked to ‘desire’ and ‘aversion’ as they appear in the works of Epictetus.
All the fragments are labeled in this synopsis with the notation P2DA (Proairetic Desire and Aversion) followed by a serial number (P2DA1, P2DA2, etc.) The reason for the choice of this notation, that has already been used [2] in order to label as P2 (which means P squared) anything that is ‘proairetic’, is the discovery, as has been shown analytically in a paper recently published [9], that it is possible to formally treat the human proairesis as an exponential function written in complex numbers. In particular, if one analyzes its arithmetic and its geometry, one finds that the proairesis can be understood and treated as a negative real number which is the one and the same fourth grade power (P4) of four different complex numbers (for example p1= 1+i, p2= -1+i, p3= -1-i, p4= 1-i). Moreover, it turns out that if one squares each of these four complex numbers, one gets a couple of imaginary numbers that differ only for their sign: in this case +2i, -2i. If we consider that desire and aversion are proairetic things and that they can be actually treated as the same deed simply seen from two opposite points of view, exactly as 4 is the square of both +2 and -2, I believe that we are entitled to continue the use of the notation (P2) in order to label everything that is ‘proairetic’.
All the present quotations of the works of Epictetus are taken from the new English translation made by F. Scalenghe. The Greek text of Epictetus on which the translation has been made is the text edited by W. A. Oldfather [1].


(P2DA1) - And since I could not do this, I gave you a certain particularity of yours: the faculty of impelling and repelling, of desiring and averting; a faculty, in short, able to use impressions.
‘Discourses’ I,1,12
(P2DA2) - This is to have studied what one must study, to have arranged an unhampered desire and an unstumbling aversion.
‘Discourses’ I,1,31
(P2DA3) - Having learned from the philosophers that desire is towards good things and aversion is towards evil things, and having also learned that serenity and self control do not otherwise ensue for the man unless he gets an unfailing desire and an unstumbling aversion; he who profits has fully removed desire from himself or has deferred it, and uses aversion only towards what is proairetic.
‘Discourses’ I,4,1
(P2DA4) - For if he averts something aproairetic, he knows that some time he will stumble on it in spite of his aversion and will have ill fortune.
‘Discourses’ I,4,2
(P2DA5) - Seek it there, paltry sir, where your work is. And where is your work? In desire and aversion, that you may be unfailing in desire and unstumbling in aversion; in impulse and repulsion, that you may be unaberring; in proposition and withholding of assent, that you may be undeceivable. But first are the first topics and they are the most necessary. If you seek to have an unstumbling aversion while trembling and mourning, how do you profit?
‘Discourses’ I,4,11-12
(P2DA6) - “Take the treatise ‘On impulse’ and recognize how well I have read it!” Slave! I don't seek that, but how you impel and repel, how you desire and avert, how you design, you propose and prepare: if in harmony with the nature of things or not of harmony with it.
‘Discourses’ I,4,14
(P2DA7) - Come on, is it otherwise in the topic of desire and impulse? What can overcome an impulse except another impulse? And what a desire and an aversion except another desire and another aversion?
‘Discourses’ I,17,24
(P2DA8) - <If it is true that for impelling to something I must> experience that this is useful to me; and that it is unmanageable to determine one thing useful and yet to desire another, to determine one deed proper and to impel to another: why are we any longer embittered against the multitude?
‘Discourses’ I,18,2
(P2DA9) - At once the tyrant says: “I am more powerful than anyone else”. And what can you provide me with? Can you secure me an unhampered desire? And whence can you? For do you have it? An unstumbling aversion? Do you have it?
‘Discourses’ I,19,2
(P2DA10) - He climbs up the Capitol and offers a sacrifice. Now, who ever sacrificed for having desired as a virtuous man, for having impelled in accord with the nature of things? For where we set our good, there we also thank the gods.
‘Discourses’ I,19,25
(P2DA11) - You sir, what do you want to happen to you? I am content if I desire and avert in accord with the nature of things; if I use impulse and repulsion as I have been born to do; and similarly employ purpose, design and assent. Why, then, do you strut before us as you had gulped down a spit?
