Monday, March 25, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.18 - How we should struggle against impressions

The entire chapter deals with the discipline of assent, which should be managed by logic.

Our souls or unique minds or our true inner identity is sovereign.  But the body and senses will take over our purest freedom, if we are not careful.  Therefore, it is imperative we exercise the discipline of assent in all matters that are external to the soul; else we slip into a type of bondage.

I'll follow Epictetus' examples.

If you choose to be angry, it is because you've abdicated your responsibility to choose your attitude.  You've left the choice with your base instincts and with others who would trigger you.

The same goes for sex or other pleasures.  "For it cannot fail to come about that, as a result of the corresponding actions, some habits and capacities will be developed if they didn't previously exist, while others that were already present will be reinforced and strengthened" (v. 7, p. 114).

If you see something you want (greed) but counter the first impression with reason "to make us become aware of the evil, the desire will be suppressed and our ruling center will be restored to its original authority"  (v. 8, p. 115).  We can all become imbalanced and if we don't restore our harmony, and instead yield to passion, the next time we are 'tipped' we will fall more easily and quickly.  Then we lose control.  Our ruling center is at the center and we need to remain balanced in it.

He gives an excellent visual: vice (the opposite of virtue, with virtue in the center and vice to the extreme on the left and the right) is like a blister or scar.  The more you agitate it, the longer it will take to heal.  You must allow them to heal well if you would not have the wounds open again.

Another excellent piece of advice from Epictetus: "First of all, keep calm, and count the days in which you haven't lost your temper" (v. 12, p. 115, emphasis added).  I remember Jerry Seinfeld giving some advice about becoming successful.  He described a "don't break the chain" habit, wherein he hangs up a big year-view calendar on his wall.  And every day he created new material, he could put a big red "X" on that day.  Then his goal was simply not to break the chain of red "X's" (link here).  Whether building a habit of doing something or a habit of not doing something, the idea is useful.

On a related note, Seneca advises a daily review at the end of the day; whereby you become the judge and the judged (see On Anger Book 3, 36).  This is a good habit to develop.

Epictetus gives other related advice on developing habits

  • "withdraw to the company of wise and virtuous men, and examine their life" (v. 21, p. 116)
  • "don't allow yourself to be dazed by the rapidity of the impact [of an impression], but say, 'Wait a while for me ... let me see what you are, and what you're an impression of; let me test you out" (v. 24, p. 116)
The challenge of challenging impressions is perhaps the greatest "sport" - that of training yourself to confront the most seductive of impressions (see v. 27, p. 116).  Great is the struggle and divine the enterprise, to win a kingdom, to win freedom, to win happiness, to win peace of mind (v. 28, p. 116)  But it is a worthy fight and challenge.

One word of caution: if you procrastinate this training, "in due course, you won't even be aware that you're acting wrongly, but will begin to put forward arguments to justify your behavior; at which point, you'll be confirming the truth of Hesiod's saying that 'One who delays his work is always wrestling with ruin.' (v. 31, p. 117)

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.17 - How we should adapt our preconceptions to particular cases

Rid yourself of preconceptions when you approach philosophy!  "What is the first task for someone who is practicing philosophy?  To rid himself of presumption" (v. 1, p. 110)

"Why, then, are you frustrated?  Why are you troubled?  Aren't you presently trying to avoid what is inevitable?  Why do you fall, then, into difficulties of any kind, why do you suffer misfortune?  Why is it that when you want something, it doesn't come about, and when you don't want it, it comes about?  For that is a very strong proof that you're in a troubled and unfortunate state.  I want something and it doesn't come about: who could be more wretched than I?  I don't want something and it comes about: who could be more wretched than I?" (v. 17-18, p. 111-112)

"Don't wish for anything other than what God wishes.  And who will be able to obstruct you then, who will be able to constrain you?  No one at all, any more than he could obstruct or compel Zeus."

"When you have such a leader, and conform your will and desires to his, what reason do you still have to fear that you may no succeed?" (v. 22-23, p. 112)

"If you continue to feel envy, poor wretch, and pity, jealousy, and fear, and never let a day pass by without lamenting within yourself and before the gods, how can you still claim to have received a proper education?" (v. 26, p. 112)

"[Start] off from this point, build everything up in due order, so that nothing may come about against your wish, and nothing that you wish may fail to come about" (v. 28, p. 113).

