Epictetus
Epictetus


Chapter 11: On Natural Affection

In this chapter we are treated to a fine example of what is known in philosophy as the Socratic Method. Basically, it comes in the form of a dialogue between a teacher and a student. By a series of questions and answers the student is led to the truth.

Jesus himself generally taught using a different method. He liked to speak in parables. Yet, He combines these two methods in an interesting way in Chapter 10 of Luke in the "Parable of the Good Samaritan". Jesus is asked by a teacher of the Law, "What must I do to receive eternal life?" In the ensuing discussion Jesus lets the teacher draw his own conclusions, which Jesus makes manifestly obvious by means of the parable (See Luke 10:25-37). He also frequently asked his disciples a question to make them think. For example in Luke 9:20 he asks, "Who do the crowds say I am?" When they answered, "John the Baptist" or "Elijah" or one of the prophets, He pointedly asked, "Who do YOU say I am?"

Unlike the pithy parables of Jesus, the Socratic Method often takes quite a long time to come to the point, and one is led through innumerable other points to get to it. This can be a drawback. We find this to be so as Epictetus questions a visiting magistrate.

When I was visited by one of the magistrates, I inquired of him about several particulars, and asked if he had children and a wife. The man replied that he had. Inquiring further, I asked how he felt under the circumstances. "Miserable," the man said. Then I asked him, "In what respect are you miserable?" For men do not marry and beget children in order to be wretched, but rather to be happy. "But I," the man replied, "am so wretched about my children that lately, when my little daughter was sick and was thought to be in danger, I could not endure to stay with her, but I left home till a person sent me news that she had recovered." Well then, I said, do you think that you acted right? "I acted naturally," the man replied. But convince me of this that you acted naturally, and I will convince you that everything which takes place according to nature takes place rightly. "This is the case," said the man, "with all or, at least, most fathers." I do not deny that, but the matter about which we are inquiring is whether such behavior is right. For in respect to this matter must we then say that tumors also come for the good of the body, because they do come naturally? Must we generally say that to do wrong is natural, because nearly all or at least most of us do wrong at some point in our lives? Show me then how your behavior is natural. "I cannot," he said; "but do you rather show me how it is not according to nature and is not rightly done.

This first paragraph sets the stage. The poor magistrate is put on the hot-seat for having run away when his daughter was ill. He did not return until she recovered from her illness. It is easy to imagine his distress. This was a time when any illness was likely to result in death.

When Epictetus asks the man to explain how his act was a natural one, the magistrate is left fumbling. He challenges Epictetus to show him that running away in this case was "unnatural".

Chapter 11:

  1. On Natural Affection
  2. The Sixth Sense - Conscience (11a)
  3. Good and Evil (11b)
  4. Lack of Fortitude (11c)
  5. We Control Our Own Actions (11d)
  6. The Devil Made Me Do It (11e)
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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