‘Discourses’ I,21,2
(P2DA12) - To be deceived or to be reckless or to do something shamelessly or to desire something with a shameful crave makes no difference to us, if only we hit the mark in the aproairetic things. Where, instead, there are death or exile or pain or ill reputation, there is withdrawal, there is agitation.
‘Discourses’ II,1,10
(P2DA13) - For if one transposes his caution there where proairesis and the deeds of proairesis are, together with being cautious to want something he will also have his aversion in his exclusive power. If, on the contrary, he transposes his caution there where lies what is not in our exclusive power and is aproairetic, having his aversion turned to things that are in power of other people he will necessarily fear, he will be unstable and disconcerted.
‘Discourses’ II,1,12
(P2DA14) - In what? In trifling phrases. Let you have your trifling phrases. Show me, instead, how you stand towards desire and aversion; if you do not fail in what you want, if you do not stumble on what you do not want. Those trifling periods, if you have a sound mind, you will somehow remove and cancel.
‘Discourses’ II,1,31
(P2DA15) - No, sir, but rather that: “See how I do not fail in my desire. See how, in my aversion, I do not stumble on what I avert. Bring death and you will recognize it. Bring pain, bring prison, bring ill reputation, bring a condemnation”.
‘Discourses’ II,1,35
(P2DA16) - Appear to know only this: how you never fail in your desire nor stumble on what you avert.
‘Discourses’ II,1,37
(P2DA17) - If you dispose to be self respecting and faithful, who will not allow you to be so? If you dispose not to be hampered nor constrained, who will constrain you to desire what does not seem to you to be desirable, and to avert what it does not appear to you that should be averted? But someone will perform against you things that seem to be frightful. And how can he also make you to experience them with aversion? When, then, it’s in your exclusive power to desire and to avert, what do you turn anymore your mind towards?
‘Discourses’ II,2,4-6
(P2DA18) - And who is lord? He who has power over any of the things that you are eager for or that you avert.
‘Discourses’ II,2,26
(P2DA19) - What then? We ought to come to them apart from desire and from aversion, just as the traveller tries to know from the person he meets, which one of two roads brings forth to his destination, without desiring that the road which brings him there is the right more than the left one: for he does not dispose to depart through one of these but through the one that brings him forth to his destination.
‘Discourses’ II,7,10
(P2DA20) - I’ll show you the sinews of a philosopher. What sinews? An unfailing desire, an unstumbling aversion, a proper impulse, a diligent purpose, an assent far from precipitation. That you will see.
‘Discourses’ II,8,29
(P2DA21) - What is, then, the profession of a citizen? To have no private profit, to deliberate on nothing as an absolute unit but like the hand or the foot, which, if they had some reasoning power and understood the structure of nature, would never impel or desire otherwise than by referring to the whole.
‘Discourses’ II,10,4
(P2DA22) - Yet he does not write a testament without knowing how one has to write it or else he invites one who has this knowledge; nor he seals up a bond with his seal amiss or writes a guarantee amiss and nevertheless he uses desire and aversion, impulse, design and purpose apart from any lawyer.
‘Discourses’ II,13,7
(P2DA23) - When, then, you see someone who turns pale, as the physician looking at someone’s complexion says: “This fellow's spleen is affected; and this fellow's liver is”; so you also say: “This fellow's desire and aversion are affected; he has not a free course, he is inflamed”.
‘Discourses’ II,13,12
(P2DA24) - And from this ensues, for those who have recommended themselves to philosophy, not to fail in desire and, in aversion, not to stumble on what is averted; to enjoy oneself without grief, without fear, undisconcertedly, while keeping with the mates the relationships -both natural and acquired- of son, father, brother, citizen, husband, wife, neighbor, fellow-traveller, ruler, ruled.
‘Discourses’ II,14,8
(P2DA25) - But if you say to someone: “Your desires are inflamed, your aversions are those of a slave-minded fellow, your designs are inconsistent, your impulses are out of harmony with the nature of things, your conceptions are rash and false”; straightaway he goes out and says: “He outraged me!”
