January 17, 2018 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Where You Train, There You Find Results
Key ideas of this discourse
- Don’t spend time on one thing and expect results elsewhere.
- A good person restricts his or her decisions to what is under their control. Such a person is invincible.
- People tend to gravitate towards their natural object.
Don’t spend your efforts on one thing and expect results in another
Someone asked Epictetus:
“How it is that, although more and more people are devoted to logic these days, more progress was made in the past?”
“On what are we spending more effort now? In what was the progress great then?”
If we spend more time on something at present, we will also find more progress at present. People are spending more time these days studying syllogism, and in that there is progress. But, in the past, they spent more time in keeping their choices in accordance with nature and in that there was progress. Therefore, do not substitute one for the other. Don’t spend your efforts on one thing and expect results in another. Rather, see if you can find a person who devotes his efforts to living their life keeping their choice in accordance with nature. Have they failed to make progress? You will not find anyone like that.
A good person cannot fail
A good person cannot be defeated. They do not enter into contests in which they are not superior. They say,
“If you want my country property, take it. Take my servants, take my office, and take my poor body. But you cannot stop me from getting what I want or force me to get what I don’t want.”
This is the only contest they would enter. How can they fail? How can they be defeated?
The meaning of “general perception”
“Epictetus, what is ‘general perception’?”
“When you hear a sound, it is general hearing. But when you distinguish between musical notes, it is no longer ‘general,’ but technical. There are things that people who are not altogether perverted can see because of their general faculties. Such mental condition is called ‘general perception.’”
We tend to gravitate towards our natural object
It is not easy to succeed with young men who are soft – you cannot hold soft cheese with a hook. But the gifted people, even if you try to turn them away, hold on to reason even more firmly.
[Musonius] Rufus, for the most part, tried to turn them away in order to distinguish the gifted from those who are not. He used to say, “just as it is with a stone which, by virtue of its nature, falls to Earth even when you throw it upwards, so it is with a gifted person. The more you try to beat him off, the more he inclines towards his natural object.”
Think about this
Do not confuse different things, nor when you devote your efforts to one thing, expect to make progress in another. Discourses III.6.4. Epictetus [CG/RH]