Enchiridion VIII


Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

This is another one of those sections that almost sounds like a Bible verse -- "Not my will, but Yours, Lord" -- but is that is coming out of a non-Christian tradition. To will that it be as it has been directed to be by the logos inherent in creation means, perhaps, aligning your free will with that of the divine. Perhaps; other wills may be at work in the world. 

A worthy project for an interested party would be to explore how this period of Hellenistic Roman society informed both traditions. We know that a certain amount of Greek philosophy made its way into John, at least; the spirit of the age may have shaped more than is apparent at first glance. 


james said...

IIRC some of the church fathers thought that the greeks learned a few things from the hebrew prophets.

I proof-read Zen Way Jesus Way for Tucker Callaway, and we discussed some parts of zen that seemed not quite logical. He pointed out that within its universe it was indeed logical, but it seemed to me then, and even more strongly now, that it is a very tiny universe.

Stoicism seems the same: avoid pain and hard questions by giving up desire and the possibility of knowledge.

Grim said...

I was saying, in the discussion on an earlier entry, that philosophy shouldn’t be approached as lessons to be learned. You’re free to reject any of it; the point (I think) is to learn to be able to think in different ways, according to different models. That they aren’t yours is the point: that’s how you gain a genuinely alternative perspective from which to reason cleanly. If you have nowhere else to stand, you can’t tell if your native perspective is hopelessly biased; but if you can see from at least two angles, you can judge more wisely.

That said, I don’t think the Stoic would accept that they are giving up opportunities for knowledge. Desire, certainly. Knowledge is one of their core interests; but they have a criticism (beginning with Socrates’) about what kinds of knowledge are real and what claims to knowledge are likely to be illusory. Knowledge of semblances (as Epictetus puts it) is suspicious, although knowledge of crafts can be reasonably secure— and craft knowledge is usually about the creation of semblances (like shoes). Knowledge of virtue is often suspect, even though that should lie properly within our power.

You might want to say that they’re giving up knowledge based on experiences, like ‘knowledge of what it is like to suffer.’ I’m not sure they would agree. I think they might say that they know what it is to suffer more clearly, because they suffer only when it is really necessary. They do not suffer from illusions, for example, from worry over what might happen but has not. (The Havamal also cautions you not to lie awake worrying, for ‘tomorrow comes and you are exhausted, but your problems are no better for the worrying.’ Better to rest and be fit to engage the problems tomorrow. Easily said! But something like that is the Stoic project.)

james said...

It's the "wish them to happen as they do happen" that seems to undercut the possibility of knowing "why." Virtue and its lack don't meet with their logical results. Ought I to wish that they should, or should I give up trying to understand why?

Christopher B said...

I went back to a comment Grim made on Enchiridion III in a similar conversation with Tom

Buddhism is actually much more radical in its claims; it wants you to detach from your mind, too. The ideal in Zen and Ch'an Buddhism is to stop thinking through meditation, in practice for detaching from the cycle of reincarnation -- to stop being, in other words.

Stoicism does not intend to eliminate your mind or your soul/spirit from existence. The similarities are striking, but the difference is fundamental.

I may be misinterpreting things but it seems to me that the essence of Stoicism is always questioning your experiences and reactions. Am I reacting to something real or a semblance? Is this action appropriate or necessary? "Don't wish" isn't "avoid understanding" as much as it is "manage your expectations and reactions". As in Enchiridion V "Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things."

Tom said...

I don't know that wishing for things to happen the way they do happen means giving up understanding why they happen. Although I can do nothing to change the path or appearance of the moon, it's interesting to know why the moon moves around the earth as it does and why it has its phases.

What I don't understand is "wish". I would normally think of this as "accept" -- accept things as they do happen rather than wishing for them to happen otherwise.

With Christians, there is an aspect of uniting our will to God's, even if we don't understand God's will. We trust that when we act according to God's will God will use our actions to bring about good, even if we never understand what good that is or even live to see that good.

How does Epictetus's logos compare? Without the divine, it seems merely fatalistic -- Things happen. Don't get hung up on it.

