Saturday, November 12, 2005

Encheiridion 41

It is a mark of the talentless that they devote much of their time to matters pertaining to the body. They exercise a great deal, they eat and drink a lot, they spend a lot of time in the bathroom, or else engaging in sex. In truth, these are things that should be done in passing, and we should turn our attention completely to the care of our souls.

Once again we are told that the pursuit of externals like health & fitness are unimportant matters, to be granted attention only grudgingly. Elsewhere Epictetus is a little more accommodating to health and fitness when he acknowledges that some special roles, such as that of the Cynic preacher, absolutely require a healthy, fit body to sell the Cynic's gospel.

But consider: isn't it a fact that health and fitness are pretty universal requirements of most of the roles we wish to undertake in our life? An unfit, unhealthy person is simply unable to take up many occupations or engage in many activities. The civic duties he can perform are limited. Even his domestic capacities are limited. And the fiction of a healthy mind in an unhealthy body is fallacy of an antiquated, scientifically untenable mind-body dualism. We know that the mind is in no way independent of the decline & diseases of the body.

So it would seem that health & fitness are necessary conditions of the virtuous human life Epictetus recommends, and not incidentals or adornments. We must earnestly pursue these externals if we are to claim a life worth living and not become derelict in the duties & roles we try to undertake.

That is the argument I would return to Epictetus with a recommendation: put down the damn book on syllogisms, philosopher, and get up and go to the gym.


Blogger Henry Jones said...

>>>Once again we are told that the pursuit of externals like health & fitness are unimportant matters<<<

And once again you are setting up a straw man and applying criticisms to a position that Epictetus does not hold.

Epictetus does not say that health and fitness are 'unimportant', but that taking care of the body is something that should be 'done in passing' – not obsessively, or as something more important than anything else. Or perhaps you think it would have been acceptable for the father who fled the house when his daughter was seriously ill (Discourses 1.11) if he had been going out for his morning run, intending never to waver from his strict exercise regime.

6:43 AM  

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