Three Stages of a True Philosopher

"It is enough for me to live my life free from hindrance and distress, and to be able to hold my head high in the face of events, like a free person, and to look up to heaven like a friend of God, showing no fear of anything that could come about" (v. 29, p. 113)

"I want indeed to be free from passion and disturbance of mind, but I also want, as a pious person, a philosopher, and a diligent student, to know what my duty is towards the gods, towards my parents, towards my brother, towards my country, and towards strangers" (v. 31, p. 113)

"I [want] to be secure and unshakeable in my knowledge of it, and not only when I'm awake, but when I'm asleep, when I'm drunk, and even when I'm thoroughly depressed" (v. 33, p. 113)

Having attained stage 3, "you are a god," headed for the stars, "to harbour such ambitions!" (v. 33, p. 113)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.16 - That we fail to practice the application of our judgements about things that are good and bad

I'm simply going to quote some moneyball quotes from this chapter, with a smidgen of commentary.

"Where does the good lie?  'In choice.'  Where does the bad lie? 'In choice.' And that which is neither good nor bad? 'In things that lie outside the sphere of choice.' (v. 1, p. 105)

"a lyre-player ... knows how to play his instrument, and sings well and has fine robes to wear, but trembles nonetheless when he has to come on stage.  Yes, he knows all of that, but he doesn't know what a crowd is, or understand the nature of its shouts and jeers.  He doesn't know, indeed, what this anxiety itself is, and whether we ourselves are responsible for it or other people are, and whether or not it lies in our power to put a stop to it.  And so he leaves the stage puffed up with pride if he receives applause, but his conceit is soon pricked and deflated if he meets with jeers" (v. 9-10, p. 106).

"Has God given you nothing to help you in this predicament?  Hasn't he given you endurance?  Hasn't he given you greatness of soul?  Hasn't he given you courage?  And yet, being equipped with the hands that you have, do you still look for someone else to wipe your nose?" (v. 13-4, p. 106)

"What is it, then, that weighs down on us and makes us lose our minds?  What else than our judgements?" (v. 24, p. 107)

"What are [true judgements]?  Those that a person should reflect upon all day long, so that, feeling no attachment to anything that is not his own, whether comrade, or place, or gymnasium, or indeed his own body, he may keep the law constantly in mind and have it forever before his eyes.  What law?  That of God; to preserve what is his own, and not lay claim to what is not his own, but to make use of what is granted to him, and not long for what is not granted; if anything is taken away from him, to surrender it willingly, and be grateful for the time in which he has enjoyed the use of it" (v. 26-28, p. 108).

"Can you see anything better or greater than the sun, the moon, the stars, the entire earth, the sea?  And if you understand the one who governs the universe, and carry him around within you, why should you still yearn for some pieces of stone and a petty rock?" (v. 32-33, p. 108).

"If he is free to leave the banquet whenever he pleases and abandon the game, will such a man lament while he remains?  Won't he stay as one does in a game, only as long as it continues to amuse him?  Such a man could surely face up to permanent exile, or to death, if he were to be condemned to that" (v. 37-38, p. 109)

"As the expression goes, be ready to lose your head, man, for the sake of happiness, for the sake of freedom, for the sake of greatness of soul." (v. 41, p. 109)

Another translation has a sharper point to it ... "Listen, as the saying goes, it's crisis time: make a last desperate effort to gain freedom and tranquility - to be Stoic."

"Raise up your head at last as one who has been freed from slavery; dare to raise up your eyes towards God and say to him, 'Use me just as you will from this time onward; I'm of one mind with you; I'm yours.  I refuse nothing that seems good to you.  Lead me where you will, wrap me in whatever clothes you wish.  Is it your wish that I should hold office, or remain a private citizen, that I should stay here, or goo into exile, that I should be poor, or rich?  I'll defend you before my fellow men in every case; I'll show what the true nature of each thing is.'" (v. 41-43, p. 109)

The above passage reminds me of a similar attitude which Marcus Aurelius expressed: "Universe, your harmony is my harmony: nothing in your good time is too early or too late for me. Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me: all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you." (Meditations 4.23)

"If Heracles had sat around at home with his family, what would he have been? ... It was accordingy in obedience to [God] that he traveled around the world purging it of injustice and lawlessness" (v. 44, p. 109).

"Cast fear and distress from your mind, along with desire, envy, malice, avarice, effeminacy, and intemperance.  These you cannot cast out in any other way than by lifting  up your eyes to God alone, and devoting yourself to him alone, and faithfully carrying out his commands" (v. 46, p. 110).