Elise said...

My interpretation of the statement from the Enchiridion is along the lines of: Don't worry about getting what you want; instead, want what you get. It does not have to be about aligning my will with that of God but simply about accepting reality as it comes.

“My happiness is that I appreciate what I have and do not excessively want what I don’t have.”
-Leon Tolstoy-

(Although I don't know if a Stoic would be concerned with happiness.)

Grim said...


I don't think there's anything in wishing that assumes a causal role. It's magical thinking -- which the Stoics are not engaged in -- if you say, "It happened thus because I wished it so," and then just try to align your wishing with whatever happens. That's definitely not what they're doing.

Part of this issue may arise because the Enchiridion is not laying out the arguments; it is a manual of propositions that the Stoics came to considered settled. You get the process of philosophy in other Stoic works. The basic idea is that we do not get to choose what happens to us, but that we ought to treat whatever world we find ourselves in as one that is worthy of having been chosen. That's a striking proposition -- it could be a world in which we are imprisoned by a tyrannical government, or a world like Epictetus' in which one is a slave, or a world in which a volcano exploded and killed our family. Yet the alternative, you'll see quickly, is despair: if the world in which you find yourself is not worthy of living in, then suicide seems as virtuous an option as other forms of engagement. (And indeed, Romans did at times kill themselves out of a sense of virtue and to avoid other ends they considered worse.)

That does not, however, entail not studying causes of things. Epictetus is not advocating against studying biology or vulcanism; he is arguing against despair, and in favor of accepting the world that is presented to us and engaging it according to our internal sense of virtue and reason.

Grim said...

Christopher B:

I think that is on track. You don't get to choose what happens to you, but you do get to choose how you react to it -- both in terms of controlling your internal emotional state, and in terms of what you do facing outwards. How you react to the world thus becomes a matter of great importance.

Grim said...


How does Epictetus's logos compare? Without the divine, it seems merely fatalistic -- Things happen. Don't get hung up on it.

The Greeks and Romans aren't atheists. They very much believe in the divine. There is a question about where the logos fits in with the divine in terms of priority. Socrates raises this question: Do the gods love what is just because it is just, or is the just what it is because the gods love it?

That turns out to be a harder question than it might look like. If the former, then the logos has priority over the gods. If the latter, then the gods are defining what is just by their sentiments -- and that is a problem if the gods are as the Greek stories make them out, a point that Plato belabors at length (and which you probably remember from our reading of the Laws last year).

If the logos has priority, too, where does it come from if not the gods?

Yet the one thing that they don't doubt is that the logos is just, in much the same way that the Christians believe it is. The question is how it is grounded, to put it in contemporary terms. Is it grounded in divine will or the nature of the gods; or is it grounded in something more fundamental and basic to reality, something the gods themselves cannot defy?

Tom said...

Have you read Roger Zelazy's Chronicles of Amber?

It's popular fiction, but brings up a lot of philosophical questions along the way. At one pole of the universe (where there are many worlds) is the Pattern that provides order for the universe. Interestingly, at the other pole is the Logrus, which provides chaos for the universe. The more I learn about philosophy the more I see tidbits Zelazny included in his fictional universe.

J Melcher said...

The basic idea is that we do not get to choose what happens to us, but that we ought to treat whatever world we find ourselves in as one that is worthy of having been chosen.

"... [I]f you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio nuts."

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden."

Grim said...

I have not read him, Tom.

Here is a relevant piece on grief as an exercise in philosophy and learning, linked with a question about why philosophers -- East and West, including the Stoics -- have often been hostile to it.


Tom said...

Zelazny's a fun read. The books are not by any means a deep exploration, but they bring up philosophical questions in an intriguing fantasy setting. Of course, I haven't read them in a couple of decades, so you're getting an old view of them. Maybe I should re-read them before I recommend them.

Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

Grim said...

Well, if you want to read relevant philosophical books, Candide -- mentioned by J. Melcher above -- was beloved by Kant, who was plainly influenced by the Stoics.