Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 8

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


That the reasoning faculties, in the case of the uneducated, are not free from error

In as many ways as it is possible to vary the meaning of equivalent terms, in so many ways may a man also vary the forms of his controversial arguments and of his enthymemes[1] in reasoning. Take this syllogism, for instance: If you have borrowed and have not repaid, you owe me the money; now you have not borrowed and have not repaid; therefore you do not owe me the money. And no man is better fitted to employ such variations skilfully than the philosopher. For if, indeed, the enthymeme is an incomplete syllogism, it is clear that he who has been exercised in the perfect syllogism would be no less competent to deal with the imperfect also.

Why, then, do we neglect to exercise ourselves and one another in this way? 5Because, even now, without receiving exercise in these matters, or even being, by me at least, diverted from the study of morality, we nevertheless make no progress toward the beautiful and the good. What, therefore, must we expect, if we should take on this occupation also? And especially since it would not merely be an additional occupation to draw us away from those which are more necessary, but would also be an exceptional excuse for conceit and vanity. For great is the power of argumentation and persuasive reasoning, and especially if it should enjoy excessive exercise and receive likewise a certain additional ornament from language. The reason is that, in general, every faculty which is acquired by the uneducated and the weak is dangerous for them, as being apt to make them conceited and puffed up over it. For by what device might one any longer persuade a young man who excels in these faculties to make them an appendage to himself instead of his becoming an appendage to them? 10Does he not trample all these reasons under foot, and strut about in our presence, all conceited and puffed up, much less submitting if any one by way of reproof reminds him of what he lacks and wherein he has gone astray?

What then? Was not Plato a philosopher? Yes, and was not Hippocrates a physician? But you see how eloquently Hippocrates expresses himself. Does Hippocrates, then, express himself so eloquently by virtue of his being a physician? Why, then, do you confuse things that for no particular reason have been combined in the same man? Now if Plato was handsome and strong, ought I to sit down and strive to become handsome, or become strong, on the assumption that this is necessary for philosophy, because a certain philosopher was at the same time both handsome and a philosopher? Are you not willing to observe and distinguish just what that is by virtue of which men become philosophers, and what qualities pertain to them for no particular reason? Come now, if I were a philosopher, ought you to become lame like me? What then? Am I depriving you of these faculties? 15Far be it from me! No more than I am depriving you of the faculty of sight. Yet, if you enquire of me what is man's good, I can give you no other answer than that it is a kind of moral purpose.


  1. An enthymeme is defined by Aristotle (Rhet. 1. i. 11) as "a rhetorical demonstration," that is, an argument expressed in ordinary literary style, not in the formal fashion of a syllogism. It is thus called an "incomplete syllogism" (§ 3 below), as falling short of the "definite proof" accorded by the syllogism.