‘Discourses’ II,14,22
(P2DA26) - When you have such a leader as Zeus and you dispose and desire along with him, why do you still fear to fail? Give graciously your desire and your aversion to poverty in money and to money's wealth: you will fail, you will stumble on what you avert. Give them graciously to body's health: you will have ill fortune. To offices, honours, fatherland, friends, offspring, in short to anything aproairetic.
‘Discourses’ II,17,23-24
(P2DA27) - “You in that of Plato”; “You in that of Antisthenes”. And then after exposing to one another your dreams, you return again to the same things. You desire in the same way, you avert in the same way; similarly you impel, make designs, make proposals; you wish the same things, the same things you are eager for.
‘Discourses’ II,17,36
(P2DA28) - You sir, your program was to fashion yourself able to use the impressions that befall you in a way which is in accord with the nature of things: unfailing in desire, unstumbling in aversion, never misfortuned, never having ill fortune, free, unhampered, unconstrained; reconciled to the government of Zeus, obedient to this government, being well pleased of this government.
‘Discourses’ II,23,42
(P2DA29) - As the appropriate grass, when shown to the sheep, moves in it an eagerness to eat, while the sheep will not be moved if you place before it a stone or some bread; in the same way there are in us too certain natural impulsions to speak, when he who will listen appears to us to be an interesting person, when he inspires us. But if he lies nearby like a stone or fodder, how can he move such desire in a man?
‘Discourses’ II,24,16
(P2DA30) - “Why, then, do you tell me nothing?” I have to tell you only this: that the person unaware of who he is, what he has been born for, what sort of world is this one in which he lives and with what mates, what good and evil things are, beautiful and shameful things are; who understands neither a reasoning nor a demonstration nor what is true nor what is false nor is able to distinguish them; who will neither desire, nor avert, nor impel, nor design, nor assent, nor dissent, nor suspend his judgement in accord with the nature of things; on the whole this person will go around deaf and blind, thinking to be somebody when, instead, he is nobody.
‘Discourses’ II,24,19
(P2DA31) - Three are the topics in which the man who will be virtuous must train himself: that which deals with desires and aversions, that he may not fail in his desire and, when he averts, that he may not stumble on what he averts.
‘Discourses’ III,2,1
(P2DA32) - Among these, the most dominant and especially urgent topic is that which deals with passions: for the passion is not born otherwise than by a desire that fails or by an aversion that stumbles on what it averts. This is what brings in disconcertments, turmoil, misfortunes and ill fortunes; what produces mourning, wailings, envies, fears and jealousies, and by which we are unable to listen to our reason.
‘Discourses’ III,2,3
(P2DA33) - Every soul is born both for nodding to the truth, dissenting from the false, suspending the judgement in doubtful issues, as for moving with desire towards the good, with aversion towards the evil and neutrally towards what is neither evil nor good.
‘Discourses’ III,3,2
(P2DA34) - “If you want what has to do with my land, take it; take my household slaves, take my office, take my body. But you will neither make my desire to fail nor my aversion to stumble on what it averts”.
‘Discourses’ III,6,6
(P2DA35) - Which are these cardinal deeds? To engage in city's business, to marry, beget children, worship god, take care of parents; in general to desire, avert, impel, repel as one ought to do each of these thing and as we are born to do.
‘Discourses’ III,7,26
(P2DA36) - Structure us as your emulators, like Socrates of himself. He was the one who ruled over people as men, who has structured them so that they have subordinated to it, to reason, their desire, their aversion, their impulse, their repulsion.
‘Discourses’ III,7,34
(P2DA37) - Patron, not patron, what do I care? You care. I am richer than you are: I am not anxious about what thoughts Caesar will have about my case; I do not flatter anybody for this reason. This I have in exchange of your silverware and jewelry. You golden vessels, but earthenware your reason, your judgements, your assents, impulses, desires.
‘Discourses’ III,9,18
(P2DA38) - The same thing occurs to the children who put their hand down in a narrow-necked jug and bring out of it dried figs and nuts. If they fill the hand full, they cannot bring it out and then cry. Give up a few of them and you will bring it out. You too give up your desire; do not crave for many things and you will prosper.
