May 24, 2017 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Book Excerpts ||

External Things Are Of No Value (Discourses In Plain English I.23)

Chuck Chakrapani

Key ideas of this Discourse

  1. Epicurus discourages people from bringing up children or participating in politics. This is because he has identified our good with external things.
  2. We are social beings. Affection between parents and children is natural. So is our involvement in the political process.
  3. It does not make sense for human beings, who are naturally social, to live like unsocial flies.Epicurus’ mistake: Placing value on external things.

Even Epicurus realizes that, by nature, we are social beings. But once he has placed our good in what is merely our shell, he cannot say anything that is not in line with it. He further insists – rightly so – that we should not accept or respect anything that is removed from the nature of good.

Questions for Epicurus
  • How can we be social beings if we don’t have natural affection for our children?
  • Why do you, Epicurus, discourage a wise man from bringing up children?
  • Why are you afraid that, upon their arrival, a wise man will become unhappy?
  • Are you anxious on behalf of your house-slave Mouse? What is it to you?
We are social beings

Epicurus knows that, once a child is born, it is impossible for us not to love and care for it. That’s why he also says that a wise man will not take part in politics either. He knows political affairs involve personal connections. Well, if you want to live like flies among humans, what stops you? Not even a sheep or a wolf deserts its offspring. He knows all this and yet has the audacity to say, “Let’s not bring up children.” Not even a sheep or a wolf deserts its offspring; should a human being?

What do you want? To be as foolish as sheep or as savage as wolves, neither of them abandon its young? Tell me, who would take your advice if they saw their little child fallen on the floor and crying? Personally, I think that your parents, even if they had known you were going to say such things, would not have gotten rid of you.

Think about this

[W]e must not respect or approve anything that does not share in the nature of what is good. Discourses I.23.2 Epictetus (RD)