The Enchiridion Part Twenty-Six

The will of Nature may be learned from those things in which we are all agreed.

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 Twenty-Six…

BODY

The will of Nature may be learned from those things in which we are all agreed. For example, when our neighbor’s boy breaks a cup, or the like, we are ready at once to say “these things will happen.” Be assured, then, that when your own cup likewise is broken, you ought to be affected just as when another’s cup was broken. Now apply this to greater things. Is the child or wife of another dead? There is no one who would not say, “This is a fate of man.” But if one’s own child happens to die, it is immediately, “Alas I how wretched am I!” But it should be always remembered how we are affected in hearing the same thing concerning others.

COMMENTARY
That is what Epictetus had to say. Here is what I have to say.

The definition of a pagan philosophy is not that it worships any particular set of gods. A philosophy is a pagan philosophy if it claims to derive its morality and its definition of what is true from nature and nature’s laws, and not from gods that exist entirely outside of nature and nature’s laws. As Christianity became the State religion of Rome, the pagan philosophies were banned. Christianity claims to derive its morality and its definition of what is true from a God outside of nature and not subject to nature’s laws. Stoicism, which is attentive to the will of nature, was an outlawed philosophy because it was a pagan philosophy.

In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about the will of nature.

Consider who you are. In the first place, you are a man; and one who has nothing superior to the faculty of his will, but all other things subjected to it; and the faculty itself he possesses is not enslaved and is free from subjection. Consider then from what things reason has separated you from. You have been separated from wild beasts: you have been separated from domestic animals. Further, you are a citizen of the world, and a part of it, not one of the subservient, but one of the principal parts. For you are capable of comprehending the divine administration, and of considering the connection of things. What then does the character of a citizen promise? To hold nothing as profitable to himself; to deliberate about nothing as if he were detached from the community, but to act as the hand or foot would do, if they had reason and understood the constitution of Nature. For they would never put themselves in motion, nor desire anything, except with reference to the whole.

If you say, “others will get more and be preferred to me,” I will ask what is more reasonable than for those who have labored to have more in that thing in which they have labored. They have labored for power, you have labored about opinions. They have labored for wealth, you have labored for the proper use of appearances. See if they have more than you in which you have labored, and which they neglect. See if they assent better than you with respect to the natural rules of things.

Someone asked, “How shall every man among us perceive what is suitable to his character?” Epicetus asked if the bull, when attacked by the lion, discover his own powers and put himself forward in defense of the whole herd. It is plain that with powers the perception of having power is immediately conjoined. Therefore whoever of us has power will not be ignorant of it. Now a bull is not made suddenly, nor a brave man. We must discipline ourselves in the winter for the summer campaign, and not rashly chase that which does not concern us.

Consider at what price you sell your own will. Consider if for no other reason than for this: that you sell it not for a small sum. That which is great and superior perhaps belongs to Socrates and such as are like him. “Why then, if we are naturally powerful, are not a very great number of us like him?” Epictetus asked if it were true then that all horses become swift, that all dogs are skilled in tracking footprints.

Is the greatest and most wondrous thing to understand Chrysippus? No one says this. What then is the most wondrous thing? To understand the will of Nature. Well then, do you? Do you by your own power? Then what more have you need of? “But in truth I do not apprehend the will of Nature.” Who then tells us what it is? They say that it is Chrysippus. I proceed, I inquire what this interpreter of Nature says. Then I begin to not understand what he says, and so I seek an interpreter of Chrysippus. He says, “well, consider how this is said, in the Roman tongue.” This interpreter of Crysippus is foolish, but there is no foolishness which can justly be charged to Chrysippus. Crysippus interprets the will of Nature, but does not follow it himself; and much more is this so with his interpreter. We have no need of Chrysippus for his own sake, but proceed in order that we may understand Nature. Nor do we need a diviner on his own account, but because we think that through him we shall know the future and understand the signs given by the gods. Nor do we need the viscera of animals for their own sake, but because through them signs are given. Nor do we look with wonder on the crow or raven, but on God, who through them gives signs.

Every art and faculty contemplates certain specific things. When it is itself of the same kind with the objects which it contemplates, it must of necessity contemplate itself: but when it is of an unlike kind, it cannot contemplate itself. For instance, the shoemaker’s art is employed on skins, but the shoemaker’s art is entirely distinct from the material of skins. For this reason the shoemaker’s art does not contemplate itself. Again, the grammarian’s art is employed about articulate speech; is the grammarian’s art itself articulate speech? By no means. For this reason the grammarian’s art is not able to contemplate itself. Now reason, for what purpose has it been given by Nature? For the right use of appearances. What is reason? A system of certain appearances. So by its nature reason has the faculty of contemplating itself. Again, sound sense, for what subjects of contemplation belong to us? Contemplation of good and evil and things which are neither. What is reason then itself? Reason is good. And what is lack of reason? Evil. Do you see, then, that reason necessarily contemplates both itself and the opposite? Because this is true, it is the chief and the first work of a philosopher to examine appearances, and to distinguish them, and to admit none without examination.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Twenty-Five of “The Enchiridion” …

The will of Nature may be learned from those things in which we are all agreed. For example, when our neighbor’s boy breaks a cup, or the like, we are ready at once to say “these things will happen.” Be assured, then, that when your own cup likewise is broken, you ought to be affected just as when another’s cup was broken. Now apply this to greater things. Is the child or wife of another dead? There is no one who would not say, “This is a fate of man.” But if one’s own child happens to die, it is immediately, “Alas I how wretched am I!” But it should be always remembered how we are affected in hearing the same thing concerning others.

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 – Sunday

Episode 1626