Monday, November 14, 2005

Discouses I. 12, 32-34

Why do you not give thanks to the gods that they…have rendered you accountable only for what is your control? They have discharged from all accountability for parents and for your brothers, for your body and property and life & death. For what have they made you accountable? For what is alone in your power, the proper reaction to what you experience.

Remember the narrow compass for Epictetus of what it in my power. Only what I wish for and believe and choose are in my power. So I am responsible, it seems, only for coming to desire the right things and coming to believe the right things and making the right choices.

But suppose I have assumed the role of a parent and my daughter falls ill. One day a doctor calls me up and says “your daughter needs an expensive medical treatment and you are not insured. Can you raise $25,000? Otherwise she may become permanently handicapped.”
What is the right choice here?
I hear the father saying “I would gladly write that check if I could, doctor, but, you see, I’m poor and we don’t even have $500 in the bank. Oh yes, I could have gone to work for that insurance company and gotten good health insurance and a decent salary, but I’m a philosopher, you see, not a clerk.”

Do we excuse the father’s dereliction here? He would make the right choice if he could. But he can’t, because he lacks the resources to look after his family. He could have pursued externals like insurance and savings, but he didn’t, and because he didn’t, he is now not in a position to help his daughter. He would save her if he could, but doesn't that seems a pathetic excuse? He can’t because he failed to pursue & secure resources adequate to address his family’s medical needs. He was responsible for doing so.


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