29 Sep Of natural affection (Epictetus)
When he was visited by one of the magistrates, Epictetus inquired of him about several particulars, and asked if he had children and a wife.
The man replied that he had; and Epictetus inquired further, how he felt under the circumstances.
Miserable, the man said.
Then Epictetus asked, In what respect, for men do not marry and beget children in order to be wretched, but rather to be happy.
But I, the man replied, am so wretched about my children that lately, when my little daughter was sick and was supposed to be in danger, I could not endure to stay with her, but I left home till a person sent me news that she had recovered.
— Well then, said Epictetus, do you think that you acted right?
— I acted naturally, the man replied.
— But convince me of this that you acted naturally, and I will convince you that everything which takes place according to nature takes place rightly.
— This is the case, said the man, with all or at least most fathers.
— I do not deny that: but the matter about which we are inquiring is whether such behaviour is right; for in respect to this matter we must say that tumours also come for the good of the body, because they do come; and generally we must say that to do wrong is natural, because nearly all or at least most of us do wrong. Do you show me then how your behaviour is natural.
— I cannot, he said; but do you rather show me how it is not according to nature, and is not rightly done.
— Well, said Epictetus, if we were inquiring about white and black, what criterion should we employ for distinguishing between them?
— The sight, he said.
— And if about hot and cold, and hard and soft, what criterion?
— The touch.
— Well then, since we are inquiring about things which are according to nature, and those which are done rightly or not rightly, what kind of criterion do you think that we should employ?
— I do not know, he said.
— And yet not to know the criterion of colours and smells, and also of tastes, is perhaps no great harm; but if a man do not know the criterion of good and bad, and of things according to nature and contrary to nature, does this seem to you a small harm?
— The greatest harm (I think).
— Come tell me, do all things which seem to some persons to be good and becoming, rightly appear such; and at present as to Jews and Syrians and Egyptians and Romans, is it possible that the opinions of all of them in respect to food are right?
— How is it possible? he said.
— Well, I suppose, it is absolutely necessary that, if the opinions of the Egyptians are right, the opinions of the rest must be wrong: if the opinions of the Jews are right, those of the rest cannot be right.
— But where there is ignorance, there also there is want of learning and training in things which are necessary.
He assented to this.
— You then, said Epictetus, since you know this, for the future will employ yourself seriously about nothing else, and will apply your mind to nothing else than to learn the criterion of things which are according to nature, and by using it also to determine each several thing. But in the present matter I have so muck as this to aid you towards what you wish. Does affection to those of your family appear to you to be according to nature and to be good?
— Well, is such affection natural and good, and is a thing consistent with reason not good?
— By no means.
— Is then that which is consistent with reason in contradiction with affection?
— I think not.
— You are right, for if it is otherwise, it is necessary that one of the contradictions being according to nature, the other must be contrary to nature. Is it not so?
— It is, he said.
— Whatever then we shall discover to be at the same time affectionate and also consistent with reason, this we confidently declare to be right and good.
— Well then to leave your sick child and to go away is not reasonable, and I suppose that you will not say that it is; but it remains for us to inquire if it is consistent with affection.
— Yes, let us consider.
— Did you then, since you had an affectionate disposition to your child, do right when you ran off and left her; and has the mother no affection for the child?
— Certainly, she has.
— Ought then the mother also to have left her, or ought she not?
— She ought not.
— And the nurse, does she love her?
— She does.
— Ought then she also to have left her?
— By no means.
— And the paedagogue, does he not love her?
— He does love her.
— Ought then he also to have deserted her? and so should the child have been left alone and without help on account of the great affection of you the parents and of those about her, or should she have died in the hands of those who neither loved her nor cared for her?
— Certainly not.
— Now this is unfair and unreasonable, not to allow those who have equal affection with yourself to do what you think to be proper for yourself to do because you have affection.
— It is absurd.
— Come then, if you were sick, would you wish your relations to be so affectionate, and all the rest, children and wife, as to leave you alone and deserted?
— By no means.
— And would you wish to be so loved by your own that through their excessive affection you would always be left alone in sickness? or for this reason would you rather pray, if it were possible, to be loved by your enemies and deserted by them? But if this is so, it results that your behaviour was not at all an affectionate act. Well then, was it nothing which moved you and induced you to desert your child? and how is that possible? But it might be something of the kind which moved a man at Rome to wrap up his head while a horse was running which he favoured; and when contrary to expectation the horse won, he required sponges to recover from his fainting fit.
— What then is the thing which moved?
— The exact discussion of this does not belong to the present occasion perhaps; but it is enough to be convinced of this, if what the philosophers say is true, that we must not look for it anywhere without, but in all cases it is one and the same thing which is the cause of our doing or not doing something, of saying or not saying something, of being elated or depressed, of avoiding any thing or pursuing: the very thing which is now the cause to me and to you, to you of coming to me and sitting and hearing, and to me of saying what I do say. And what is this? Is it any other than our will to do so?
— No other.
But if we had willed otherwise, what else should we have been doing than that which we willed to do? This then was the cause of Achilles’ lamentation, not the death of Patroclus; for another man does not behave thus on the death of his companion; but it was because he chose to do so. And to you this was the very cause of your then running away, that you chose to do so; and on the other side, if you should (hereafter) stay with her, the reason will be the same. And now you are going to Rome because you choose; and if you should change your mind, you will not go thither. And in a word, neither death nor exile nor pain nor anything of the kind is the cause of our doing anything or not doing; but our own opinions and our wills (δόγματα). Do I convince you of this or not?
— You do convince me.
— Such then as the causes are in each case, such also are the effects. When then we are doing anything not rightly, from this day we shall impute it to nothing else than to the will (δόγμα or opinion) from which we have done it: and it is that which we shall endeavour to take away and to extirpate more than the tumours and abscesses out of the body. And in like manner we shall give the same account of the cause of the things which we do right; and we shall no longer allege as causes of any evil to us, either slave or neighbour, or wife or children, being persuaded, that if we do not think things to be what we do think them to be, we do not the acts which follow from such opinions; and as to thinking or not thinking, that is in our power and not in externals.
— It is so, he said.
— From this day then we shall inquire into and examine nothing else, what its quality is, or its state, neither land nor slaves nor horses nor dogs, nothing else than opinions.
— I hope so.
— You see then that you must become a Scholasticus, an animal whom all ridicule, if you really intend to make an examination of your own opinions: and that this is not the work of one hour or day, you know yourself.
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