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What the rule of life is.

S some one was reading hypothetical propositions, Epictetus remarked that it was a rule in these to admit whatever was in accordance with the hypothesis, but much more a rule in life to do what was in accordance with nature. For, if we desire in every matter and on every occasion to conform to nature, we must on every occasion evidently make it our aim, neither to omit anything thus conformabley [p. 1086] nor to admit anything inconsistent. Philosophers, therefore, first exercise us in theory, which is the more easy task, and then lead us to the more difficult; for in theory there is nothing to hinder our following what we are taught, but in life there are many things to draw us aside. It is ridiculous, then, to say we must begin with these applications, for it is not easy to begin with the most difficult; and this excuse children should make to those parents who dislike that they should study philosophy. " Am I to blame then, sir, and ignorant of my duty, and of what is incumbent on me? If this is neither to be learned, nor taught, why do you find fault with me? If it is to be taught, pray teach me yourself; or, if you cannot, let me learn it from those who profess to understand it. For what think you; that I voluntarily fall into evil, and miss good? Heaven forbid ! What, then, is the cause of my faults? Ignorance. Are you not willing, then, that I should get rid of my ignorance? Who was ever taught the art of music, or navigation, by anger? Do you expect, then, that your anger should teach me the art of living? "

This, however, can properly be said only by one who is really in earnest. But he who reads these things, and applies to the philosophers, merely for the sake of showing, at some entertainment, that he understands hypothetical reasonings, what aim has he but to be admired by some senator, who happens [p. 1087] to sit near him? 1 Great possessions may be won by such aims as that, but what we hold as wealth passes there for folly. It is hard, therefore, to overcome by appearances, where vain things thus pass for great.

I once saw a person weeping and embracing the Knees of Epaphroditus, and deploring his hard fortune, that he had not more than 150,000 drachmae left. What said Epaphroditus then? Did he laugh at him, as we should do? No; but cried out with astonishment: " Poor man! How could you be silent under it? How could you bear it? "

The first step, therefore, towards becoming a philosopher is to be sensible in what state the ruling faculty of the mind is; for on knowing it to be weak, no person will immediately employ it in great attempts. But, for want of this, some who can scarce digest a crumb will yet buy and swallow whole treatises; and so they throw them up again, or cannot digest them; and then come colics, fluxes, and fevers. Such persons ought to consider what they can bear. Indeed, it is easy to convince an ignorant person, so far as concerns theory; but in matters relating to life, no one offers himself to conviction, and we hate those who have convinced us. Socrates used to say, that we ought not to live a life unexamined.2 [p. 1088]


1 This passage is omitted as inexplicable by Mrs. Carter. Schweighaeuser says, “Tentare interpretationem possum; praestare non possum.” A passage just below I also have omitted, as the text is admitted to be in a hopeless state.- H.

2 Plato, Apologia, i. 28. - H.

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