Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXVII.: OF THE VARIED APPEARANCES OF THINGS TO THE MIND, AND WHAT MEANS ARE AT HAND BY WHICH TO REGULATE THEM. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XXVII.: OF THE VARIED APPEARANCES OF THINGS TO THE MIND, AND WHAT MEANS ARE AT HAND BY WHICH TO REGULATE THEM. - Epictetus, The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments [100 AD]
The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments. A Translation from the Greek based on that of Elizabeth Carter, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1865).
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OF THE VARIED APPEARANCES OF THINGS TO THE MIND, AND WHAT MEANS ARE AT HAND BY WHICH TO REGULATE THEM.
APPEARANCES to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim, in all these cases, is the wise man’s task. Whatever unduly constrains us, to that a remedy must be applied. If the sophistries of Pyrrhonism, or the Academy, constrain us, the remedy must be applied there; if specious appearances, by which things seem to be good which are not so, let us seek for a remedy there. If it be custom which constrains us, we must endeavor to find a remedy against that.
“What remedy is to be found against custom?”
Establish a contrary custom. You hear the vulgar say, “Such a one, poor soul! is dead.” Well, his father died: his mother died. “Ay, but he was cut off in the flower of his age, and in a foreign land.” Observe these contrary ways of speaking; and abandon such expressions. Oppose to one custom, a contrary custom; to sophistry, the art of reasoning, and the frequent use and exercise of it. Against specious appearances we must set clear convictions, bright and ready for use. When death appears as an evil, we ought immediately to remember, that evils are things to be avoided, but death is inevitable. For what can I do, or where can I fly from it? Let me suppose myself to be Sarpedon, the son of Jove, that I may speak as nobly. “I go either to excel, or to give another the occasion to excel.”* If I can achieve nothing myself, I will not grudge another his achievement.
But suppose this to be a strain too high for us; do not these following thoughts befit us? Whither shall I fly from death? Show me the place, show me the people, to whom I may have recourse, whom death does not overtake. Show me the charm to avoid it. If there be none, what would you have me do? I cannot escape death; but cannot I escape the dread of it? Must I die trembling, and lamenting? For the very origin of the disease lies in wishing for something that is not obtained. Under the influence of this, if I can make outward things conform to my own inclination, I do it; if not, I feel inclined to tear out the eyes of whoever hinders me. For it is the nature of man not to endure the being deprived of good; not to endure the falling into evil. And so, at last, when I can neither control events, nor tear out the eyes of him who hinders me, I sit down, and groan, and revile him whom I can; Zeus, and the rest of the gods. For what are they to me, if they take no care of me?
“Oh! but then you will be impious.”
What then? Can I be in a worse condition than I am now? In general, remember this, that unless we place our religion and our treasure in the same thing, religion will always be sacrificed.
Have these things no weight? Let a Pyrrhonist, or an Academic, come and oppose them. For my part, I have neither leisure nor ability to stand up as an advocate for common sense. Even if the business were concerning an estate, I should call in another advocate. To what advocate, then, shall I now appeal? I will leave it to any one who may be upon the spot. Thus I may not be able to explain how sensation takes place, whether it be diffused universally, or reside in a particular part; for I find perplexities in either case; but that you and I are not the same person, I very exactly know.
Why, I never, when I have a mind to swallow anything, carry it to your mouth; but my own. I never, when I wanted bread, seized a broom instead, but went directly to the bread as I needed it. You who deny all evidence of the senses, do you act otherwise? Which of you, when he wished to go into a bath, ever went into a mill?
“Why then, must not we, to the utmost, defend these points? stand by common sense; be fortified against everything that opposes it?”*
Who denies that? But it must be done by him who has ability and leisure to spare; but he, who is full of trembling and perturbation, and inward disorders of heart, must first employ his time about something else.
[* ]Imitated from Iliad, xii. 328. — H.
[* ]This seems to be said by one of the hearers, who wanted to have the absurdities of the sceptics confuted and guarded against by regular argument. Epictetus allows this to be right, for such as have abilities and leisure; but recommends in others the more necessary task of curing their own moral disorders, and insinuates that the mere common occurrences of life are sufficient to overthrow the notions of the Pyrrhonists. — C.