Epictetus and Human Suffering

Edward Humphreys

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

469 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis considers Epictetus’ response to human suffering with regard to its broader meaning. This encompasses not only what Buddhism refers to as ordinary suffering, but also what they call suffering caused by change and by the conditioned mind, all of which manifest at different levels of consciousness, in different forms and from the very gross to the very subtle. In considering Epictetus’ response we shall consider suffering as a universally occurring and unending dissatisfaction with life - a ‘dis-ease’ that exists as part of our human condition and formative learning experience of life. This thesis takes a fresh look at Epictetus by reframing his thinking and response to suffering. First, the Buddhist model known as the Four Noble Truths (cattāri ariyasaccāni) is used as a systematic basis for discussing Epictetus. Reframing Epictetus with respect to the Four Noble Truths provides us in our daily lives with the opportunity for reflection and contemplation on what suffering is: insight, understanding and knowing the causes of our suffering, together with recognising that there is a way out of our suffering and a path of reflective exercise, practice and training to cease our suffering.
Secondly our investigation into Epictetus and suffering involves consideration of the language of suffering, in particular the role of different aspects of language used in Epictetus, and how, through the use of language, experience and knowing of suffering comes about, and how such language becomes a tool for philosophical inquiry into that suffering. Thirdly our investigation looks at the pathological aspects of suffering and the language of moral choice. Throughout this thesis I maintain Epictetus’ claim that to be educated is to discover the truth about our suffering and the ethical imperative of being liberated from that suffering.
In this thesis, it is argued that re-casting the teaching of Epictetus contributes a fresh interpretation of his extant works in the broader context of human suffering.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hawley, Richard, Supervisor
  • Sheppard, Anne, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - Dec 2018


  • Epictetus
  • human suffering
  • Buddhist Four Noble Truths
  • language of suffering
  • language of moral choice

Cite this