Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.15 - What does philosophy promise?

Have you ever wondered why another person can do such a thing?

How can they stand to live in a dirty room?  Why won't they put the lid on the toothpaste or put the toilet seat down?

Why does this manager have to be such a mirco-manager?

Why is she always so grumpy and bitter?

Don't they know how annoying it is when they do that?

Perhaps you can think of your own example as to why someone else acts in a way that bothers you.  Maybe some of these actions are simply preferences.  But what about people who are not virtuous - people who are mean, spiteful, arrogant?  Shouldn't they know better?

Epictetus reminds us that: how other people behave and how they act, falls under the category of things not in our control.  "Philosophy doesn't promise to secure any external good for man, since it would then be embarking on something that lies outside its proper subject matter.  For just as wood is the material of the carpenter, and bronze that of the sculptor, the art of living has each individual's own life as its material" (v. 2, p. 36).

Epictetus also helps us remember that people are always on a developmental journey.  We can give them the benefit of the doubt.  We can also remind ourselves that it may take a lifetime for some people (including ourselves) to fully develop into a mature, caring, thoughtful human being.

He says, "Nothing great comes into being all at once.  If you tell me now, 'I want a fig,' I'll reply, 'That takes time.'  Let the fig tree first come into blossom and then bring forth its fruit, and then let the fruit grow to ripeness.  So if eve the fruit of a fig tree doesn't come to maturity all at once and in a single hour, would you seek to gather fruit of a human mind in such a short time and with such ease?" (v. 7-8, p. 37)

When it comes to my own kids and they do something that isn't so smart, I say to my wife, "this is NOT the final version of <name of our child>"

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