This last quote reminds me of another quote I recently read: "If you will not have rules, you will have rulers" (link to tweet)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.15 - To those who hold stubbornly to certain decisions that they have reached

Marcus Aurelius once wrote to himself, "If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change.  I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's own self-deception and ignorance" (see Meditations 6.21).

Similarly, Epictetus reminds us that we should listen to reason and not just "adhere unswervingly to every judgement that [we] have formed (v. 2, p. 103).  Rather, it is more important to first make a sound judgement before stubbornly sticking to it.

He tells someone, "If your decision is justified, look, here we are at your side and ready to help you on your way; but if your decision is unreasonable, you ought to change it" (v. 6, p. 104).

Substitute the word 'decision' with words such as: culture, tradition, religion, or the way things ought to be, and the advice applies.

So many people don't challenge their assumptions - including me!  We must challenge our assumptions with sound reason.

Epictetus responds to the person who says, "we must stick with a decision."

"Don't you wish to lay a firm foundation at the beginning, by examining Whether or not your decision is sound, and then go on to establish your firm and unwavering resolve on that foundation? But if you lay down a rotten and crumbling foundation, you shouldn't try to build on that, but the bigger and stronger the edifice that you heap upon it, the sooner it will come tumbling down (v. 8-9, p. 104).


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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.13 - About anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

The causes of anxiety can be several from lack of preparation on one's part to complete lack of knowledge of an uncertain future or outcome.  Therefore, it is important to practice the dichotomy of control to understand what aspects are in your control versus out of your control.

To begin, figure out if the cause of your anxiety is something you want.  Epictetus says, "When I see someone in a state of anxiety, I say, 'What is it that he wants?'" (v. 1, p. 97).  If a performer wants not only to perform well, but to "win the approval of his audience" he will need to recognize that: 1) his preparation to perform well is in his control, but 2) how the audience reacts will be out of his control, therefore, to alleviate his anxiety about approval from the audience, he should recognize this is entirely out of his control and therefore, use his energy to focus on what is in his control.

Apply this line of thinking to everything out of your control.  In his handbook or Encheiridion, he lists these things as out of our control: "body, property, our reputations, and our official positions."

Body - if you are anxious about getting cancer or having poor health, much of this is out of your control.  From cancer to heart disease, a large portion of what happens to our body is beyond our control.  But can you eat well and exercise and take care of your body?  Absolutely!  Do all that you can, that is within your power, to keep your body in good health.  But do not let anxiety take over your life, with constant worry.  You will soon die, like every human before you.  Live well, while you can, but do not succumb to constant worry of the body.  Find balance.

How many people who have ate perfectly, exercised without fail, lifted weights and performed cardio every day, but ultimately die in a young age (in their 30s or 40s)?  And how many people have neglected these things and have lived to a ripe age in their 80s or 90s?

Property - possessions can be stolen, burned, flooded, swept away with wind or any number of ways.  Indeed, attempt to be a good steward of what has been given you.  But if you are excessively worried about protecting your property, and when something finally happens to your property, you will be disappointed.

How many people spend all their time and efforts and worries on protecting their property?  What beauties have they missed by focusing nearly all their time and effort protecting what is "theirs"?

Reputation - indeed, do all you can to have a good character, but people may still say what they will about you.  It is beyond your control.

Career / official positions - sometimes we are compelled to perform a duty or be placed in a position.  We must recognize that sometimes what we do for a living is out of our control.  We may be drafted as a soldier.  We may be called to an assignment at the behest of the company.  Indeed, do what you can to ensure your freedom to choose what you do; what position you will hold.  But recognize there are times when this is beyond your control.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.12 - About the art of argument

Thanks to many who have taken the time to explain the technical aspects of philosophy, in laymen terms, I am able understand Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca and others.

In this chapter, Epictetus reiterates the importance of making philosophy accessible so that people can understand it and apply it.

A good philosophy teacher or "a good guide, when he see someone wandering astray, doesn't abandon him with a dose of mockery or abuse, but leads him back to the proper path."  And furthermore, the good teacher doesn't blame the shortcomings of the student, but rather blames himself failing to make it clear: "you shouldn't make fun of him, but should recognize your own incapacity instead" (v. 3-4, p. 95-96).

