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The Path of the Prokopton

Dec 21, 2015 | Posted by Chris Fisher

! Who is making progress, then? The person who has read many treatises by Chrysippus? Why, does virtue
this, in having gained a thorough knowledge of Chrysippus? For if that is the case, we must agree p
nothing other than knowing many works of Chrysippus. ~ Epictetus

“What now?” That was the question I asked myself after I completed my first course of study in Stoicism. Like mo
who turn to Stoicism for answers, I was seeking happiness (eudaimonia). The Stoic Essential Studies course
College of Stoic Philosophers provided me with a fundamental grasp of Stoic logic, physics, and ethics; howe
left with the question, “Where do I go from here?” I was still just learning to apply Stoic philosophy at work, at hom
the community. At the time, I didn’t fully understand that practicing Stoicism as a way of life is an iterative pro
involves repeated cycles of philosophical discourse and philosophical practice.

! And so the philosophers must train us first in theory, which is the easier task, and then lead us on to more d
matters; for in theory, there is nothing to restrain us from drawing the consequences of what we have been
whereas in life there are many things that pull us off course. (Discourses 1.26.3)

Philosophical discourse—the study of logic, physics, and ethics—provides the necessary foundation for phi
practice. My “What now?” was the beginning of the second stage of my Stoic training—the transition from phi
discourse to philosophical practice. I suspect there are others like me, who after acquiring a foundation in Stoic
are left wondering “What now?

This post is the first of a series where I will cover the three Stoic disciplines prescribed by Epictetus and echoed
Aurelius. I rely heavily on the works of Pierre Hadot to cover this ground. I was introduced to Hadot’s writing durin
School. Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life and The Inner Citadel h
of study with The Marcus Aurelius School
tremendously as I transitioned from theory to application on my Stoic path. I recommend them to all who are int
Stoicism. During my final term of the Marcus Aurelius School, I wrote a paper titled Prosoche: Illuminating th
the Prokopton . The last portion of that paper outlines the path of the Stoic prokopton. The title prokopton[1] ref
who is making progress along the Stoic path. It does not represent a stage of learning or practice, and it is
bestowed or granted by any authority. It simply refers to someone who is learning and progressing, however im
along the Stoic path. The three disciplines allow the prokopton to make progress along that path.

The Three Stoic Disciplines


Progress on the Stoic path is achieved through the consistent practice of the three Stoic disciplines, or three studi
referred to frequently in the Discourses of Epictetus and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. These three disciplin
the discipline of assent, the discipline of desire, and the discipline of action. The disciplines correlate with the stud
physics, and ethics respectively. Epictetus declares that training in these disciplines is essential for anyone who
be good and noble (Discourses 3.2.1-2). These disciplines are designed to transform the foolish, lost wande
prokoptôn who is capable of following the Stoic path. They are essential to a life of excellence (arete) and
(eudaimonia).

The three disciplines are interrelated and inseparable. None can be practiced entirely isolated from the others.
can focus on a single discipline at any given moment, the others are necessarily involved. Again, the practic
disciplines is an iterative process whereby philosophical understanding and practical application work
" synergistically to promote virtue in the practitioner. #

All three disciplines are essential; however, Epictetus asserts that controlling our passions, through the discipline o
the “most urgent” of the disciplines for two reasons. First, those desires and aversions that are incongruous with N
the sources of crippling psychological disturbances. Secondly, until our most ardent desires and aversions are und
we are “incapable of listening to reason” (Discourses 3.2.3). Universal Reason (logos) cannot reach the mind of a
fool, driven by passions, who remains caught in a whirlwind of desires. The fool must step outside the tumu
passions before he can take the first step on the path toward human flourishing (happiness). This requires
disciplines.

Here we encounter the first instance of synergy between the disciplines. Attempting to quell the passions
discipline of desire alone is akin to attacking a raging forest fire with a bucket brigade. The flames of the passions
the wrong desires, burn hot. They cannot be quelled without the discipline of assent. Thus, like modern firefighte
a firebreak around a blaze to deny it more fuel, we must circumscribe the Self through the discipline of assent an
begin starving the flames of our passions, which are fueled by false judgments.

Below are passages from Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius which directly relate to the three disciplines. The bl
brackets relate the passages to each of the Stoic disciplines.

The three disciplines in Epictetus’ Discourses 3.2:

! 1. There are three areas of study or exercise


exercise, in which a person who is going to be good must be tra
concerning desires and the aversions, so that he may neither fail to get what he desires nor fall into what
avoid [discipline of desire ]. 2. That concerning impulse to act and no to act, and, in general, appropriate
so that he may act in an orderly manner and after due consideration, and not carelessly [discipline of ac
third is concerned with freedom from deception and hasty judgment, and, in general whatever is conne
assent [discipline of assent ]. 3.Of these, the most urgent, is that which has to do with the passions [di
desire ]; for these are produced in no other way than by the disappointment of our desires, and the incurr
aversions. It is this that introduces disturbances, tumults, misfortunes, and calamities; and cause
lamentation and envy; and renders us envious and jealous, and thus incapable of listening to reason. 4. Th
to do with appropriate action [discipline of action ]. For I should not be unfeeling like a statue, but should
my natural and acquired relations as a man who honours the gods, as a son, as a brother, as a father, as a
The third falls to those who are already making progress and is concerned with the achievement of certa
matters already covered, so that even in dreams, or drunkenness or melancholy no untested impression
us off guard [discipline of assent ].

The three disciplines in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius::

! 7.54 Everywhere and all the time it lies within your power to be reverently contented with your p
[discipline of desire ], to behave justly to such people as are presently at hand [discipline of action ], an
skilfully with your present impressions so that nothing may steal into your mind which you have not a
grasped [discipline of assent ].

8.7 Every nature is contented when things go well for it; and things go well for a rational nature when it n
its assent to a false or doubtful impression [discipline of assent ], and directs its impulses only to ac
further the common good [discipline of action ], and limits its desires and aversions only to things that are
power [discipline of desire ], and welcomes all that is assigned to it by universal nature.

9.6 It is sufficient that your present judgement should grasp its object [discipline of assent ], that you
action should be directed to the common good [discipline of action ], that your present disposition shou
satisfied with all that happens to it from a cause outside itself [discipline of desire ].

9.7 Blot out imagination [discipline of assent ]; put a curb on impulse [discipline of action ]; quen
[discipline of desire ]; ensure that your ruling centre remains under its own control.

4.33 What, then, is worthy of our striving? This alone, a mind governed by justice, deeds directed to the
good [discipline of action ], words that never lie [discipline of assent ], and a disposition that welcom
happens, as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from the same kind of origin and spring [discipline of desire ]

The Path of the Prokopton Series


For those interested in The Path of the Prokopton
Prokopton, the following series of posts will provide an introduction:

Prosoche: Illuminating the Path of the Prokopton

The Path of the Prokopton – The Discipline of Assent

The Path of the Prokopton – The Discipline of Desire

The Path of the Prokopton – The Discipline of Action

ENDNOTES:

[1] prokoptôn ( προκόπτων) [pro-KOP-tone] – Making progress. Even though one has not obtained the wisdo
sage when appropriate actions are increasingly chosen fewer and fewer mistakes will be made and one will be prok
making progress. Greg Wasson, College of Stoic Philosophers: Stoic Glossary & Pronunciation Guide, (2012), p. 6

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