A study of Epictetus shows how far philosophy has fallen from its roots in Ancient Greece. The foundations of Stoicism are a simple, practical focus on developing durable happiness and freedom from the vicissitudes of fortune. Following the virtue tradition of Aristotle, Epictetus sets out the aims of philosophy as cultivation of oneself, of virtue, and of the means of living well. Like the Buddha, Epictetus argues that living well means forsaking pursuit of transitory goods and focusing on lasting peace through changing one’s attitude toward desire and circumstance. There is nothing in Epictetus that one cannot infer by reflecting on the value of maintaining a broad perspective on incidental events. Epictetus himself reminds his reader that they already know what is needed for happiness. Only deliberate effort to habituate the right attitudes separates the wise from the foolish.

The writing of Epictetus belong to the “wisdom” genre, the set of creative works dedicated to giving practical advice. Wisdom literature often takes an elevated perspective, bringing the reader to a higher level of abstraction where patterns of cause and effect become more accessible. By relating patterns to discrete in-the-moment actions or decisions, one derives principles and practices that support a set of values. All cultures have wisdom literature that composes the inheritance of tradition and value passed down the generations.
A common theme is dissatisfaction with transitory pleasures and seeking liberation from suffering by developing an attitude that places the most value on achieving holistic contentment with oneself and one’s environment. Developing kindness, compassion, forethought, and reflection promotes the development of a lasting freedom from transitory pleasures and pains.

Academic philosophy concerns the minutia of esoteric subjects. Lines of research focus on distinctions that change nothing about human behavior, perception, or experience. Analytic Philosophy, the dominant tradition of the English-speaking world, rejected the study of ethics for much of its early history. Continental Philosophy, dominant in Western Europe, embraces perception and reflection but often twists itself into engaging primarily with its own jargon-laden literature. As a result, academic philosophers demonstrate no marked capacity for wisdom or happiness. Philosophers who do pursue wisdom are either confined to very narrow subfields on the margin of the discipline or do so in a non-professional capacity only.