Monday, July 22, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.8 - To those who hastily adopt the outward appearance of philosophers

Epictetus has a tooth to pick with some phonies!  He wants people to avoid this scenario: they see someone who looks like a philosopher (dresses like one, acts like one, etc.) but the person really isn't a philosopher, and therefore the observer discounts philosophy altogether!  I can almost see Epictetus do a face palm!

"When one sees someone making clumsy use of an axe, one doesn't say, 'What is the use of the carpenter's art?  Look at how badly carpenters work,' but one says instead, 'That man is surely no carpenter, because he is so bad at handling an axe.'" (v. 7, p. 259)

He further notes that people generally appreciate and understand the carpenter's work, the musician's skill and the artist's work, but when it comes to philosophy, people are confused, and jump immediately to looking at outward appearances to judge philosophy.

We ought to look at "the subject matter" of philosophy, when judging whether a person is a good philosopher or not.  Therefore, we don't judge the philosopher by what kind of cloak he wears, but by his reason and principles (see v. 12, p. 260).

He advises that when people attempt to become a philosopher, they should "conceal the fact" knowing that whatever they did, they were doing it for their own sake and not for show (see v. 17, p. 260-261).  The only way a person should show others they were attempting to be a philosopher was through their actions.
See how I eat, how I drink, how I sleep, how I endure things, how I abstain from them, how I cooperate with others, how I exercise my desires and aversions, how I maintain my social relationships, whether natural or acquired, without becoming confused or obstructed; and judge me by all of this, if you can. (v. 20, p. 261)
Furthermore, the success of a philosopher is judged by asking yourself some questions.  "If anyone can harm me, I'm not achieving anything; if I'm waiting for someone else to help me, I myself am nothing.  If I want something and it is not accomplished, then I'm miserable." (v. 25, p. 261)

Lastly, he uses an analogy for learning and practicing Stoicism:
First of all, you must undertake hard winter training, examine your impulses, and see whether they aren't those of a dyspeptic, of a woman seized with cravings during her pregnancy.  Take care at first that you're not recognized for what you are; practice philosophy for yourself alone for a short period.  For this is the way in which fruit is produced; the seed must be buried for a time, and lie hidden, and grow little by little to come to maturity.  ... Allow the root to grow, allow it next to bring forth its first joint, and then the second, and then the third; and in this way, the fruit will naturally force its way out, whether I wish it or not. (v. 35-36, 40, p. 262-263)

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