The Enchiridion Part Forty-Two

If anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, only he who is deceived about it.

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 Forty-Two…

BODY

When any person harms you, or speaks ill of you, remember that he acts and speaks believing it is his duty to do so. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from a false appearance, he is the person hurt, since he is the person deceived. For if anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, only he who is deceived about it. Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear a person who reviles you. For you will say upon every occasion, “It seemed so to him.”

COMMENTARY
In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about the opportunity to commit acts which are good.

Among the things that are good are health, and soundness of limb, life, children, parents and country. Who will tolerate you if you deny this? Let us then transfer the notion of good to these things. Now, when a man sustains damage and does not obtain good things, it is not possible that he can be happy, nor can he maintain toward society a proper behavior. For I am naturally formed to look after my own interest. If it is my interest to have an estate in land, it is my interest also to take it from my neighbor. If it is my interest to have a garment, it is my interest also to steal it from the bath. This is the origin of wars, civil commotions, tyrannies, conspiracies.

Let the followers of Pyrrho and the Academics come and make their objections. For I, as to my part, have no time for these disputes, nor am I able to undertake the defense of common consent. If I had a lawsuit even about a bit of land, I would call in another to defend my interests. With what evidence then am I satisfied? With that which belongs to the matter in hand. How indeed perception is effected, whether through the whole body or any part, perhaps I cannot explain, for both opinions perplex me. But that you and I are not the same, I know with perfect certainty. When I intend to swallow anything, I never carry it to your month, but to my own. When I intend to take bread, I never lay hold of a broom, but I always go straight to the bread.

Not one of us doubts that what is good is useful and eligible, and in all circumstances that we ought to follow and pursue what is good. Not one of us doubts that justice is beautiful and becoming. When, then, do contradictions arise? They arises in the adaptation of general preconceptions to particular cases. When one man says, “He has done well: he is a brave man,” and another says, “Not so; he has acted foolishly”; then the disputes arise among men. This is the dispute among the Jews and the Syrians and the Egyptians and the Romans; not whether holiness should be preferred to all things and in all cases should be pursued, but whether it is holy to eat pig’s flesh or not holy. […]

What then is education? Education is learning how to adapt natural preconceptions to particular things conformably to nature, and then to distinguish that some things are in our power, but others are not. In our power are will and all acts which depend on the will; things not in our power are the body, the parts of the body, possessions, parents, brothers, children, country, and, generally, all with whom we live in society. In what, then, should we place the good? To what kind of things shall we adapt it? To the things which are in our power.

Now, what is the next matter presented to us? “Pleasure.” Subject pleasure to the rule, throw it onto the scale. First, we should have confidence of a thing that is good. Second, we should have no confidence in anything that is insecure. Since pleasure is not secure, take it away and throw it out off the scale, and drive it far away from the place of good things. If you are not sharp-sighted, and one measurement is not enough for you, bring another. Is it fit to be elated over what is good? “Yes.” Is it proper then to be elated over present pleasure? Ah, I see that you do not say that it is proper. If you did, I would not think you worthy. Things are tested and weighed when the rules are ready. And to philosophize is this, to examine and confirm the rules, and then to use them when they are known, these are the actions of a wise and good man.

Why do you refrain from your own good? This is senseless, foolish. But even if you tell me that you do refrain, I will not believe you. For as it is impossible to assent to that which appears false, and to turn away from that which is true, so it is impossible to abstain from that which appears good. But wealth is a good thing, and certainly most efficient in producing pleasure. Why will you not acquire wealth? And why should we not corrupt our neighbor’s wife, if we can do it without detection? And if the husband whines about the affair, why not pitch him out of the house? If you would be a philosopher such as you ought to be, act consistently with your own doctrines.

A good man does nothing for the sake of appearance, but for the sake of doing good. […] Do you seek a reward for being a good man greater than doing what is good and just? At Olympia you wish for nothing more, but it seems to you enough to be crowned at the games. Does it seem to you so small and worthless a thing to be good and happy? To be good and to be happy, you have been introduced by the gods into this city. It is now your duty to undertake the work of a man.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Forty-Two of The Enchiridion

When any person harms you, or speaks ill of you, remember that he acts and speaks believing it is his duty to do so. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from a false appearance, he is the person hurt, since he is the person deceived. For if anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, only he who is deceived about it. Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear a person who reviles you. For you will say upon every occasion, “It seemed so to him.”

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 – Chiquita (Columbia 1514-D 1928)

Episode 1642