The Enchiridion Part Fifty-One

We spend all our time on justifying ourselves, and employ all our diligence to justifying ourselves, and entirely neglect the principles we justify.

OPENING
I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, “The Enchiridion” by Epictetus. Part Fifty-One…

BODY

The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is principles (for example, we ought not to lie). The second most necessary topic in philosophy is the demonstration of principles (for example, why we ought not to lie). The third most necessary topic in philosophy gives strength and logic to the first two (for example, why what I do is a demonstration of my principle).

For what is a demonstration? What is consequence and what is a contradiction? What is truth and what is falsehood?

Strength and logic are necessary for demonstrations, and demonstrations are necessary for principles. But the most necessary, and that which we must stand on, is principles.

But we do just the opposite. We spend all our time on justifying ourselves, and employ all our diligence to justifying ourselves, and entirely neglect the principles we justify. We lie, then we immediately say that lying is wrong.

COMMENTARY
In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about principles.

Study and hold in readiness these principles by which you may determine what those things are with reference to which you ought to have confidence, and those things with reference to which you ought to be cautious: courageous in that which does not depend on your will; cautious in that which does depend on it.

If you hear someone ask who is the best philosopher and the answer is yourself, your little soul (which was only a finger’s length) stretches out to two cubits. But if you hear someone contradict them and say: “You are mistaken; that man is not worthwhile to listen to, what does he know? He has only the first principles, and no more!” – then you are confounded, you grow pale, and you cry out immediately, “I will show him who I am, that I am a great philosopher.” Philosophy is seen by philosophy: why do you wish to see it instead by the opinion of others? Once, Diogenes distinguished one of the sophists by stretching out his middle finger at him. When the sophist was wild with rage, Diogenes said “This is the great philosopher, I have pointed him out to you.” For a man is not shown by the finger, as a stone or a piece of wood. A man is shown when he shows his principles. Then he shows what sort of a man he is.

If you see a man who is busy about things not dependent on his will and subjecting his will to them, you know that this man has ten thousand persons to compel and to hinder him. He has no need of torture to compel him to confess what he knows. The nod of a little girl will move him, a scolding from Caesar’s court, the desire of a magistracy or of an inheritance, and things without end will compel him. You must remember that secret discourses require fidelity and corresponding opinions. But where can we now easily find these? Or if you cannot answer that question, let someone point out to me a man who can say: “I care only about the things which are my own, the things which are not subject to hindrance, the things which are by nature free.” This I hold to be the nature of the good. But let all other things be as they are. I do not concern myself.

The material for the wise and good man is his own ruling faculty, as the body is the material for the physician and the land is the material for the farmer. The business of the wise and good man is to use appearances conformably to nature. It is the nature of every soul to assent to the truth, to dissent from the false, and to remain in suspense as to that which is uncertain. It is the nature of every soul to be moved toward the desire of the good, and to aversion from the evil, and with respect to that which is neither good nor bad it feels indifferent. The money-changer is not allowed to reject Caesar’s coin, nor the seller of herbs. If you show the coin, whether he chooses or not, he must give up what is sold for the coin. And so it is also in the material of the soul. When the good appears, it is immediately attracts to itself and the evil repels it from itself. But the soul will never reject the manifest appearance of the good, any more than the money-changer will reject Caesar’s coin. On this principle depends every movement both of man and God.

I heard of a man in the third day of starving himself to death. I went to inquire what had happened. “I have resolved,” he said. I asked him to tell me what it was which induced him to resolve; for if he had resolved rightly, I would sit with him and assist him to depart. But if he had made an unreasonable resolution, I told him to change his mind. He said “we ought to keep to our resolutions.” I said, what are you doing, man? We ought not to keep all your resolutions, but to those resolutions which are right. If you are now persuaded that it is right, do not change your mind. If you think fit, persist and say, “we ought to keep to our resolutions.” Still – lay the foundation of your resolution in an inquiry whether the resolution is sound or not sound, and so then build on it firmness and security. If you lay a rotten and ruinous foundation, your miserable little building will fall down more quickly because of the heavy materials you lay on it. Do not withdraw from us the life a man who is a friend, and a companion, a citizen of the same city, both the great and the small city, without a sound foundation. Think: if you are committing murder and destroying a man who has done no wrong, would you say that you ought to keep to your resolutions? And if it ever came into your head to kill me, ought you to keep to your resolutions?

Now this man was, with difficulty, persuaded to change his mind. But it is impossible to convince some persons to change their mind. That is why they say you can neither persuade nor break a fool. May it never be my lot to have a wise fool for my friend. Nothing is more stubborn than a wise fool. “I have resolved,”” the man says. Madmen are also resolved. But the more firmly they resolve problems which do not exist, the more help they require.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Fifty-One of The Enchiridion

The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is principles (for example, we ought not to lie). The second most necessary topic in philosophy is the demonstration of principles (for example, why we ought not to lie). The third most necessary topic in philosophy gives strength and logic to the first two (for example, why what I do is a demonstration of my principle).

For what is a demonstration? What is consequence and what is a contradiction? What is truth and what is falsehood?

Strength and logic are necessary for demonstrations, and demonstrations are necessary for principles. But the most necessary, and that which we must stand on, is principles.

But we do just the opposite. We spend all our time on justifying ourselves, and employ all our diligence to justifying ourselves, and entirely neglect the principles we justify. We lie, then we immediately say that lying is wrong.

CLOSING
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.

Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.

MUSIC
Cliff Edwards – Singin’ in the Rain

Episode 1651