The End Proposed in Reasoning

What is the end proposed in reasoning? It is to establish true propositions, to remove the false, to withhold assent from those which are not plain. Is it enough then to have learned only this? "It is enough," a man may reply. Is it, then, also enough for a man, who would not make a mistake in the use of coined money, to have heard that he should accept the genuine drachmae and reject the counterfeit? "It is not enough." What, then, ought to be added to this precept? What else than the faculty which proves and distinguishes the genuine and the counterfeit drachmae? Consequently, reasoning what has been said is not enough. It is necessary that a man should acquire the faculty of examining and distinguishing the true and the false, and that which is not plain.

Not only is philosophic enquiry important. We may even call it necessary. This is because right actions can only be made if we have a proper understanding of a matter at hand. "Good intentions" are not enough. Good intentions must be coupled with an understanding of the effects of the actions they spawn. We may see the unintended consequences of good intentions in the frequent interference of government in the economy. For example, minimum wage laws meant to support the lowest level of society end out destroying jobs for young people and driving up the prices of items generally purchased by those already on minimum wage. This can create an inflation spiral that destroys the buying power of those on a fixed income, severely impacting senior citizens. If legislators really wished to help all classes of society, it would eliminate minimum wage altogether. Thus although it is true that it would be good if all people lived in plenty, further enquiry shows that the most obvious path to do this actually has negative consequences because it does not address the underlying conditions in an economy. Good intentions are proved to be shallow if people do not bother to investigate the ultimate effects "charity" has upon the people it was originally designed to benefit. So we see that a general truism must be coupled with specific understanding.

Chapter 7:

  1. On Sophistry
  2. The End Proposed in Reasoning (7a)
  3. Why Stoics Learn to Argue (7b)
  4. Granting Premises (7c)
  5. Inferences (7d)
  6. Wise Men Should Argue (7e)
  7. A Syllogistic Crime (7f)
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.

Biographical Information on Epictetus

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