In his Handbook, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus tells us that “the appropriate actions for us to do are usually measured out for us by our relations.” Epictetus suggests that we can see how to act fittingly in any given situation, based on how we are related to the other people involved, whether as family members, friends, fellow citizens, enemies, or in whatever other way.
Roughly four centuries after Epictetus, the Platonic philosopher Simplicius takes Epictetus’ idea and runs with it. In an extensive commentary on the Handbook, Simplicius uses this simple observation about appropriate actions as the invitation to give a detailed account of the various kinds of human relationships, followed by a beautiful encomium on the value and meaning of friendship.
Following Simplicius, we can consider four parts to the topic of friendship: (1) how to classify friendship among “relations” more generally; (2) the power of friendship to transform other types of relations; (3) criteria for the selection of friends; and (4) the important human goods that come from friendship. And by using friendship as a special case of Epictetus’ general maxim, we can also step back to the bigger picture, to reflect on the ways in which other relations can guide our actions, whether those relationships are something we’re “stuck with” (like a brother who will always be my brother) or something we can choose to begin or end (like making an enemy, or making peace with a former enemy).
For this evening’s discussion, we’ll use some extended quotations from Simplicius’ commentary as a springboard for reflecting on friendship, and on the appropriate actions that arise from our relationships more generally.
Here is the text we’ll be referring to in our gathering should you want to read and consider it (and its contents) in advance. Printed copies will be available at the door on the night of the event. Reading ahead is strongly encouraged, but not required.
Friendship & Actions
w/ Philosopher David Nowakowski
When & Where
This workshop led by philosopher David Nowakowski will take place in the Conference Center in Reeder’s Alley on the evening of Tuesday, March 14th. No prior background in philosophy is required to participate.
RSVP: Scroll down to RSVP… Cost: Free (Donations Welcome) Other: Hot tea & snacks provided
David Nowakowski is as a philosopher and educator in the Helena area whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives. David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since. A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014. His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & West, Asian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy, as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere.
After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to others.
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