Stoicism and the Continuum of Control

Increase the range of what you can control … but do it ethically!

Steven Yates

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Photo by Rian Adi on Unsplash

Stoicism begins by urging us to focus on what we can control, setting aside what we can’t control. We can’t control the majority of the events around us, other people and their thoughts and responses, or what they believe and do, any more than we can control the weather, or traffic, or the fact that our neighbors party on Saturday nights. We can only control our emotional responses to these things, as well as our own thoughts and beliefs. In the heat of events, sometimes it takes some doing to remember that.

There’s a conceptual danger here. Even Epictetus dichotomizes a bit too much at the start of his otherwise magnificent Enchiridion (Manual, or Handbook). If there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the Western tradition at its core, it’s its tendency to dichotomize everything, when the world around us really offers gradients and continua of various sorts. There’s what I can never control, such as the weather, there are things over which I pretty much have complete control (my temptation to go get another cup of coffee!), and there are quite a things somewhere in the middle, along a spectrum of degrees.

So can we fix Epictetus here?

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Steven Yates

I am the author of What Should Philosophy Do? A Theory. I write about philosophy (especially the Stoics), health and systems, and the future if we have one.