The rest of the chapter discusses how Socrates "patiently endured abuse from others" in his pursuit to "put an end to conflict" (v. 14, p. 96).  The chapter goes on to provide an example of how Epictetus or philosophers of his day might've gone about engaging with rich lords on the topic of the good.  But it sounds like he could not quite endure it for some unknown reason: "This is an enterprise that I too was once very keen to pursue, until I feel into such difficulties" (v. 25, p. 97)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.11 - What is the point of departure in philosophy?

If you were going to buy 15 gallons of gasoline for your car, would you want to know that the gas pump that dispenses the gas into your car was accurate?  You would want the scale to say it pumped 15 gallons in your car, when in fact it only pumped 14 gallons in your car.  For this reason, laws have been established to ensure gas stations' pumps are checked on a regular basis to verify they are accurate.  If they are not, then the gas station owner is notified and possibly fined for fraud.

All of this - the scales, the law, the verification, the fines - are set up to ensure justice between seller and buyer.  What great care we take, as a society, over such small matters as gasoline.  Yet what "scale" or system of measurement do we use to tell us if our judgements and way of living are accurate?

This is the point of philosophy - to tell us if our opinions and actions are appropriate.

We are born into "the world without having an innate conception of what is good and bad, right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, and of happiness, and of what is proper for us and falls to our log, and of what we ought to do and ought not to do" (v. 3, p. 93).  As such, we default to the opinions of our parents and tribes.  Repeated millions of times throughout the world, people and tribes arrive at different conclusions and opinions about what is good, bad, right, wrong and what actions are appropriate and not.  If only there were some scale or measuring stick to tell us what is right from wrong, good from bad, appropriate versus inappropriate actions.  But this is precisely what philosophy aims to do.

How can we tell which opinions are the correct opinion?

"Look now, this is the starting point of philosophy: the recognition that different people have conflicting opinions, the rejection of mere opinion so that it comes to be viewed with mistrust, and investigation of opinion to determine whether it is rightly held, and the discovery of a standard of judgement, comparable to the balance that we have devised for the determining of weights, or the carpenter's rule for determining whether things are straight or crooked" (v. 13, p. 94).

And to be absolutely clear, he further states, "the opinion that each person holds is not a sufficient criterion for determining the truth" (v. 14, p. 94).

We must devise a method and standard for ensuring our opinion is good.  We, humans, have figured out a way to devise a standard for measuring and weighing things such as gasoline, gold, silver, the height of a basketball hoop, so "how is it possible that that which is most vital for human beings should lie beyond determination, beyond discovery?" (v. 16, p. 94)

There is a standard; and we must seek it out and discover it and then "put it to use without fail ever afterwards" (v. 17, p. 94).  It will then "rescue [us] from madness" (v. 18, p. 94).

Epictetus then demonstrates two examples in the chapter by applying them to some criteria about what is good: 1) pleasure and 2) pride.

Since both are not constant and are unstable, they cannot be used as a measuring standard.  For something to be good, it must be reliable and constant.

This is why the Stoics arrived at the conclusion that "virtue is the sole good" as virtue does not change.

"It is thus that things are judged and weighed when one has the standards at hand; and the task of philosophy lies in this, in examining and establishing those standards.  As for the use of them, once they are known, that is the business of the virtuous and good person" (v. 23-25, p. 95).

Friday, March 8, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.10 - How may the actions that are appropriate to a person be discovered from the names applied to them

Epictetus goes through a number of titles people might take upon themselves; as he describes what makes that person consistent with the title.  It reminds me a bit of what Marcus Aurelius said in Meditations 3.5: "let the god that is within you be the champion of the being you are - a male, mature in years, a statesman, a Roman, a ruler: one who has taken his post like a soldier waiting for the Retreat from life to sound, and ready to depart, past the need for any loyal oath or human witness."

The titles Epictetus reviews:

Citizen - "never to approach anything with a view to personal advantage, never to deliberate about anything as though detached from the whole" (v. 4, p. 90).  His point is, that as a citizen (of a city, country and the universe), we ought to take a view of: what is beneficial for the whole is beneficial for the individual.  The Stoics would go so far as to say "if a wise and good person could foresee the future, he would cooperate with nature even if it came to illness, death, or mutilation, because he would recognize that these are allotted as a contribution to the ordering of the whole, and that the whole is more important than the part, and the city than the citizen" (v. 7, p. 90).

Son - he discusses how as children we ought to obey our parents; never speak badly of them or say or do anything to harm them.

Brother - similarly, we should respect our siblings; do not contend with our siblings.

A council member - to counsel.

Youth, elderly, parent, smith - to show actions appropriate to the title.

