The Promise of Desire (Act with Reservation)

Ch. 2 refers to Diss. 3.2. ff., where Epictetus distinguishes three fields of study (τόποι). In ch. 2 of the Encheiridion, he discusses only the first two of these. First, the student must understand desire and avoidance. As noted above in ch 1, the object of desire and avoidance is the good (virtue) and evil (vice). If a person’s desire is directed toward what is in their control (and one’ moral character is always in one’s control), then one will always fulfill his desire. So also if one’s avoidance is directed against what is in one’s control and once again the avoidance of an evil disposition is in our control, then one will not fall into this evil state. If , however, you desire or avoid what is not in your control, you will suffer misfortune. Most of the chapter deals with this field of study. Toward the end of the chapter, however, Epictetus discourages the student from the pursuit of this field, because he is not ready. Instead, he proposes that the student act on positive and negative impulses with reservation (ὑπεξαίρεσις). This refers to the second field of study on positive and negative impulses, which have appropriate actions as their object. “With reservation” seems to mean here that one should perform appropriate action (the object of impulse) with the knowledge that it may not be fulfilled, e.g. to love one’s wife or child and do all so that they live a long and healthy life, but to also know that they are mortal and subject to death and disease. See ch. 3