Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Discourse II.2 " On Tranquillity"

Consider this, you who are about to apear in court [ or in any other arena of competition & conflict ], what do you wish to preserve and in what do wish to succeed? If you wish to keep your choices aligned with nature,..and if you wish to preserve what is in your power,...and if you wish to be a man of honor & trust, who can prevent you?...But if you wish to preserve your externals as well, your body or property or reputation, I advise you to make every kind of preparation...

My editing of Discourses II.2. 1-14 is somewhat draconic , so reread the complete text as you consider this. The question I'd like to pose is this: Why do we bother to engage in business & legal disputes & other contests at all? Our purpose must be to secure or defend some externals ( such as property), things thought to be good or at least choiceworthy. Otherwise, if nothing of value is at stake, why don't we just avoid all such entanglements and focus solely on improving our inner life?

Acquiring or preserving externals, then, is the reason why we do much of what we do. We clearly value externals such as life and health and reputation. Is where we go wrong, on the Stoic view, not in valuing but in overvaluing externals? Is our error to be wish to preserve some externals above all or at all costs?

We might wish to ascribe this more reasonable view to Epictetus, but the Greek in this passage says literally " if you wish to preserve externals as well [KAI TA EKTOS]".


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