Friday, November 11, 2005

One of the themes I wish to pursue here is the compatibility of Epictetus' disvaluing of externals with his insistence that we take on and fulfill the roles appropriate to us given our human nature and our individual characters.

Many discussions in the Discourses touch on this issue. For example, III.26, entitled "To those who are afraid of want." Suppose a man has undertaken the natural role of a parent and finds himself unable to provide proper food & housing for his family. I can endure inflicting hunger upon myself, Epictetus imagines him worrying, '" but my family too will starve!" Epictetus' response begins, outrageously, with "Well, what of it?" Poverty & hunger & destitution are not evils. Don't worry about it! Read the astonishingly dogmatic reply at III.26, 4-7.

The obvious problem is that the man who willingly undertook to be a husband & parent undertook to provide for his family's welfare. He pledged not to allow them to fall into destitution. To allow them to die for want of necessities seems egregiously derelict. Undertaking to be spouse & parent, he accepted the duty of providing these things for his family, and so of pursuing them. He has a duty to be focused on obtaining these externals. Since his family needs food & shelter & medical care, our parent needs to make money that can purchase them. Can we pretend that for such a man failing to pursue a reasonable amount of money is not an evil?

The world is different if one chooses to live the life of an anchorite ( or a wandering cynic), rejecting all the conventional roles of family and citizenship and occupation. No responsibilities attend such a life. But if one assumes any of the natural roles, misprizing externals is no longer an option. It is now shameful & disgraceful to neglect the externals like money and health and reputation that are essential to fulfilling those roles.

This is the kind of argument I would like to put to Epictetus and see what reply we would make. ( I know there are dogmatic grounds on which Stoics could reply here, but I seek a credible answer.)


Post a Comment

<< Home