Epictetus and His Very Minimalist Perspective on Conversation

two guysEpictetus (55-135 C.E.) was a quite a notable stoic philosopher. One of his students wrote two works which sum up his perspective on stoic ethics: the Discourses and the Manual.  

In a passage from chapter 33 of the Manual we definitely see that the Stoics embrace the concept of “less is more”:

And let silence be the general rule, or let only what is necessary be said, and in few words. And rarely and when the occasion calls we shall say something; but about none of the common subjects, nor about gladiators, nor horse-races, nor about athletes, nor about eating or drinking, which are the usual subjects; and especially not about men as blaming them or praising them, or comparing them. If then you are able, bring over by your conversation the conversation of your associates to that which is proper, but if you should happen to be confined to the company of strangers, be silent.

So he has quite a minimalist perspective on conversation. In fact, he thinks that most of the time, we should just keep quiet! For Epictetus, there are many superfluous topics that we shouldn’t even bother talking about. If he were here today, he would probably tell us to stop talking about celebrities, TV shows or sports and he also would suggest that we avoid gossiping about others as well. And if we should ever converse with someone, this person must be a good friend who is reasonable and wise. The conversation should obviously pertain to something serious and meaningful. Not all the advice in this passage is bad, but it definitely seems like he wants us to be anti-social.

At any rate, I just find that this passage sums up the stern and “no fun” aspect of stoicism quite nicely. There are a few other passages of the Manual that can be a little ridiculous just like this one. However, in many other parts of the book you’ll find some timeless life-advice that is useful for people of all ages and that is why I recommend reading this short book if you have the chance.

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