‘Discourses’ III,9,22
(P2DA39) - What is to labor at our program? In desire and aversion to conduct oneself in an unhampered way. And what is this? Neither to fail what one desires nor, when one averts, to stumble on what is averted. Our practical exercise too ought, then, lean to this. Since it is impossible to have an unfailing desire and an unstumbling aversion without great and constant practice, know that if you allow your practice to be turned outwards, to the aproairetic things, you will neither have a desire right on the mark nor an unstumbling aversion. And since our habit takes the lead in a potent way, because we are accustomed to use desire and aversion only towards aproairetic things, we must set against it the opposite habit, and where the biggest slipperiness of the impressions is, to set against that our practical exercise. I have a propensity for physical pleasure: I’ll roll to the other side, beyond measure, for practice. I have an aversion for physical pain: I’ll strain and train to this my impressions, so that I may divert my aversion from everything of this sort. For who is the practiser? The fellow who studies to not use his desire and to use his aversion only towards proairetic things, and who studies more the things that are hard to execute. And so one has to exercise more in something and another in something else.
‘Discourses’ III,12,4-8
(P2DA40) - After desire and aversion, the second topic is that of impulse and repulsion: that we may be obedient to reason, not act out of the right time, of the right place or of some other symmetry of this sort.
‘Discourses’ III,12,13
(P2DA41) - Furthermore, as many exercises are administered to the body by those who train it, if they lean somehow to desire and aversion, they also could be used for practical exercise. But if they tend to exhibition, they are proper of a fellow who has nodded outwards, who is hunting something else and seeks spectators who will say “O, the great man!”
‘Discourses’ III,12,16
(P2DA42) - Study sometime to pass your life as an invalid, so that you may later pass your life as one who is healthy. Fast, drink water; at some time abstain altogether from desire, that you may at some time desire also in a reasonable way. And if you desire reasonably, when you have in you some good, you will desire well.
‘Discourses’ III,13,21
(P2DA43) - And to do philosophy is practically this: to seek how it is feasible to use desire and aversion unimpededly.
‘Discourses’ III,14,10
(P2DA44) - Can anyone give you the news that you conceived or desired badly? -Not at all- But that someone died. What is this, then, to you? That someone speaks ill about you. What is this, then, to you?
‘Discourses’ III,18,2
(P2DA45) - If your soul is won by the general philosophical principles, sit and turn them in your mind all by yourself. But never tell yourself philosopher and do not tolerate if someone else tells this, but say: “He has erred, for I do not desire otherwise than before, nor I impel to other things, nor I assent to others, nor generally I diversified in anything from my former condition in the use of the impressions”.
‘Discourses’ III,21,23
(P2DA46) - First, in what concerns you, you must no longer appear similar in nothing to what you do now, and bring no more charges to god or man. You must totally remove desire and transpose your aversion only on proairetic things. You must not have anger, fury, envy, pity. No wench, no bit of reputation, no young boy, no small cake must appear wonderful to you.
‘Discourses’ III,22,13
(P2DA47) - Wretched fellow, what about you fare badly? Your estate? It does not fare badly: you are rich in gold and bronze. Your body? It does not fare badly. What evil have you, then? That one: you have neglected and brought to naught whatever that is within you by which we desire, by which we avert, by which we impel and repel.
‘Discourses’ III,22,31
(P2DA48) - Why did you come here? Was your desire in danger, was your aversion; perhaps your impulse or your repulsion? “No”, he says, “my brother’s wife was snatched away”.
‘Discourses’ III,22,36
(P2DA49) - “Who of you can desire or avert, impel or repel, prepare or propose anything without first getting the impression of something advantageous or of something not proper?” “No one”. “You have in this, then, something that is unhampered and free”.
‘Discourses’ III,22,43
(P2DA50) - And what do I lack? Am I not able to control grief, able to control fear, am I not free? When did any of you see me failing in desire or, in aversion, stumbling on what I avert? When did I blame god or man, when did I bring charges to anyone? Has anyone of you seen me sullen?
‘Discourses’ III,22,48
(P2DA51) - For where are disconcertments, grieves, fears, imperfect desires, aversions that stumble on what is averted, envies, jealousies: where is a passage for happiness in all this? Wherever rotten judgements are held, all these passions must necessarily be there.
