CHAPTER 11 (cont. c): Lack of Fortitude
Does affection to those of your family appear to you to be according to nature and to be good? "Certainly, it does." Well, is such affection natural and good? Also, is a thing consistent with reason not good? "By no means," the magistrate said. Is then that which is consistent with reason in contradiction with affection? "I think not." You are right, for if it is otherwise, it is necessary that one of the contradictions being according to nature, the other must be contrary to nature. Is it not so? "It is," he said.
Whatever, then, is at the same time affectionate and also consistent with reason, we should confidently declare to be right and good. The magistrate agreed. Well then, to leave your sick child and to go away is not reasonable, and I suppose that you will not say that it is. But it remains for us to inquire if it is consistent with affection. "Yes, let us consider." Since you had an affectionate disposition to your child, do you consider it right when you ran off and left her? Has the mother no affection for the child? "Certainly, she has." Ought, then, the mother also to have left her, or ought she not? "She ought not." And the nurse, does she love her? "She does." Ought, then, she also to have left her? "By no means should she have left." And her tutor, does she not love her? "She does love her." Ought, then, she also to have deserted her? Eventually the child would have been left alone and without help on account of the great affection of you, the parents, and of those about her. Perhaps you believe that she should have died in the hands of those who neither loved her nor cared for her? "Certainly not." Now this is unfair and unreasonable, not to allow those who have equal affection with yourself to do what you think to be proper for yourself to do because you have affection. It is absurd. Come then, if you were sick, would you wish your relations to be so affectionate, and all the rest, children and wife, to leave you alone and deserted? "By no means." And would you wish to be so loved by your own family that through their excessive affection you would always be left alone in sickness? For this reason would you rather pray, if it were possible, to be loved by your enemies and deserted by them? But if this is so, it results that your behavior was not at all an affectionate act.
Humor, the surprising turn of an idea, is interlaced throughout the Discourses. Here Epictetus shows the magistrate that his actions are more desirous in an enemy than in a friend. Remember the modern catch-phrase, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" Epictetus turns it into "If only my enemies would act as this friend!"
The intent of this cross-examination of the magistrate by Epictetus is to show the magistrate the error of his ways. Most Christians would agree that the man's lack of fortitude was not to be condoned, but can understand his feelings of fear and apprehension. Yet his actions were wrong, and obviously so. Jesus gave us a simple litmus test when gauging our own behavior when he said, (Mark 12:33)"Treat your neighbor as you yourself would be treated." Epictetus alludes to this method when he says," Would you wish to be so loved by your own that through their excessive affection you would be left alone in sickness?" The statement is mildly sarcastic, a tone of which Epictetus was inordinately fond.
Stoicism and Christianity Index
- On Natural Affection
- The Sixth Sense - Conscience (11a)
- Good and Evil (11b)
- Lack of Fortitude (11c)
- We Control Our Own Actions (11d)
- The Devil Made Me Do It (11e)