The Enchiridion: Chapter Twenty-Seven by Epictetus

I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Enchiridion by Epictetus. Part Twenty-Seven…

As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about error, and evil, and how both go against Nature.

Is it possible to be free from faults? It is not possible. But it is possible to direct your efforts incessantly to being faultless. We must be content if by never lessening this effort we will escape at least a few errors. But if you say “Tomorrow I will begin this effort,” what you are saying is: “Today I will be shameless, waste my time, ignore where I am, and be stupid; I will give others the power to cause me pain; today I will be bestial and envious.” Then see how many evil things you permit yourself to do. If it is good to be attentive tomorrow, how much better is it to do so today.

Be willing at length to be approved by yourself, be willing to appear beautiful to God, desire to be in purity with your own pure self and with God. […] Be not hurried away by [what appears to be], but say, “Appearances, wait for me a little. Let me see who you are, and what you are about. Let me put you to the test.” And then do not allow what appears to be to lead you on and draw exciting pictures of the things which will follow. For if you do, the appearance of things will carry you off wherever it pleases. But rather bring in to oppose it some other beautiful and noble appearance and cast out this base appearance. Right now these are only trifling words, and nothing more. But if you grow accustomed to exercise in this way, you will see what shoulders, what sinews, what strength you have.

This is the true athlete, the man who exercises himself against appearances. Stay, wretch, do not be carried away. Great is the combat, divine is the work. It is for kingship, for freedom, for happiness, for freedom from perturbation. Remember God: call on Him as a helper and protector, as men at sea call on the the gods in a storm. For what is a greater storm than that which comes from appearances which are violent and drive away reason? The storm itself is but an appearance. Take away the fear of death, and in spite of all the thunder and lightning you will know calm and serenity. But if you have once been wrong and say that you will never be wrong again, be assured that you are in so wretched a condition and so weak that you will not even know that you are wrong. You will even begin to make apologies for your being wrong.

All men have one principle. All men assent to what is so, and dissent to what is not so, and suspend judgment to what is uncertain. All men move toward anything that is an advantage. Why then are we angry with the many? “They are thieves and robbers,” you may say. What do you mean by thieves and robbers? “They are mistaken about good and evil.” Ought we then to be angry with them, or to pity them? Show them their error, and you will see how they desist from their errors. If they do not see their errors, they have nothing superior to their present opinion.

Every error is a contradiction. He who errs does not wish to err, but to be right, and it is plain that he does not do what he wishes. For what does the thief wish to do? That which is for his own interest. If, then, the theft is not for his interest, he does not do that which he wishes. So long as a soul does not perceive a contradiction, it is not hindered from doing contradictory things: but when it does perceive a contradiction, it must of necessity avoid the contradiction, and avoid it as a man cannot lie to himself. But so long as a falsehood does not appear false to him, he assents to it as to truth. Every rational soul is by nature offended by contradiction.

He, then, is strong in argument who is able to show to each man the contradiction through which he errs and clearly to prove how he does not do that which he wishes and does that which he does not wish. If any one can show this to a man, he will himself withdraw from that which he does. As long as you do not show him this, do not be surprised if a man persists in his practice. For having the appearance to himself of doing right, he does what he does.

He is free who lives as he wishes to live; he is neither subject to compulsion nor to hindrance, nor to force; his movements and actions are not impeded; his desires attain their purpose; and he does not fall into that which he would avoid. Who, then, chooses to live in error? No man. Who chooses to live deceived, liable to mistake, unjust, unrestrained, discontented, and stupid? No man. No bad man lives as he wishes, nor is he free. Who chooses to live in sorrow, fear, envy, pity, desiring and failing in his desires, attempting to avoid something and falling into it? Not one man. Do we then find any bad man free from sorrow, free from fear, who does not fall into that which he would avoid, and does not obtain that which he wishes? Not one; nor then do we find any bad man free.

In the matter of coin we have invented an art. See how many means the assayer uses to try the value of coin, the sight, the touch, the smell, and lastly the hearing. He throws the coin down, and observes the sound, and he is not content with its sounding once, but through his great attention he becomes a musician. In like manner, what we think is mistaken and not mistaken makes a great difference, and we apply great attention to discovering the things which can deceive. But in the matter of our miserable ruling faculty, yawning and sleeping, we carelessly admit every appearance, for their harm is not noticed.

Here again is Part Twenty-Seven of The Enchiridion

As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.

Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters.

Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.

Cliff Edwards – If I Never See You As Long As I Live (Pathe Actuelle 025137 1925)

Episode 1627