The last part of the chapter talks about what we should do when someone injures us.  "'What, then, if someone injures me, won't I injure him in return?'" (v. 24, p. 92).  This is a question a student poses to Epictetus.  Epictetus teaches "that the good lies in the choice" and that it makes just as much sense to turn the statement around: "'Since the person in question has injured himself by inflicting some wrong on me, shouldn't I injure myself by inflicting some wrong on him?"  By flipping the perspective this way, it does not make sense to retaliate, since you are doing self-harm and it amounts to a double-dose of hurt.

It's a bit of an odd chapter, so hopefully you get something out of it.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.9 - That although we are unable to fulfill our human calling, we adopt that of a philosopher

There is a phrase used in the scrum world that goes, "nail it before you scale it"  The idea is that you have to master the basics before tackling more complexity.

Epictetus is making a similar point.  Some want to become a philosopher before they can learn how to be a good human.  He begins, "merely to fulfill the role of a human being is no simple matter" (v. 1, p. 87).  We must be rational in all we do, otherwise we are mere beasts and "act for the sake of our belly or genitals, [or] act at random, or in a filthy manner, or without proper care [or] ... when we behave aggressively, and harmfully and angrily, and forcefully" (v. 4-5, p. 88).  Actually, that is a really good list to start with.  If a person can abstain from the above, they are making progress away from becoming a beast and toward becoming a good human.

We continue to make progress toward becoming a good human being when we act according to our nature.  "Each person is strengthened and preserved by actions that are appropriate to his nature" (v. 10, p. 88).  If you want to be a carpenter, do what a carpenter does.  If you want to be a skilled writer, do what skilled writers do.  If you want to be "a modest character" then have "modest actions." Your faithfulness is "preserved by acts of fidelity" (v. 11, p. 88).  You see a pattern here; to live virtuously, have virtuous acts.  And being a good human being requires virtuous acts.

"That is why philosophers recommend that we shouldn't be contented merely to learn, but should add practice too, and then training" (v. 13, p. 88).  And even if we practice and train, we still might slip into bad habits and opinions.  "It is one thing to put bread and wine away in a store-room, and quite another to eat them.  What is eaten is digested and distributed around the body, to become sinews, flesh, bones, blood, and good complexion, sound breathing.  What is stored away is ready at hand, to be sure, to be taken out and displayed whenever you wish, but you derive no benefit from it, except that of having the reputation of possessing it" (v. 18, p. 89).  It is with use that we derive the benefit of philosophy, not simply owning or reading philosophical books.

Learn to be a good human being; learn philosophy.  Then practice being a good human being; instill training into your routine to help you implement what you learn from philosophy.  I don't think it is bad to want to desire to lift the rock of Ajax, even if you can't lift 10 pounds.  But if you consistently apply yourself and learn and train, you may achieve your goal.

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).

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.7 - How we should make use of divination

Astrology, divination, horoscopes ... personally speaking, all are mindless child's play.  This chapter is particularly useful for people who really think that divination has importance.

First off, Epictetus argues we already "have a diviner within [us] who has taught [us] the true nature of good and bad (v. 3, p. 83).

And while a diviner might tell us signs and ways of how to lengthen life, prolong death or gain riches, they cannot tell us that by gaining or avoiding those things, if they would be beneficial to us or not (see v. 6, p. 84).

I love the example he gives in the chapter.  "It was thus an excellent reply that the woman made when she wanted to send a boatload of provisions to the exiled Gratilla; for when someone said to her, 'Domitian will merely confiscate them,' she replied, 'Better that he should take them away than that I should fail to send them.'" (v. 8, p. 84).  She focused on what was in her control (the virtue of helping someone else) and left the results and the outcome fall where they would.

Why would a person approach and seek the services of a diviner?  "Simply cowardice, our fear of what may come about" (v. 9, p. 84).  Therefore, if we spent the time focusing on our desires and aversions (something in our control), would we not have greater success in gaining courage and avoiding fear and anxiety?  Fix the root cause!

If you were to approach God in prayer, ask not for wealth, riches, rewards, improved health, avoidance of bad health and a life of ease or even immortality and eternal life.  Rather, ask that you can desire a life of virtue; ask for understanding and a love of what God wants in the universe and in this world.  Ask that you love what God loves.  Ask for things to happen exactly as they do.

Pray thusly, "Universe, your harmony is my harmony: nothing in your good time is too early or too late for me. Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me: all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.23)

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