Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX.: CONCERNING THOSE WHO EMBRACE PHILOSOPHY ONLY IN WORDS. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XIX.: CONCERNING THOSE WHO EMBRACE PHILOSOPHY ONLY IN WORDS. - 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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CONCERNING THOSE WHO EMBRACE PHILOSOPHY ONLY IN WORDS.
THE science of “the ruling argument”* appears to have its rise from hence. Of the following propositions, any two imply a contradiction to the third. They are these. “That everything past is necessarily true”; “That an impossibility is not the consequence of a possibility”; and, “That something is a possibility, which neither is nor will be true.” Diodorus, perceiving this contradiction, combined the first two, to prove, that nothing is possible, which neither is nor will be true. Some again hold the second and third; “that something is possible, which neither is nor will be true”; and, “that an impossibility is not the consequence of a possibility”; and consequently assert, “That not everything past is necessarily true.” This way Cleanthes and his followers took; whom Antipater copiously defends. Others, lastly, maintain the first and third; “that something is possible, which neither is nor will be true”; and “that everything past is necessarily true”; but then, “that an impossibility may be the consequence of a possibility.” But all these three propositions cannot be at once maintained, because of their mutual contradiction.
If any one should ask me then, which of them I maintain; I answer him, that really I cannot tell. But I have heard it related, that Diodorus held one opinion about them; the followers of Panthædes, I think, and Cleanthes, another; and Chrysippus a third.
“What then is your opinion?”
I express none. I was born to examine things as they appear to my own mind; to compare what is said by others, and thence to form some conviction of my own on any topic. Of these things I have merely technical knowledge. Who was the father of Hector? Priam. Who were his brothers? Paris and Deiphobus. Who was his mother? Hecuba. This I have heard related. From whom? Homer. But I believe Hellanicus, and other authors, have written on the same subject. And what better account have I of “the ruling argument”? But, if I were vain enough, I might, especially at some entertainment, astonish all the company by an enumeration of authors relating to it. Chrysippus has written wonderfully, in his first Book of Possibilities. Cleanthes and Archedemus have each written separately on this subject. Antipater too has written, not only in his Treatise of Possibilities, but especially in a discourse on “the ruling argument.” Have you not read the work? “No.” Read it then. And what good will it do him? He will be more trifling and impertinent than he is already. For what else have you gained by reading it? What conviction have you formed upon this subject? But you tell us of Helen, and Priam, and the isle of Calypso, something which never was, nor ever will be. And in these matters, indeed, it is of no great consequence if you retain the story, without forming any principle of your own. But it is our misfortune to do so, much more, in morality, than upon such subjects as these.
“Talk to me concerning good and evil.”
“Winds blew from Ilium to Ciconian shores.”*
Of things, some are good, some evil, and some indifferent. Now the good are the virtues, and whatever partakes of them; and the evil, vices, and what partakes of vice; the indifferent lie between these, as riches, health, life, death, pleasure, pain.
“Whence do you know this?”
[Suppose I say,] Hellanicus says it, in his Egyptian History. For what does it signify, whether one quotes the history of Hellanicus, or the ethics of Diogenes, or Chrysippus, or Cleanthes? Have you then examined any of these things, and formed convictions of your own? But show me, how you are used to exercise yourself on shipboard. Remember these distinctions, when the mast rattles, and some idle fellow stands by you, while you are screaming, and says: “For heaven’s sake, talk as you did a little while ago. Is it vice to suffer shipwreck? Or does it partake of vice?” Would you not take up a log, and throw it at his head? “What have we to do with you, sir? We are perishing, and you come and jest.” Again; if Cæsar should summon you, to answer an accusation, remember these distinctions. If, when you are going in, pale and trembling, any one should meet you and say, “Why do you tremble, sir? What is this affair you are engaged in? Doth Cæsar, within there, give virtue and vice to those who approach him?”—“What, do you too insult me, and add to my evils?” — “Nay, but tell me, philosopher, why you tremble? Is there any other danger, but death, or a prison, or bodily pain, or exile, or slander?” — “Why, what else should there be?” — “Are any of these vice? Or do they partake of vice? What, then, did you yourself use to say of these things?” — “What have you to do with me, sir? My own evils are enough for me.” — “You say rightly. Your own evils are indeed enough for you; your baseness, your cowardice, and that arrogance by which you were elated, as you sat in the schools. Why did you assume plumage not your own? Why did you call yourself a Stoic?”
Observe yourselves thus in your actions, and you will find of what sect you are. You will find, that most of you are Epicureans; a few Peripatetics, and those but loose ones. For by what action will you prove that you think virtue equal, and even superior, to all other things? Show me a Stoic, if you have one. Where? Or how should you? You can show, indeed, a thousand who repeat the Stoic reasonings. But do they repeat the Epicurean less well? Are they not just as perfect in the Peripatetic? Who then is a Stoic? As we call that a Phidian statue, which is formed according to the art of Phidias; so show me some one person formed according to the principles which he professes. Show me one who is sick, and happy; in danger, and happy; dying, and happy; exiled, and happy; disgraced, and happy. Show him to me; for, by Heaven, I long to see a Stoic. But you have not one fully developed? Show me then one who is developing; one who is approaching towards this character. Do me this favor. Do not refuse an old man a sight which he has never yet seen. Do you suppose that you are to show the Jupiter or Minerva of Phidias, a work of ivory or gold? Let any of you show me a human soul, desiring to be in unity with God; not to accuse either God or man; not to be disappointed of its desire, nor incur its aversion; not to be angry; not to be envious; not to be jealous; in a word, desiring from a man to become a god; and, in this poor mortal body, aiming to have fellowship with Zeus. Show him to me. But you cannot. Why then do you impose upon yourselves, and play tricks with others? Why do you put on a dress not your own; and walk about in it, mere thieves and pilferers of names and things which do not belong to you? I am now your preceptor, and you come to be instructed by me. And indeed my aim is to secure you from being restrained, compelled, hindered; to make you free, prosperous, happy; looking to God upon every occasion, great or small. And you come to learn and study these things. Why then do you not finish your work, if you have the proper aims, and I, besides the aim, the proper qualifications? What is wanting? When I see an artificer, and the materials lying ready, I await the work. Now here is the artificer; here are the materials; what is it we want? Is not the thing capable of being taught? It is. Is it not in our own power then? The only thing of all others that is so. Neither riches, nor health, nor fame, nor, in short, anything else is in our power, except a right use of the semblances of things. This alone is, by nature, not subject to restraint, not subject to hindrance. Why then do not you finish it? Tell me the cause. It must be my fault, or yours, or from the nature of the thing. The thing itself is practicable, and the only thing in our power. The fault then must be either in me, or in you, or, more truly, in both. Well then, shall we at length begin to carry such an aim with us? Let us lay aside all that is past. Let us begin. Only believe me, and you shall see.
[* ]A logical subtlety. — H.
[* ]Homer, Odyssey, IX. 39. The expression became proverbial, signifying “from bad to worse.” — H.