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CHAPTER XII.: OF DISPUTATION. - 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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WHAT things are to be learned, in order to the right use of reason, the philosophers of our sect have accurately taught; but we are altogether unpractised in the due application of them. Only give to any one of us whom you will, some illiterate person for an antagonist, and he will not find out how to treat him. But when he has a little moved the man, if he happens to answer at cross purposes, the questioner knows not how to deal with him any further, but either reviles or laughs at him, and says: “He is an illiterate fellow; there is no making anything of him.” Yet a guide, when he perceives his charge going out of the way, does not revile and ridicule, and then leave him; but leads him into the right path. Do you also show your antagonist the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But till you show it, do not ridicule him; but rather be sensible of your own incapacity.
How, then, did Socrates use to act? He obliged his antagonist himself to bear testimony to him; and wanted no other witness. Hence he might well say:* “I give up all the rest, and am always satisfied with the testimony of my opponent; and I call in no one to vote, but my antagonist alone.” For he rendered the arguments drawn from natural impressions so clear, that every one saw and avoided the contradiction. — “Does an envious man rejoice?” — “By no means; he rather grieves.” (This he moves him to say, by proposing the contrary.) — “Well; and do you think envy to be a grief caused by evils?” — “And who ever envied evils?” — (Therefore he makes the other say, that envy is a grief caused by things good.) — “Does any one envy those things which are nothing to him?” — “No, surely.” Having thus fully drawn out his idea, he then leaves that point; not saying, “Define to me what envy is”; and after he has defined it, “You have defined it wrong; for the definition does not correspond to the thing defined.”
There are phrases repulsive and obscure to the illiterate, which yet we cannot dispense with. But we have no capacity at all to move them, by such arguments as might lead them, in following the methods of their own minds, to admit or abandon any position. And, from a consciousness of this incapacity, those among us, who have any modesty, give the matter entirely up; but the greater part, rashly entering upon these debates, mutually confound and are confounded; and, at last, reviling and reviled, walk off. Whereas it was the principal and most peculiar characteristic of Socrates, never to be provoked in a dispute, nor to throw out any reviling or injurious expression; but to bear patiently with those who reviled him, and thus put an end to the controversy. If you would know how great abilities he had in this particular, read Xenophon’s Banquet, and you will see how many controversies he ended. Hence, even among the poets, this is justly mentioned with the highest commendation,
“Wisely at once the greatest strife to still.”*
But what then? This is no very safe affair now, and especially at Rome. For he who does it, must not do it in a corner; but go to some rich consular senator, for instance, and question him. Pray, sir, can you tell me to whom you intrust your horses? “Yes, certainly.” Is it then, to any one indifferently, though he be ignorant of horsemanship? “By no means.” To whom do you intrust your gold, or your silver, or your clothes? “Not to any one indifferently.” And did you ever consider to whom you committed the care of your body? “Yes, surely.” To one skilled in exercise, or medicine, I suppose. “Without doubt.” Are these things your chief good; or are you possessed of something better than all of them? “What do you mean?” Something which makes use of these; and deliberates and counsels about each of them? “What then, do you mean the soul?” You have guessed rightly; for indeed I do mean that. “I do really think it a much better possession than all the rest.” Can you show us, then, in what manner you have taken care of this soul? For it is not probable, that a person of your wisdom and approved character in the state, would carelessly suffer the most excellent thing that belongs to you to be neglected and lost. “No, certainly.” But do you take care of it yourself? And is it done by the instructions of another, or by your own ability? — Here, now, comes the danger, that he may first say, “Pray, good sir, what business is that of yours; what are you to me?” Then, if you persist in troubling him, he may lift up his hand, and give you a box on the ear. I myself was once a great admirer of this method of instruction, till I fell into such kind of adventures.
[* ]Plato, Gorgias, § 69, and elsewhere. — H.
[* ]Hesiod, Theogony, 87. — H.