Can We Be Slaves to Our Desires?

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Can we be Slaves to our Desires?

Epictetus argues that we can be slaves to our desires. In one example, a man clearly desires power and thinks he gains it by becoming Caesar’s friend; though in doing so, he becomes more like a slave. Although he may have increased his social status, he proves to be worse off and more enslaved than when he started. He now has to pay attention continuously to Caesar’s every word. He has to agonize constantly over whether the great Caesar views him favorably, and watch that he doesn’t do or say anything foolish. I agree that we can be enslaved by our desires. I think the man who became Caesar’s acquaintance was enslaved by his own ambition for power. The only way for him to fulfill his ambition for power was to flatter or submit to many different people. In a sense, all politically powerful people are enslaved by their desires for power. Even Julius Caesar, who was considered the most powerful man in Rome, had to be careful not to offend the Roman senators.

Even in certain cases where we desire something beneficial, we can still be slaves to our desires. For instance, if a man diagnosed with terminal cancer and given three months to live desires nothing more than to be rid of the disease, he is a slave to his desire. It is a pointless longing, as it is impossible to get rid of the cancer. Instead of enjoying his last months of life, the man, enslaved by his desire to get well, cannot accept his fate and spends his dying months obsessing over getting well and lamenting his impending death. Although Epictetus is right that we can be enslaved by our desires, it doesn't necessarily imply that we are—especially since we sometimes act on healthy desires that make us happy. For instance, an obese person who desires to lose weight could fulfill his desire by eating a healthy diet and exercising. Eating well and working out are not only good for him, but they make him feel better about himself. Epictetus might respond to this by...
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