Book Club: The Inner Citadel, 8, The discipline of action, in the service of humanity

Figs in Winter
10 min readJan 14, 2020

After a fairly long hiatus, welcome back to our book club! My apologies, but Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel is rather slow going. Long chapters, not exactly accessible prose. But well worth the effort, which is why I keep continuing this series, of which we are probably going to have one or two more entries before all is said and done. This time, let’s take a look at one of the longest and most complex chapters, n. 8, on the discipline of action.

This is the last of the three disciplines around which Epictetus organized his approach to Stoicism, the other two being the discipline of assent (concerned with learning to question our judgments and connected to the study of Stoic logic), and the discipline of desire and aversion (concerned with learning to re-prioritize our desires and connected to the study of Stoic physics). The discipline of action deals with how to interact with other people, and it is therefore connected with the study of Stoic ethics.

Hadot presents us with the bottom line right at the beginning of the chapter, where he says that the discipline of action provides us with a series of obligations, and particularly: (i) we have to act in the service of the whole human race; (ii) in performing our actions, we need to keep in mind that some have more import of, and therefore precedence over, others; and (iii) we should love all human beings, because we are members of the same cosmopolis, sharing in the Logos. As Marcus puts it:

“Let your impulse to act and your action have as their goal the service of the human community, because that, for you, is in conformity with your nature.” (Meditations, IX.31)

In other words, it is our ability to reason that allows us to realize that to live “according to nature,” as the Stoics say, means to use reason itself in order to be helpful to society at large. Because we are eminently social creatures capable of rationality.

Interestingly, Hadot suggests that the vice that is antithetical to the discipline of action is frivolity, i.e., acting for no good reason, pursuing no positive aim. Again Marcus: