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 considered 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).
In this workshop, we used 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.
David is as a philosopher and educator 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. A lover of philosophy and the great outdoors, David serves as a Philosophical Advisor and Consultant for Merlin CCC & Senior Mentor for scholars in the Merlin Fellowship Program.
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.
A hermit by nature and by committed choice, he balances contemplative solitude with his active work in teaching, counseling, and the healing arts. We are elated to be collaborating with David on our philosophy in the community activities, fellowships, and other Merlin projects.
Thank you to the Helena Area Community Foundation and the City of Helena whose grant award to our organization is helping us provide activities like these and more to the community. Thank you also to our workshop leader, David Nowakowski, and our workshop participants!