Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Epictetus Discourses 1.11 - on family affection

A government official talked to Epictetus.  The topic of family came up, to which Epictetus asked him what he thought of family life.  The official responded, "miserable" and proceeded to tell Epictetus that he couldn't even bear to be in the presence of his daughter when she was ill, because it caused him distress to see her suffer.

From there Epictetus proceeded to instruct the man about the criteria for judging whether something is good or not and what the proper reaction of the man should have been when his daughter was ill.

The key point in all the dialogue is found at the end of the chapter.  "In a word, it is neither death, nor exile, nor distress, nor anything else of that kind, that causes us to do something or not to do it, but rather our judgments and opinions" (v. 33, p. 30).

Once we realize and accept this fact, from that moment on, "we'll ascribe the blame to nothing other than the judgement that led us to act as we did ... in like fashion, we will also ascribe what we do rightly to the same cause.  And no longer will we blame slave, or neighbor, or wife, or children as being responsible for any of our ills, since we're now convinced that unless we judge things to be of a certain nature, we don't carry out the actions that follow from that judgement.  Now when it comes to forming a judgment, or not forming one, we're the masters of that, and not things outside ourselves" (v. 35-37, p. 30).

Indeed there are causes to what happens to us, but feeling miserable or any judgement or other reaction or attitude about what happens to us, is entirely 'up to us.'

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