On the Faults People Will and Won’t Admit

Epictetus, Discourses Collected by Arrian, 2.21: On Inconsistency

“People admit some of their own faults easily, but not others. No one, for example, will agree that he is foolish or ignorant, but in complete contrast you will hear everyone saying that “I wish I were as lucky as I am prudent.” And they also easily accept that they are frightened when they say “I am rather timid, I agree, but you will not discover me to be a fool.” Someone will not admit he is powerless, completely unjust, envious or a busybody, but most will confess they feel pity.

What is the cause of this? The most powerful is inconsistency and a confusion of thought in matters concerning right and wrong, different faults to which different men will not admit whenever they sense they might be shameful. Being timid, for example, is something people believe is a mark of prudence; and pity is the same. But stupidity, well, men think that is a slave’s quality. Men will also never confess to sins against the common good.

In the case of most mistakes, men are comfortable with confessing to them because they believe that there is something involuntary in them, as in the case of timidity or pity. And if anyone does admit that he is powerless in his action, he offers lust as an explanation, proposing he should be pardoned as an involuntary actor.”

κα′. Περὶ ἀνομολογίας.
Τῶν περὶ αὑτοὺς κακῶν τὰ μὲν ῥᾳδίως ὁμολογοῦσιν ἄνθρωποι, τὰ δ’ οὐ ῥᾳδίως. οὐδεὶς οὖν ὁμολογήσει ὅτι ἄφρων ἐστὶν ἢ ἀνόητος, ἀλλὰ πᾶν τοὐναντίον πάντων
ἀκούσεις λεγόντων ‘ὤφελον ὡς φρένας ἔχω οὕτως καὶ τύχην εἶχον’. δειλοὺς δὲ ῥᾳδίως ἑαυτοὺς ὁμολογοῦσι καὶ λέγουσιν ‘ἐγὼ δειλότερός εἰμι, ὁμολογῶ· τὰ δ’ ἄλλ’
οὐχ εὑρήσεις με μωρὸν ἄνθρωπον’. ἀκρατῆ οὐ ῥᾳδίως ὁμολογήσει τις, ἄδικον οὐδ’ ὅλως, φθονερὸν οὐ πάνυ ἢ περίεργον, ἐλεήμονα οἱ πλεῖστοι. τί οὖν τὸ αἴτιον; τὸ
μὲν κυριώτατον ἀνομολογία καὶ ταραχὴ ἐν τοῖς περὶ ἀγαθῶν καὶ κακῶν, ἄλλοις δ’ ἄλλα αἴτια καὶ σχεδὸν ὅσα ἂν αἰσχρὰ φαντάζωνται, ταῦτα οὐ πάνυ ὁμολογοῦσι· τὸ δὲ δειλὸν εἶναι εὐγνώμονος ἤθους φαντάζονται καὶ τὸ ἐλεήμονα, τὸ δ’ ἠλίθιον εἶναι παντελῶς ἀνδραπόδου· καὶ τὰ περὶ κοινωνίαν δὲ πλημμελήματα οὐ πάνυ προσίενται. ἐπὶ δὲ τῶν πλείστων ἁμαρτημάτων κατὰ τοῦτο μάλιστα φέρονται ἐπὶ τὸ ὁμολογεῖν αὐτά, ὅτι φαντάζονταί τι ἐν αὐτοῖς εἶναι ἀκούσιον καθάπερ ἐν τῷ δειλῷ καὶ ἐλεήμονι. κἂν ἀκρατῆ που παρομολογῇ τις αὑτόν, ἔρωτα προσέθηκεν, ὥστε συγγνωσθῆναι ὡς ἐπ’ ἀκουσίῳ.

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