The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
Since it is reason which makes all other things articulate and complete, and reason itself must be analysed and made articulate, what is it that shall effect this? Plainly, reason itself or something else. That something else either is reason or it will be something superior to reason, which is impossible. If it is reason, who again will analyse that reason? For if it
analyses itself, so can the reason with which we started. If we are going to call in something else, the process will be endless and unceasing.
'Yes,' says one, 'but the more pressing need is not logic but the discipline of men's thoughts and feelings', and the like.
If you want to hear about moral improvement, well and good. But if you say to me, 'I do not know whether you argue truly or falsely', and if I use an ambiguous word and you say to me 'distinguish', I shall grow impatient and say to you, 'this is the more pressing need.' It is for this reason, I suppose, that men put the processes of logic in the forefront, just as we put the testing of the measure before the measuring of the corn. And if we do not determine first what is the bushel and what is the scale, how shall we be able to measure or weigh anything? So in the sphere of thought if we have not fully grasped and trained to perfection the instrument by which we judge other things and understand other things, shall we ever be able to arrive at accurate knowledge? Of course, it is impossible.
'Yes,' they say, 'but the bushel is a mere thing of wood and bears no fruit.'
True, but it can measure corn.
'The processes of logic, too, are unfruitful.'
This we will consider presently: but even if one should concede this, it is enough that logic has the power to analyse and distinguish other things and in fact, as one might say, has the power to weigh and measure. Who asserts this? Is it only Chrysippus and Zeno and Cleanthes? Does not Antisthenes agree? Why, who is it that has written, 'The beginning of education is the analysis of terms'? Does not Socrates too say the same? Does not Xenophon write of him that he began with the analysis of terms, to discover what each means?
Is this then what you call great and admirable—to understand or interpret Chrysippus? Nay, no one says that. What is admirable then? To understand the will of Nature. Very well: do you understand it of yourself? If so, what more do you need? For if it is true that all error is involuntary and you have learnt the truth, you must needs do rightly hereafter.
'But,' you may say, 'I do not understand the will of Nature.'
Who then expounds it? They say 'Chrysippus.' I come and inquire what this interpreter of Nature says. I begin not to understand what he means and I seek some one to interpret. The interpreter says, 'Let us examine the sense of this phrase, as if it were Latin.'
Why, pray, should the interpreter put on airs? Even Chrysippus has no right to do so, if he is only expounding the will of Nature, and does not follow it himself: how much less his interpreter. For we have no need of Chrysippus for his own sake, but only to enable us to follow
[paragraph continues] Nature: just as we have no need, for himself, of the priest who offers sacrifice, but because we think that through him we shall understand the signs which the gods give of the future, nor do we need the sacrifice for itself, but because through it the sign is given, nor do we marvel at the crow or the raven but at God who gives His signs by them.
So I come to this interpreter and priest and say, 'Examine the victim's flesh to see what sign is given me.' He takes and opens the flesh and interprets, 'Man, you have a will unhindered and unconstrained by nature. This is written here in the flesh of the sacrifice. I will show you the truth of it first in the sphere of assent. Can any one prevent you from agreeing to what is true? No one. Can any one compel you to accept the false? No one. Do you see that in this sphere your faculty is free from let and hindrance and constraint and compulsion? Is it any different in the sphere of will and impulse? What, I ask, can overcome impulse except another impulse? And what can overcome the will to get or will to avoid except another will to get or to avoid?'
'If he threatens me with death,' one says, 'he compels me.'
No, it is not what he threatens you with which compels you, but your decision that it is better to do what you are bidden than to die. Once more then it is your own judgement which compels you—that is, will puts pressure on will. For if God had so created that portion of His own being which He has taken from Himself and given to us, that it could suffer hindrance or compulsion from another, He would cease to be God and to care for us as He must needs do. 'This', says the priest, 'is what I find in the sacrifice: this is God's sign to you: if you will, you are free: if you will, you will blame no one, you will accuse no one: everything shall be in accordance with your own mind and the mind of God.'
This is the prophecy which draws me to consult this seer and philosopher, and his interpretation makes me admire not him but the truths which he interprets.