‘Discourses’ III,22,61
(P2DA52) - Where is in him a reckless assent, a rash impulse, a failing desire, an aversion that stumbles on what it averts, an imperfect design; where are blames, slave-mindedness or envy?
‘Discourses’ III,22,104
(P2DA53) - Do you want, then, to recognize if you have benefited yourself? Bring forth your judgements, philosopher! What is the profession of desire? Not to fail. What is the profession of aversion? Not to stumble on what it averts.
‘Discourses’ III,23,9
(P2DA54) - And then you tell me that in desire and aversion you conduct yourself in accord with the nature of things? Go, and persuade someone else.
‘Discourses’ III,23,12
(P2DA55) - In Athens, did you see nobody when you frequented his home? -Whom I decided to see- Here too: dispose to see this person and you will see whom you decide. Only not in a slave-minded way, not with desire or aversion, and what is yours will be well.
‘Discourses’ III,24,54
(P2DA56) - Once you have disparaged the external and aproairetic objects and believed none of them as yours, and believed yours, instead, only to determine, to conceive, to impel, to desire, to avert as a virtuous man; where is there any more place for flattery, for a slave-minded appreciation of yourself?
‘Discourses’ III,24,56
(P2DA57) - You never desired the stability of judgement, undisconcertment, self control. For this purpose you looked after nobody; for the sake of syllogisms, instead, after many. You never thoroughly put to test, within yourself, any of your impressions. To have what unchangeable? Your cowardice, your meanness, your infatuation for people wealthy in money, your imperfect desire, your failing aversion. The safety of these impressions you were worried about!
‘Discourses’ III,26,13-14
(P2DA58) - Free is the one who lives as he decides, whom it is impossible to constrain or hamper or force; whose impulses are unhindered, whose desires are right on the mark, whose aversions do not stumble on what they avert. Who, then, wants to live a life full of aberrations? -No one-
‘Discourses’ IV,1,1
(P2DA59) - Who wants to live grieving, fearing, envying, pitying, desiring and failing in his desires, averting and stumbling on what he averts? -No one at all- Have we, then, any insipient person without grief, without fear, unstumbling <in aversion>, unfailing <in desire>? -No one- No one of them, therefore, is free.
‘Discourses’ IV,1,4-5
(P2DA60) - To such a point they <the wild birds> desire their natural freedom and to be autonomous, unhampered!
‘Discourses’ IV,1,27
(P2DA61) - And can anyone compel you to desire what you do not want? -No one- Compel you to propose or design or in short to use the impressions that befall you? -Nor that either, but when I desire he will prevent me from achieving what I desire- If you desire some of the things that are yours and unhampered, how will he hamper you? -Not at all- Who, then, tells you that the one who desires what is another's is unhampered? -Should I not, then, desire bodily health?- Not at all, nor anything else of what is another's. For what is not in your exclusive power to arrange or keep when you dispose so, this is what is another's. Keep far away from it not only your hands but above all your desire.
‘Discourses’ IV,1,74-77
(P2DA62) - Once prepared in this way, exercised in the exercise of distinguishing what is another's from what is your own, what is hampered from what is unhampered, to believe that this is for you while the former is not, to have thoughtfully here your desire, here your aversion: do you any longer fear anyone?
‘Discourses’ IV,1,81
(P2DA63) - Now you have a well proportioned and reconstituted desire of what is proairetic because you know that this is beautiful and present; and you desire nothing of what is aproairetic, so that that certain element which is unreasonable, impetuous, urgent beyond measure may not have a place.
‘Discourses’ IV,1,84
(P2DA64) - I have adjoined my impulse to Matter Immortal. It disposes that I have a fever: and I dispose it too. It disposes that I impel to something: and I dispose it too. It disposes that I desire: and I dispose it too. It disposes that I obtain something: and I decide it. It does not dispose it: I do not decide it.
‘Discourses’ IV,1,89
(P2DA65) - I am called now to perform a certain task. I’ll go now with the purpose of paying attention to the measures that one ought to keep, in order to act with self respect, with safety, apart from desire of and aversion for external objects.
