Saturday, March 16, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.14 - To Naso

I had a manager a few years ago, who loved to use the "sausage machine" analogy.  We assembled several reports and stewarded several groups.  Our reports were intended to be used by upper management.  My manager would always talk about the goal of the end product - a nicely assembled, easy to read and informative report.  All the work that went into it, was boring, tedious and time-heavy.  All that work was the bloody sausage machine while the end product was the cooked sausage.

Epictetus, similarly, teaches that the practice of any skill is boring to the uninitiated.  Similarly, learning and discussing philosophy and "good" and "bad" things can be tedious and boring.  But the end product is amazing.

He defines the goal of the philosopher as one who "should adapt his own will to what comes about so that nothing happens against [his] will, and so that nothing fails to happen when [he] wants it to happen" (v. 7, p. 101).  In other words, the goal of a philosopher is to exactly align his or her own desires and aversions with the desires and aversions of the universe/god(s).  And furthermore, to "resemble them as far as possible.  If [the gods are] trustworthy, he too must be trustworthy; if free, he too must be free; if beneficent, he too must be beneficent; if magnanimous, he too must be magnanimous.  And so thenceforth, in all that he says and does, he must act in imitation of God" (v. 12-13, p. 101)

He compares this life to a "festival" and as it sounds, it would more aptly be described as a state fair in today's vernacular.  At the festival, the express purpose is to buy and sell cattle.  But there are so many other things going on too.  If you observe the cattle, all they care about is the food.  You could say the same about many people who attend the festival.  Then there are those who "are capable of reflection" and want to figure things out - what is going on, how is it organized, and managed.  Thus they spend their spare time learning as much about the festival before it ends.  Whereas the cattle and some people would simply laugh at the reflective people.

Life, therefore, is full of people who care only about food, pleasures, wealth, status, etc..  Whereas, there are some who are more interested in how life is organized, ruled and administered - what is the purpose of life.  These are the philosophers who simply want to align their will with the organization of the world/universe/'the rule and organizer'.

As said many times before, Nietzsche succinctly summarizes the goal as: amor fati.

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