Enchiridion VII


As in a voyage, when the ship is at anchor, if you go on shore to get water, you may amuse yourself with picking up a shellfish or a truffle in your way, but your thoughts ought [20]to be bent toward the ship, and perpetually attentive, lest the captain should call, and then you must leave all these things, that you may not have to be carried on board the vessel, bound like a sheep; thus likewise in life, if, instead of a truffle or shellfish, such a thing as a wife or a child be granted you, there is no objection; but if the captain calls, run to the ship, leave all these things, and never look behind. But if you are old, never go far from the ship, lest you should be missing when called for.

This sounds strongly Biblical, but it is not; it may well, however, be religious

Epictetus is typically considered the most religious of the Roman Stoics.... Here we see why the Stoic conception of Nature, derived from the study of physics and theology, is essential to understanding this holistic philosophical system. Both oikeiosis and theology fall under the topic of physics in Stoicism. Thus, whether the Stoics began with oikeiosis or theology, they grounded their ethical theory in physics—the study of nature.

...the Stoic divinity is immanent. As such, a fragment of the same logos that providentially orders the cosmos resides in us as our guiding principle (hegemonikon).

There is thus perhaps something similar in the imagery of the Captain calling you back to the ship as in Matthew's warning to always be ready for the call to judgment; there may even be something similar in the concept of being ready to leave your wife and child at call and Jesus' suggestion that you should be ready to abandon your father and family to follow him. The logos that orders the world is the touchstone of similarity here; the difference is in the conception of how that logos is expressed in the cosmos.

I think I would say that Epictetus' conception of the Captain is one of moral duty, which must be obeyed by the Stoic because it is his business. It is, indeed, his whole proper business to do the right thing, the virtuous thing, according to his rational understanding of what the right thing is. In this, too, he prefigures Kant's arguments. Perhaps, indeed, his version is better. 


Tom said...

Working through this here.

If the Captain is moral duty, and the voyage is life, I guess the ship is just an extension of the Captain.

What would it mean to be bound like a sheep and carried back aboard? If you are caught up in trifles and fail to respond when the Captain calls, it seems you would just get left behind, metaphorically abandoning your duty. Maybe you get eaten by islanders, if we want to add some form of punishment for this failure. But what does being nabbed by shore patrol and forced back aboard ship represent in this metaphor?

If you can't really escape the ship, then the ship isn't an extension of the Captain, unless moral duty is truly inescapable, but that seems to introduce new problems, like why write this down at all?

Grim said...

So, what normally happens if you refuse your moral duty? It could be nothing, but it is often that things come and compel you. If you refuse to pay a debt, the courts may do so; if you otherwise wrong a man or woman out of immorality, the police may come and put you in chains; if by action or inaction you insult someone, they may avenge the insult.