September 27, 2017 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Book Excerpts ||

Become Skillful in Correcting Contradictions (Epictetus’ Discourses in Plain English II.26)

Chuck Chakrapani

Key ideas of this discourse

People indulge in contradictory actions only because they don’t know they are being contradictory and believe what they do is right.
If you point out their contradiction, they will change.
If they remain unconvinced, it means that you are not skilled enough to show them their contradiction.

People who err do so because they are not aware of it

Every error involves a contradiction. Someone who commits an error doesn’t want to do so but want to act correctly. Clearly then he is not doing what he wants. What does a thief want to get? Something that would benefit him. If theft is not to his benefit, then he isn’t doing what he wants. Now every rational mind is against contradiction. But as long as you don’t realize that you are involved in a contradiction, there is nothing that stops you from being contradictory. When you come to realize it, you have no choice but give it up and avoid it. Out of bitter necessity, you are forced to give up what is false as soon as you realize it is false, even though you held on to it as true when you didn’t know any better.

Someone skilled in argument, one who can support and disprove, will be able to show others their contradiction that causes them to err; and show that, in reality, they are not doing what they want. If this is made clear to them, they would correct their error; but if you don’t convince them, don’t be surprised if they continue to do what they do because they believe it is right. This is the reason why Socrates said:

“I’m not in the habit of calling another witness to speak in support of what I am saying, but I always remain satisfied with the person who is engaging in discussion with me, and call on his vote and summon him as witness, so that he alone suffices for me in the place of others.” [Based on Xenophon’s Memorabilia, III.9.8. Robin Hard’s rendition.]

Socrates knew how to move a rational mind. It is like a balance and it will move, whether one likes it or not. Sh(ow our ruling rational faculty a contradiction, it will give it up. But if you fail to do so, blame yourself, not the person who remains unconvinced.

Think about this

Every rational mind is by nature averse to contradiction. But as long as someone fails to realize that he is involved in a contradiction, there is nothing to prevent him from carrying out contradictory actions. Discourses II.26.3. Epictetus [RH]