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PTypes Virtue and Vice Religion



Self-interest





"Everything that we engage in in daily life will further some project which in turn satisfies some interest we have" (Seddon, 2007, pg. 30).


Epictetus, Discourses 2.22.15-30

"It is a general rule—be not deceived—that every living thing is to nothing so devoted as to its own interest. Whatever, then, appears to it to stand in the way of this interest, be it a brother, or father, or child, or loved one, or lover, the being hates, accuses, and curses it. For its nature is to love nothing so much as its own interest; this to it is father and brother and kinsmen and God. When, for instance, we think that the gods stand in the way of our attainment of this, we revile even them, cast their statues to the ground, and burn their temples, as Alexander ordered the temples of Asclepius to be burned when his loved one died. For this reason, if a man puts together in one scale his interest and righteousness and what is honourable and country and parents and friends, they are all safe; but if he puts his interest in one scale, and in the other friends and country and kinsmen and justice itself, all these latter are lost because they are outweighed by his interest. For where one can say "I" and "mine," to that side must the creature perforce incline; if they are in the flesh, there must the ruling power be; if they are in the moral purpose, there must it be; if they are in externals, there must it be. If, therefore, I am where my moral purpose is, then, and then only, will I be the friend and son and the father that I should be. For then this will be my interest—to keep my good faith, my self-respect, my forbearance, my abstinence, and my co-operation, and to maintain my relations with other men. But if I put what is mine in one scale, and what is honourable in the other, then the statement of Epicurus assumes strength, in which he declares that 'the honourable is either nothing at all, or at best only what people hold in esteem'.

"It was through this ignorance that the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians quarreled, and the Thebans with both; and the great king quarreled with Hellas, and the Macedonians with both; and the Romans with the Getae. And still earlier the Trojan war happened for these reasons. Alexander was the guest of Menelaus; and if any man had seen their friendly disposition, he would not have believed any one who said that they were not friends. But there was cast between them a bit of meat, a handsome woman, and about her war arose. And now when you see brothers to be friends appearing to have one mind, do not conclude from this anything about their friendship, not even if they say it and swear that it is impossible for them to be separated from one another. For the ruling principle of a bad man cannot be trusted, it is insecure, has no certain rule by which it is directed, and is overpowered at different times by different appearances. But examine, not what other men examine, if they are born of the same parents and brought up together, and under the same pedagogue; but examine this only, wherein they place their interest, whether in externals or in the will. If in externals, do not name them friends, no more than name them trustworthy or constant, or brave or free: do not name them even men, if you have any judgment. For that is not a principle of human nature which makes them bite one another, and abuse one another, and occupy deserted places or public places, as if they were mountains, and in the courts of justice display the acts of robbers; nor yet that which makes them intemperate and adulterers and corrupters, nor that which makes them do whatever else men do against one another through this one opinion only, that of placing themselves and their interests in the things which are not within the power of their will. But if you hear that in truth these men think the good to be only there, where will is, and where there is a right use of appearances, no longer trouble yourself whether they are father or son, or brothers, or have associated a long time and are companions, but when you have ascertained this only, confidently declare that they are friends, as you declare that they are faithful, that they are just. For where else is friendship than where there is fidelity, and modesty, where there is a communion of honest things and of nothing else" (Discourses 2.22.15-30, trans. Long)?


"This is not a perverse self-regard, for the animal is constituted so as to do all things for itself. For even the sun does all things for itself; nay, even Zeus himself. But when he chooses to be the Giver of rain and the Giver of fruits, and the Father of gods and men, you see that he cannot obtain these functions and these names, if he is not useful to man; and, universally, he has made the nature of the rational animal such that it cannot obtain any one of its own proper interests, if it does not contribute something to the common interest. In this manner and sense it is not unsociable for a man to do everything, for the sake of himself. For what do you expect? that a man should neglect himself and his own interest? And how in that case can there be one and the same principle in all animals, the principle of attachment to themselves" (Discourses 1.19.11-15, trans. Long)?


"What then is education? Education is the learning how to adapt the natural precognitions to the particular things conformably to nature; and then to distinguish that of things some are in our power, but others are not; in our power are will and all acts which depend on the will; things not in our power are the body, the parts of the body, possessions, parents, brothers, children, country, and, generally, all with whom we live in society. In what, then, should we place the good? To what kind of things shall we adapt it? "To the things which are in our power?" Is not health then a good thing, and soundness of limb, and life? and are not children and parents and country? Who will tolerate you if you deny this?

"Let us then transfer the notion of good to these things. Is it possible, then, when a man sustains damage and does not obtain good things, that he can be happy? "It is not possible." And can he maintain toward society a proper behavior? He cannot. For I am naturally formed to look after my own interest. If it is my interest to have an estate in land, it is my interest also to take it from my neighbor. If it is my interest to have a garment, it is my interest also to steal it from the bath. This is the origin of wars, civil commotions, tyrannies, conspiracies. And how shall I be still able to maintain my duty toward Zeus? for if I sustain damage and am unlucky, he takes no care of me; and what is he to me if he allows me to be in the condition in which I am? I now begin to hate him. Why, then, do we build temples, why set up statues to Zeus, as well as to evil demons, such as to Fever; and how is Zeus the Saviour, and how the Giver of rain, and the Giver of fruits? And in truth if we place the nature of Good in any such things, all this follows.

"What should we do then? This is the inquiry of the true philosopher who is in labour. "Now I do not see what the Good is nor the Bad. Am I not mad? Yes." But suppose that I place the good somewhere among the things which depend on the will: all will laugh at me. There will come some grey-head wearing many gold rings on his fingers and he will shake his head and say, "Hear, my child. It is right that you should philosophize; but you ought to have some brains also: all this that you are doing is silly. You learn the syllogism from philosophers; but you know how to act better than philosophers do." Man, why then do you blame me, if I know? What shall I say to this slave? If I am silent, he will burst. I must speak in this way: "Excuse me, as you would excuse lovers: I am not my own master: I am mad."" (Discourses 1.22.9-21, trans. Long).


"For the origin of perturbation is this, to wish for something, and that this should not happen. Therefore if I am able to change externals according to my wish, I change them; but if I cannot, I am ready to tear out the eyes of him who hinders me. For the nature of man is not to endure to be deprived of the good, and not to endure the falling into the evil. Then, at last, when I am neither able to change circumstances nor to tear out the eyes of him who hinders me, I sit down and groan, and abuse whom I can, Zeus and the rest of the gods. For if they do not care for me, what are they to me? "Yes, but you will be an impious man." In what respect then will it be worse for me than it is now? To sum up, remember this that unless piety and your interest be in the same thing, piety cannot be maintained in any man. Do not these things seem necessary" (Discourses 1.27.10-14, trans. Long)?



Ulysses G.B. Pierce (1916). The Creed of Epictetus (Part 1): The Indwelling God
http://www.geocities.com/stoicvoice/journal/0700/up0700b1.htm

Keith Seddon (2007).Stoic Serenity: A Practical Course on Finding Inner Peace. United Kingdom: Lulu.com.

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