Monday, March 4, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.8 - What is the essence of the good?

There is divinity in each of us.  We have a mind that thinks; we possess intelligence and reason.  This is our god-given blessing that is unique to us.  It is here that we ought to spend our time and effort in improvement.

As Epictetus says, we "are of primary value [to God]" and that you and I are "a fragment of God" (v. 11, p. 85-86).  That "fragment of God" bit reminds me of the mind-blowing book by Scott Adams entitled God's Debris.  In this thought experiment, he proposes a paradigm, not un-like the Stoics, that helps us think of a framework where people can liberate their minds to more freely cooperate and help and love each other.  If you've not read or listened to it, I highly recommend it.

In today's modern world, people are fascinated by the invention of artificial intelligence.  Humans can create life, but this is a biological aspect of humans and it is not enough to satisfy the itch to create something truly special.  We, as a species, are trying to create a consciousness by our own design - inherent in us is this urge to create something that can exist on it's own.  This urge has haunted us for hundreds of years and we are driven to create something self-aware, outside the normal biological means of reproduction.

Isn't this nothing more than humanity trying to play like God?  God gave us our freedom and in turn, we are attempting to do the same.  "And what work of any human artist contains within itself the very faculties that are displayed in its markings?  Is such a work anything other than marble, or bronze, or gold, or ivory?  And the Athena of Phidia, once she has stretched out her hand to receive the Victory upon it, remains fixed in that attitude for ever, whereas the works of the gods move and breathe, and are capable of making use of impressions and passing judgements about them" (v. 20, p. 86-87).

Why make this point?  To show that we have a gift from God different from any of other life form in this world.  "Not only has [God] created you, but he has also entrusted you to your own sole charge ... he has delivered you yourself into your own keeping, and says, 'I had no one in whom I could put more confidence than you.  Keep this person as he was born by nature to be; keep him modest, trustworthy, high-minded, unshakable, free from passion, imperturbable'" (v. 21-23, p. 87)

And what are we to do with this unique gift?  We are to live our life according to virtue: integrity, honor, dignity, patience, calmness, poise, trustworthy, nobility.  We ought to show others our strength: "Desire that never fails in its aim, aversion that never falls into what it wants to avoid, motivation that accords with one's duty, purpose that is carefully weighed, and assent that is not over-hasty" (v. 29, p. 87).

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