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How to apply general principles to particular cases.

What is the first business of one who studies philosophy? To part with self-conceit. For it is impossible for any one to begin to learn what he thinks that he already knows. We all go to the philosophers, talking at random upon negative and positive duties; good and evil; fair and base. We praise, [p. 1173] censure, accuse; we judge and dispute about fair and base enterprises. And yet for what do we go to the philosophers? To learn what we suppose ourselves not to know. And what is this? Propositions. We are desirous to hear what the philosophers say, for its elegance and acuteness; and some with a view only to gain. Now it is ridiculous to suppose that a person will learn anything but what he desires to learn; or make an improvement, in what he does not learn. But most are deceived, in the same manner as Theopompus, the orator, when he blames Plato for defining everything. "For," he says, "did none of us, before you, use the words 'good' and 'just;' or did we utter them as empty sounds, without understanding what each of them meant?" Why, who tells you, Theopompus, that we had not natural ideas and general principles as to each of these? But it is not possible to apply principles in detail, without having minutely distinguished them, and examined what details appertain to each. You may make the same objection to the physicians. For who of us did not use the words 'wholesome' and 'unwholesome,' before Hippocrates was born; or did we utter them as empty sounds? For we have some general conception of what is wholesome too, but we cannot apply it. Hence one says, let the patient abstain from meat; another, give it to him. One says, let him be bled; another, cup him. And what is the reason, but not being able to adapt the general conception of whole- [p. 1174] someness to particular cases? Thus, too, in life; who of us does not talk of good or evil, advantageous and disadvantageous; for who of us has not a general conception of each of these? But is it then a distinct and perfect one? Show me this.

" How shall I show it? "

Apply it properly in detail. Plato, to go no further, puts definitions under the general head of useful; but you, under that of useless. Can both of you be right? How is it possible? Again, does not one man adapt the general conception of good to riches; another not to riches, but to pleasure or health? In general, unless we who use words employ them vaguely, or without proper care in discrimination, why do we differ? Why do we wrangle? Why do we censure each other? But what occasion have I to mention this mutual contradiction? If you yourself apply your principles properly, how comes it to pass that you do not prosper? Why do you meet with any hindrance? Let us for the present omit our second point concerning the pursuits and the duties relative to them; let us omit the third too, concerning assent. I waive all these for you. Let us insist only on the first,1 which affords almost a sensible proof that you do not properly apply your principles. You desire what is possible in itself, and possible for you. Why then are you hindered? Why are you not in a prosperous way? You do not shrink [p. 1175] from the inevitable. Why then do you incur anything undesirable? Why are you unfortunate? When you desire anything, why does it not happen? When you do not desire it, why happens it? For this is the greatest proof of ill success and misery: "I desire something and it does not happen; and what is more wretched than I?" From such impatience Medea came to murder her own children, - a lofty action in this point of view alone, that she had a proper impression of what it was to fail of one's aim. "Thus I shall punish him who has injured and dishonored me; and what is so wicked a wretch good for? But how is this to be effected? I will murder the children; but that will be punishing myself. And what care I? " This is the error of a powerful soul. For she knew not where the fulfilment of our desires is to be found; that it is not to be had from without, nor by altering the appointment of things. Do not demand the man for your husband, and then nothing which you desire will fail to happen. Do not desire to keep him to yourself. Do not desire to stay at Corinth, and, in a word, have no will but the will of God, and who shall restrain you; who shall compel you, any more than Zeus? When you have such a guide, and conform your will and inclinations to his, why need you fear being disappointed? Fix your desire and aversion on riches or poverty; the one will be disappointed, the other incurred. Fix them on health. power, honors, your country, friends, children, - in [p. 1176] short, on anything beyond the control of your will, - you will be unfortunate. But fix them on Zeus, on the gods; give yourself up to these; let these govern; let your powers be ranged on the same side with these, and how can you be any longer unprosperous? But if, poor wretch, you envy, and pity, and are jealous, and tremble, and never cease a single day from complaining of yourself and the gods, why do you boast of your education? What education, man, - that you have learned syllogisms? Why do not you, if possible, unlearn all these, and begin again, convinced that hitherto you have not even touched upon the essential point? And for the future, beginning from this foundation, proceed in order to the superstructure; that nothing may happen which you do not wish, and that everything may happen which you desire. Give me but one young man who brings this intention with him to the school, who is a champion for this point, and says, " I yield up all the rest; it suffices me, if once I become able to pass my life free from hindrance and grief, to stretch out my neck to all events as freely, and to look up to Heaven as the friend of God, fearing nothing that can happen." Let any one of you show himself of such a disposition, that I may say, "Come into the place, young man, that is of right your own; for you are destined to be an ornament to philosophy. Yours are these possessions; yours these books; yours these discourses." Then, when he has [p. 1177] thoroughly mastered this first class, let him come to me again and say, "I desire indeed to be free from passion and perturbation; but I desire too, as a pious, a philosophic, and a diligent man, to know what is my duty to God, to my parents, to my relations, to my country, and to strangers." Come into the second class too; for this likewise is yours. " But I have now sufficiently studied the second class too; and I would willingly be secure and unshaken by error and delusion, not only when awake, but even when asleep; when warmed with wine; when diseased with the spleen." You are becoming as a god, man; your aims are sublime!

"Nay; but I, for my part, desire to understand what Chrysippus says, in his logical treatise of the Pseudomenos."2 Go hang yourself, pitiful man, with only such an aim as this! What good will it do you? You will read the whole, lamenting all the while; and say to others, trembling, "Do as I do. Shall I read to you, my friend, and you to me? You write amazingly well; and you very finely imitate the style of Plato; and you, of Xenophon; and you, of Antisthenes." And thus, having related your dreams to each other, you return again to the same state. Your desires and aversions, your pursuits, [p. 1178] your intentions, your resolutions, your wishes, and endeavors are just what they were. You do not so much as seek for one to advise you, but are offended when you hear such things as these, and cry, "An ill-natured old man! He never wept over me, when I was setting out, nor said, To what a danger are you going to be exposed? If you come off safe, child, I will illuminate my house. This would have been the part of a man of feeling." Truly it will be a mighty happiness if you do come off safe; it will be worth while to make an illumination. For you ought to be immortal and exempt from sickness, to be sure.

Throwing away, then, I say, this self-conceit, by which we fancy we have gained some knowledge of what is useful, we should come to philosophic reasoning as we do to mathematics and music; otherwise we shall be far from making any improvement, even if we have read over all the compends and commentaries, not only of Chrysippus, but of Antipater, and Archedemus too.


1 The topic of the Desires and Aversions. - C.

2 The " Pseudomenos " was a famous problem among the Stoics, and it is this. When a person says, lie, does he lie, or does he not? If he lies, he speaks truth; if he speaks truth, he lies. Chrysippus wrote six books upon it.- C.

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