‘Discourses’ IV,4,6
(P2DA66) - If, instead, we should read the books “On impulse” not in order to see what is said about impulse but in order to impel well; and the books “On desire and aversion” in order that we may never fail when we desire nor, when we avert something, stumble on what we avert; and the books "On proper deeds" in order that, mindful of social relationships, we may do nothing unreasonably nor contrary to them.
‘Discourses’ IV,4,16
(P2DA67) - But we would say: “Today I used the impulse as it is prescribed by the philosophers, I did not use the desire, I used the aversion only towards proairetic things, I was not terrified by So-and-so, I was not discountenanced by So-and-so, I trained my ability to tolerate another's intemperance, my ability to abstain from it, my cooperativity”.
‘Discourses’ IV,4,18
(P2DA68) - Is the faculty that uses the impressions perhaps also hindered? And who prevents you from using desire and aversion, impulse and repulsion in accord with the nature of things? Which turmoil is sufficient to this end?
‘Discourses’ IV,4,28
(P2DA69) - Did you not often hear that you ought to remove totally your desire and turn your aversion towards the proairetic things only?
‘Discourses’ IV,4,33
(P2DA70) - If you once say: “When may one depart for Athens?”, you are lost. For it's necessary that your desire, being imperfect, makes you misfortuned; and if perfect, that it makes you empty, elated at what one ought not be. Again, if you are hindered, you are prey to ill fortune, because you stumble on what you do not want.
‘Discourses’ IV,4,35
(P2DA71) - But to be serene is worth all the difficulties. If, then, it is the right time for these things, why don't you remove the aversion for them? What necessity is there to bear burdens like a belabored ass?
‘Discourses’ IV,4,37
(P2DA72) - All things are everywhere mortal, easy to capture, and it is inevitable that he who pays attention, in any way, to any of them, is disconcerted, has ill hopes, fears, mourns, has imperfect desires and aversions that stumble on what they avert.
‘Discourses’ IV,5,27
(P2DA73) - Who do you appear to be to yourself? Who are you in conceiving, in desiring, in averting; who are you in impulse, in preparation, in design, in the other human deeds? Yet do you care if the others pity you?
‘Discourses’ IV,6,18
(P2DA74) - See whether they have more than you of what you have been eager for and they neglect. Whether they assent more in accord with the natural standards; whether their desire is more unfailing than yours; whether their aversion is more unstumbling than yours; whether they hit the mark more than you in design, in purpose, in impulse.
‘Discourses’ IV,6,26
(P2DA75) - Notice how I eat, how I drink, how I sleep, how I tolerate another's intemperance, how I abstain from intemperance, how I cooperate, how I use desire and aversion, how I maintain my natural and acquired relationships without confusion and unimpededly.
‘Discourses’ IV,8,20
(P2DA76) - Again, if he is anxious about desire, that it might be imperfect and failing; and about aversion, that it may stumble on what averts; in the first place I’ll kiss him because, giving up what dismays other people and their fears, he has worried about his truly peculiar work, where he himself is. And then I’ll tell him: “If you decide to desire without failing and to avert without stumbling on what you avert, desire nothing of what is another's and avert nothing of what is not in your exclusive power. Otherwise it is necessary for you to fail and stumble on what you avert”.
‘Discourses’ IV,10,4-6
 (P2DA77) - Now, the soul's functions are to impel, to repel, to desire, to avert, to prepare, to design, to assent.
‘Discourses’ IV,11,6
(P2DA78) - Know, then, that the beautiful sprouts there where you have your reason. Seek it there where are your impulses and repulsions, where are your desires and aversions.
‘Discourses’ IV,11,26
(P2DA79) - Among the things that are, some are in our exclusive power while others are not in our exclusive power. In our exclusive power are conception, impulse, desire, aversion and, in a word, what is our own work. Not in our exclusive power are our body, our estate, reputation, offices and, in a word, what is not our own work.
