Epictetus
Epictetus


CHAPTER 6: On Providence

Considering all that happens in the world, it is easy to praise Providence if a man possesses these two qualities, the faculty of seeing what is fitting coupled with a grateful disposition. If he does not possess these two qualities, a man will not see the use of things which exist and which occur. Another will not be thankful for them, even if he does know them. If God had made colors, but had not made the faculty of seeing them, what would have been their use? Colors would have had no use at all. On the other hand, if He had made the faculty of vision, but had not made objects such as to fall under the faculty, what in that case also would have been the use of it? None at all. Well, suppose that He had made both, but had not made light? In that case, also, they would have been of no use. Who is it, then, who has fitted this to that and that to this? And who is it that has fitted the knife to the case and the case to the knife? Is it no one? And, indeed, from the very structure of things which have attained their completion, we are accustomed to show that the work is certainly the act of some artificer, and that it has not been constructed without a purpose.

But God did make some things that we cannot perceive directly with our senses. For example, he created radio waves. We do not see these with our eyes or hear them with our ears. Yet we have developed radios that allow us to hear music, news, weather, sports and commentary using this medium. But the existence of such things as radio waves in no way takes away from Epictetus's argument here. The fact is: we have found a purpose for such things. Just as the artisan, in the example given above, has made a sheath for a knife, so we have made radars, radios and microwaves to make use of radio waves. God did not create knives, He gave us metal to shape into knives. In the same way the great Artificer developed ears, eyes, noses, etc. Epictetus wants us to understand that such things could not be made randomly. They must have been thought through by someone and this someone we call God.

Chapter 6:

  1. On Providence
  2. The Workman (6a)
  3. The Rational Facility (6b)
  4. Backyard Magnificence (6c)
  5. Exercise Your Will! (6d)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

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