Enchiridion XLVIII


The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person is that he never looks for either help or harm from himself, but only from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is that he looks to himself for all help or harm. The marks of a proficient are that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, accuses no one; says nothing concerning himself as being anybody or knowing anything. When he is in any instance hindered or restrained, he accuses himself; and if he is praised, he smiles to himself at the person who praises him; and if he is censured, he makes no defense. But he goes about with the caution of a convalescent, careful of interference with anything that is doing well but not yet quite secure. He restrains desire; he transfers his aversion to those things only which thwart the proper use of our own will; he employs his energies moderately in all directions; if he appears stupid or ignorant, he does not care; and, in a word, he keeps watch over himself as over an enemy and one in ambush.

Indeed on this model only one's self is one's proper enemy. The semblances outside cannot hurt you, not really; but you can hurt yourself, and badly, by doing wrong. If any of you actually read that novel I wrote, you'll recognize this principle: death cannot hurt you, but you can be hurt by life. Those parts that hurt you are the things you do that you shouldn't have done. 

Yet Epictetus' instruction here is in tension with an earlier description, from chapter V: "When, therefore, we are hindered or disturbed, or grieved, let us never impute it to others, but to ourselves—that is, to our own views. It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortunes; of one entering upon instruction, to reproach himself; and one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others nor himself." 

The tension is resolved if we accept this as degrees of mastery. It is the mark of a proficient to accuse himself if he is hindered or restrained; but the master reproaches no one, neither himself nor anyone else. The master takes the ride: he forgives everything, and he forgives others as he forgives himself. In this way the Stoic satisfies the most powerful commandments of a religion he did not share. 

No comments: