A Syllogistic Crime

Why do we remain indolent, negligent, and sluggish? Why do we seek excuses for not working and not being careful in cultivating our reason? "If I make a mistake in an argument it is not as if I killed my father!" Slave, where was there a father in this matter that you could kill him? What, then, have you done? The only fault that was possible here is the fault which you have committed. I made the very same mistake when Rufus blamed me for not having discovered the one thing omitted in a certain syllogism: "I suppose," I said, "that I have burnt the Capitol." "Slave," he replied, "was the thing omitted here the Capitol?"

Are these the only crimes, to burn the Capitol and to kill your father? For a man to see what has been presented to him rashly and foolishly and carelessly, and not to understand argument, nor demonstration, nor sophism, nor, in a word, to see in questioning and answering what is consistent with that which we have granted or is not consistent, there is error in this as well.

It is because of this battle of wits, this clash that every person of faith inevitably goes through with a skeptic, that we must prepare ourselves. "So what if we make a mistake in our logic? So what if we can't hold our own in an argument? It is not as if we have committed murder," you may ask. Epictetus deals with this excuse in his own sharp manner. He says that murder has nothing to do with it. There are errors and faults other than murder (although less grievous). Epictetus goes on to tell of his own experience when he was a student under Rufus and asked a similar question in a similar circumstance. Epictetus said that it was not as if he had "burned the capitol (Rome)". (This is, of course, a reference to the great fire that destroyed Rome in the early 60s A.D. Epictetus, as well as Paul the Evangelist, were probably present during this conflagration. Ultimately, the blame fell on the Emperor Nero who wanted to expand his palace and is thought to have started the fire to conveniently clear out neighboring mansions. Meanwhile, he accused and executed thousands of Christians to deflect attention from himself.)

No, it is not a crime to be unprepared for a philosophical discussion. Nevertheless, it is unwise, and the person who does not prepare himself does himself a disservice. The thrust of this chapter is to remind us that we will at some point in the journey of our faith be intellectually challenged. As seekers of truth, we must be ready to sift through the arguments and facts presented us. We must be ready to argue our point and vigorously defend the premises of our beliefs.

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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