‘Manual’ E,1,1
(P2DA80) - Remember that the profession of desire is to hit the mark of what you desire and that the profession of aversion is not to stumble on what is averted. The one who fails in desire is misfortuned, while the one who stumbles on what he averts has ill fortune. If, then, among what is in your exclusive power, you avert only what is not in accord with the nature of things, you will stumble on nothing of what you avert. But if you avert sickness or death or poverty in money, you will have ill fortune. Remove, then, your aversion from all that is not in our exclusive power and transpose it on what is not in accord with the nature of things, among those that are in our exclusive power. For the time being, totally abolish your desire. For if you desire something of what is not in our exclusive power, it's necessary for you to be misfortuned, while nothing of what is in our exclusive power and would be beautiful to desire is as yet present to you. Use only your impulse and your repulsion, yet lightly, with reservation and mildly.
‘Manual’ E,2,1-2
(P2DA81) - If you want that your offspring and wife and friends live forever, you are silly; for you want that what is not in your exclusive power be in your exclusive power and that what is another's be yours. […] Yet if you dispose to be unfailing in desire, this you can.
‘Manual’ E,14,1
(P2DA82) - Remember that you must conduct yourself as in a banquet. A course has been carried in front of you: stretch out the hand and take a share decently. It passes on: do not withhold it. It does not yet come along: do not fling your desire onwards, but await till it is not in front of you. So towards offspring, so towards a wife, so towards offices, so towards money's wealth: and at some time you will be a fellow-drinker worthy of the gods.
‘Manual’ E,15
(P2DA83) - Do you think that doing this you can eat in the same way, drink in the same way, similarly desire, similarly be ill pleased?
‘Manual’ E,29,6
(P2DA84) - For this reason the farmer reviles the Gods, and so does the sailor, so does the merchant, so do those who lose their wives and their offspring. For where the useful is, there is also the pious. So that whoever takes care of desiring and averting as one ought, at the same time he is taking care also of the piety.
‘Manual’ E,31,4
(P2DA85) - Do not bring, then, to the seer desire or aversion and do not approach him trembling, but having screened that everything will come about is indifferent and nothing to you; and that whatever it is, it will be possible to use it well and that nobody can prevent this.
‘Manual’ E,32,2
(P2DA86) - He has removed from himself every desire and has transposed aversion only upon what, among what is in our exclusive power, is not in accord with the nature of things.
‘Manual’ E,48,3


If we assume as reasonably proven that the human proairesis (P4) can be considered and treated as a natural exponential function whose arithmetic and geometry are written in complex numbers, we can easily deduce that the proairesis can take only four basic attitudes. Remembering that the nature of things tells us that all the existing things divide themselves into proairetic and aproairetic ones, the only four basic possible attitudes of our proairesis can be obtained in the following way [9], [10] .
Let us give to the attitude ‘proairetic things are in my exclusive power’ the value +1, and to the attitude ‘proairetic things are not in my exclusive power’ the value -1; and to the attitude ‘aproairetic things are in my exclusive power’ the value +i, and to the attitude ‘aproairetic things are not in my exclusive power’ the value -i. It logically follows that the first attitude (p1 = +1+i ) is the one that can be called ‘exaltation’; the second (p2 = -1+i ) is the one that can be called ‘foolishness’; the third, that is (p3 = -1-i ) the one that can be called ‘depression’ and the fourth and last (p4 = +1-i ) the one that can be called ‘wisdom’. Moreover, because according to this model proairesis can be seen as a negative real number which is the one and the same fourth grade power of four different complex numbers (in the present case P4 = - 4 = p14 = p24 = p34 = p44 ), we can postulate that all these four attitudes are continuously available to the proairesis and that the transition from one attitude to another one is possible via a simple proairetic operation that in mathematical language consists in the, for example, multiplication of p1 (or p2 or p3 or p4) by the imaginary unit i. In fact if we multiply p1 by i we obtain p2 (+1+i ) x i = (-1+i ); if we multiply p2 by i we obtain p3 (-1+i ) x i = (-1-i ); if we multiply p3 by i we obtain p4 (-1-i ) x i = (+1-i ); and if we multiply p4 by i we are again back to p1 (+1-i ) x i = (+1+i ). Now, what happens to the desires and aversions in these four different proairetic attitudes?
The ‘exalted’ (+1+i ) man is the man convinced that everything is in his exclusive power and, in Epictetus’ terms, that both proairetic and aproairetic things are in his exclusive power. Therefore he hurls himself without the due reserve [17] into the desire of both what is proairetic and of what is aproairetic, ignoring or denying the existence of the nature of things and applying no diairesis at all.
