A Serious Saturday: Epictetus on the Beginning of Philosophy

From Dissertationes ab Arriano Digestae, 2.11

What is the Beginning of Philosophy

The beginning of philosophy for those who approach it in the right way—by the front gate—is the acknowledgement of mankind’s weakness and inability to affect the most important things. We arrive in life possessing no inborn understanding of a right-angled triangle or a half-tone musical note, but we are taught these things through a specific technical approach; for this reason, those who do not know them do not think that they do. But, in contrast, who has arrived without some pre-implanted notion of right and wrong, noble and shameful, appropriate and inappropriate, what is fitting or chanced and what it is right to do or right not to do? This is why we all use this terms and try to harmonize our preconceptions with reality at each moment? “He has done well, as is right, or as not right. He has been unlucky, or lucky. He is unjust or just.” Who of us avoids these types of judgments? Who of us postpones their use until he has learned what they mean, as those who are ignorant of letters or syllables?….

….This is the beginning of philosophy—the acknowledgment of the struggle among men and the search for its origin and a condemnation and distrust of mere belief—a search of kinds whether a belief is kept correctly with the establishment of some kind of standard, as we have made for the balancing o weights or for figuring out whether a board is straight or crooked.”



ια′. Τίς ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας.

᾿Αρχὴ φιλοσοφίας παρά γε τοῖς ὡς δεῖ καὶ κατὰ θύραν ἁπτομένοις αὐτῆς συναίσθησις τῆς αὑτοῦ ἀσθενείας καὶ ἀδυναμίας περὶ τὰ ἀναγκαῖα. ὀρθογωνίου μὲν γὰρ τριγώνου ἢ διέσεως ἡμιτονίου οὐδεμίαν φύσει ἔννοιαν ἥκομεν ἔχοντες, ἀλλ’ ἔκ τινος τεχνικῆς παραλήψεως διδασκόμεθα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο οἱ μὴ εἰδότες αὐτὰ οὐδ’ οἴονται εἰδέναι. ἀγαθοῦ δὲ καὶ κακοῦ καὶ καλοῦ καὶ αἰσχροῦ καὶ πρέποντος καὶ ἀπρεποῦς καὶ εὐδαιμονίας καὶ προσήκοντος καὶ ἐπιβάλλοντος καὶ ὅ τι δεῖ ποιῆσαι καὶ ὅ τι οὐ δεῖ ποιῆσαι τίς  οὐκ ἔχων ἔμφυτον ἔννοιαν ἐλήλυθεν; διὰ τοῦτο πάντες χρώμεθα τοῖς ὀνόμασιν καὶ ἐφαρμόζειν πειρώμεθα τὰς προλήψεις ταῖς ἐπὶ μέρους οὐσίαις. καλῶς ἐποίησεν, δεόντως, οὐ δεόντως· ἠτύχησεν, εὐτύχησεν· ἄδικός ἐστιν, δίκαιός ἐστιν. τίς ἡμῶν φείδεται τούτων τῶν ὀνομάτων; τίς ἡμῶν ἀναβάλλεται τὴν χρῆσιν αὐτῶν μέχρι μάθῃ καθάπερ τῶν περὶ τὰς γραμμὰς ἢ τοὺς φθόγγους οἱ οὐκ εἰδότες;


῎Ιδ’ ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας· αἴσθησις μάχης τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ ζήτησις τοῦ παρ’ ὃ γίνεται ἡ μάχη καὶ κατάγνωσις καὶ ἀπιστία πρὸς τὸ ψιλῶς δοκοῦν, ἔρευνα δέ τις περὶ τὸ δοκοῦν εἰ ὀρθῶς δοκεῖ καὶ εὕρεσις κανόνος τινός, οἷον ἐπὶ βαρῶν τὸν ζυγὸν εὕρομεν, οἷον ἐπὶ εὐθέων καὶ στρεβλῶν τὴν στάθμην.



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