The last two chapters of The Art of Living are reflections by Sharon Lebell about Epictetus. One is about how Epictetus became relevant to her life. And the other is about why someone today might want to be a Stoic.
She says that Epictetus’s philosophy is for anyone “who has hassles, longings, problems, soul withering sorrows, vanities, outsized ambition, and, one hopes, visitations of ineffable joy, moments of sweet triumph, and marvelous wind-at-your-back sorts of days.” So he speaks to everyone no matter when or where they live.
She says she was at first put off by the use of military and athletic metaphors. She also had trouble with his advice to accept some of the more gloomy and damnable things about life as things that you just can’t change. This ran up against her “irrepressible desire to influence outcomes.”
She recognizes that “stoic” usually gets used as a put-down today. It seems like a synonym for joyless, emotionally repressed, and emotionally unavailable. She says that if you label yourself as a Stoic, you probably won’t get very many dates. Yet she hopes that her interpretation (in these last chapters she explicitly says it is not a translation) of Epictetus will help overcome this PR problem.
She sees value in the emphasis on reason, wisdom, and virtue. She mentions that in today’s society people tend to get overwhelmed by choices. She thinks Epictetus can help people choose wisely. Also she says that someday life is going to “get” all of us. Something is going to happen to upset our equilibrium and challenge our peace and poise. That is when Stoicism will be of most value.
She says that in the mid 1990s one of her editors predicted that the baby-boomer turn toward New Age or Eastern spiritual traditions would come round to a renewal of the vast Western depositof philosophical and spiritual wisdom.
I think it is in this light that we should see her statements that seem to pit the reason of Stoicism over against faith. She says that Stoicism is not like those faiths that require reason to be subordinated to faith. Some will take this to mean Christianity. But it could well apply to any superstitions, including those of New Age thinking. It could even be turned against Epictetus’s talk about Zeus and the gods. There are many spiritual traditions that uphold both faith and reason. One just needs to delve more deeply into these traditions.