Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXI.: OF INCONSISTENCY. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XXI.: OF INCONSISTENCY. - 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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THERE are some things which men confess with ease; and others with difficulty. No one, for instance, will confess himself a fool, or a blockhead; but, on the contrary, you will hear every one say, “I wish my fortune were in proportion to my abilities.” But they easily confess themselves fearful, and say, “I am somewhat timorous, I confess; but in other respects you will not find me a fool.” No one will easily confess himself intemperate in his desires; upon no account dishonest, nor indeed very envious, or meddling; but many confess themselves to have the weakness of being compassionate. What is the reason of all this? The principal reason is, an inconsistency and confusion in what relates to good and evil. But different people have different motives, and in general, whatever they imagine to be base, they do not absolutely confess. Fear and compassion they imagine to belong to a well-meaning disposition; but stupidity, to a slave. Offences against society they do not own; but, in most faults, they are brought to a confession, chiefly from imagining that there is something involuntary in them; as in fear and compassion. And, though a person should in some measure confess himself intemperate in his desires, he accuses his passion, and expects forgiveness, as for an involuntary fault. But dishonesty is not imagined to be, by any means, involuntary. In jealousy too, there is something they suppose involuntary; and this, likewise, in some degree, they confess.
Conversing therefore with such men, thus confused, thus ignorant what they say, and what are or are not their ills, whence they have them, and how they may be delivered from them; it is worth while, I think, to ask one’s self continually, “Am I too one of these? What do I imagine myself to be? How do I conduct myself? As a prudent, as a temperate man? Do I, too, ever talk at this rate; that I am sufficiently instructed for what may happen? Have I that persuasion, that I know nothing, which becomes one who knows nothing? Do I go to a master, as to an oracle, prepared to obey; or do I also, like a mere driveller, enter the school, only to learn and understand books which I did not understand before; or, perhaps, to explain them to others?”
You have been fighting at home, with your man-servant; you have turned the house upside-down, and alarmed the neighborhood; and do you come to me with a pompous show of wisdom, and sit and criticise how I explain a sentence, how I prate whatever comes into my head? Do you come, envious and dejected, that nothing has come from home for you; and in the midst of the disputations, sit thinking on nothing, but how your father or your brother may treat you? “What are they saying about me at home? Now they think I am improving, and say, he will come back with universal knowledge. I wish I could learn everything before my return; but this requires much labor, and nobody sends me anything. The baths are very bad at Nicopolis; and things go very ill both at home, and here.”
After all this, it is said, nobody is the better for the philosophic school. Why, who comes to the school? I mean, who comes to be reformed? Who, to submit his principles to correction; who, with a sense of his wants? Why do you wonder, then, that you bring back from the school the very thing you carried there? For you do not come to lay aside, or correct, or change, your principles. How should you? Far from it. Rather consider this, therefore, whether you have not what you have come for. You have come to talk about theorems. Well; and are you not more impertinently talkative than you were? Do not these paltry theorems furnish you with matter for ostentation? Do you not solve convertible and hypothetical syllogisms? Why, then, are you still displeased, if you have the very thing for which you came?
“Very true; but, if my child, or my brother should die; or if I must die or be tortured myself, what good will these things do me?” Why, did you come for this? Did you attend upon me for this? Was it upon any such account, that you ever lighted your lamp, or sat up at night? Or did you, when you went into the walk, propose any delusive semblance to your own mind to be discussed, instead of a syllogism? Did any of you ever go through such a subject jointly? And, after all, you say, theorems are useless. To whom? To such as apply them ill. For medicines for the eyes are not useless to those who apply them when and as they ought. Fomentations are not useless, dumb-bells are not useless; but they are useless to some, and, on the contrary, useful to others. If you should ask me, now, are syllogisms useful? I should answer, that they are useful; and, if you please, I will show you how. “Will they be of service to me, then?” Why, did you ask, man, whether they would be useful to you, or in general? If any one in a dysentery should ask me, whether acids be useful; I should answer, they are. “Are they useful for me, then?” I say, no. First try to get the flux stopped, and the ulceration healed. Do you too first get your ulcers healed, your fluxes stopped. Quiet your mind, and bring it free from distraction to the school; and then you will know what force there is in reasoning.