The ‘foolish’ (-1+i ) man operates the diairesis and recognizes the distinction between what is proairetic and what is aproairetic but he strongly believes to have power only over aproairetic things and concentrates all his desires and aversions over them. He desires money and averts the lack of money, while judging to have no power at all to modify the attitude of his own proairesis. And if one tries to draw his attention upon the contradiction that he is trapped in, he justifies himself by saying that all men do what he does and that it is a good thing to behave as the majority of men behave.
The ‘depressed’ (-1-i ) man is disconsolately convinced that nothing is in his power. Like the exalted man, he also does not recognize the existence of the nature of things nor operates the diairesis between what is proairetic and what is aproairetic. His usual occupation is to think while standing still and staring at the insurmountable wall that he sees in front of him. He is the man who desires to never desire and who always averts to avert.
Finally, the ‘wise’ (+1-i ) man is the only one of the four that through the constant and correct use of the diairesis between what is proairetic and what is aproairetic opens himself without fear nor elation to a full interaction with the universe in its complexity; who lives well, and, as Marcus Aurelius tells us, shines of the light with which he sees the truth of the nature of things and the truth that is in himself [19].


Let now Epictetus to draw the conclusion for us: “Remember that it is not only the craving for offices and money's wealth that make people slave-minded and subordinated to others, but also the craving for quiet, for leisure, for setting off, for scholarship. In short whatever is the external object, its price subordinates you to another. Which difference, does it make to crave for being a Senator or not being a Senator? Which difference does it make to crave for an office or for not having it? Which difference does it make to say ‘I fare badly, I have nothing to do but am tied down to books like a corpse’, or say ‘I fare badly, I have not enough leisure to read’? For, as salutations and offices are external and aproairetic objects, so is also a book. Why do you want to read? Tell me. If you turn to reading because your soul is won by it or in order to learn something, you are a cold and slothful fellow. If you refer reading to what it ought to be referred, what else is this but serenity? And if reading does not secure you serenity, of which avail is it to you? -It secures me serenity, one says, and for this reason I am vexed when I must leave reading behind- And which serenity is this, that a chance comer can hinder, I don't say Caesar or a friend of Caesar but a crow, a flute-player, a fever and thirty thousand other things? Serenity cleaves to nothing so strongly as to continuity and freedom from hindrance [11]”.


[1] W. A. Oldfather (Ed.) 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 at
[2] 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
[3] F. Scalenghe. “Epictetus: Diairesis and Contradiairesis” in ‘Prometeus’ Ano 7, Numero 15, Janeiro-Junho 2014, E-ISSN: 2176-5960
[4] F. Scalenghe’s dialogue ‘The nature of things’ is available online at
[5] Epictetus  ‘Discourses’ Book III, 2, 1-5
[6] Epictetus ‘Manual’ E5
[7] Epictetus ‘Discourses’ Book II, 22, 15-21
[8] Epictetus ‘Manual’ E6
[9] 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
[10] F. Scalenghe’s ‘Invariance of the 'Nature of Things' and invariance of the 'Speed of Light': is there a way to happiness?’ is available at
[11] Epictetus ‘Discourses’ Book IV, Chap. 4, 1-5
[12] Epictetus ‘Discourses’ Book I, Chap. I, 7
[13] F. Scalenghe’s dialogue ‘The diairesis at work’ is available online at
[14] F. Scalenghe’s dialogue ‘Gyges: Diairesis and Counterdiairesis, Good and Evil’ is available online at
[15] Epictetus ‘Discourses’ Book II, Chap. I, 12
[16] F. Scalenghe’s dialogue “The proairesis” is available online at   
[17] Epictetus ‘Manual’ E2,1-2
[18] Epictetus ‘Fragments’ XXVIIIa
[19] Marcus Aurelius ‘Ad se ipsum libri XII’. Joachim Dalfen ed. Teubner Verlag. 1979. Fragment XI, 12. F. Scalenghe’s new Italian translation of the work of Marcus Aurelius is available online at











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