Sunday, February 21, 2010

Epictetus: Discourses &mdash Continued 2010.02.21

Ἐπίκτητος; AD 55–AD 135

I have been thoroughly enjoying the philosophical arguments of Epictetus, and find myself re-reading many of his them because of the elegant beauty of the prose as well as their sophistication and obvious and immediate applicability to many of the social/economic/political 'problems' of today. Delightful, and thought-provoking stuff.

The following quotation will not be presenting anything thought provoking, let alone new. However, I love the language and manner of the presentation.

From Discourses 1.12: Discipline = Freedom.
He, then, who comes to be instructed,
come with this aim:
“How may I in everything follow the gods?
How may I acquiesce in the divine administration?
And how may I be free?”
For he is free, to whom all happens agreeably to his desire,
and whom no one can unduly restrain.

“What then, is freedom mere license?”

By no means; for madness and freedom are incompatible.

“But I would have that happen which appears to me desirable;
however it comes to appear so.”

You are mad: you have lost your senses. Do not you know, that freedom is a very beautiful and valuable thing? But for me to choose at random, and for things to happen agreeably to such a choice, may be so far from a beautiful thing, as to be, of all others, the most undesirable. For how do we proceed in writing? Do I choose to write the name of Dion (for instance) as I will? No; but I am taught to be willing to write it as it is written. And what is the case in music? The same. And what in every other art or science? Otherwise, it would be of no purpose to learn anything, if it were to be adapted to each one’s particular humor. Is it then only in the greatest and principal matter, that of freedom, permitted me to desire at random? By no means; but true instruction is this — learning to desire that things happen as they do. And how do they happen? As the appointer of them hath appointed. He hath appointed that there is summer and winter, plenty and dearth, virtue and vice, and all such contrarieties, for the harmony of the whole. To each of us he has given a body and its parts, and our several possessions and companions. Mindful of this appointment, we can enter upon a course of education and instruction, not in order to change the constitution of things; — a gift neither practicable nor desirable; — but that things being as they are with regard to us, we may have our mind accommodated to the facts. Can we, for instance, flee from mankind? How is that possible? Can we, by conversing with them, transform them? Who has given us such a power? What then remains, or what method is there to be found, for such a commerce with them, that, while they act according to the appearances in their own minds, we may nevertheless be affected conformably to nature? [Slightly edited.]