Chrysippus, Epictetus, and wrongful devotion

Chrysippus died, we think, in 206 BCE. Diogenes Laertius says the cause of death was a fit of laughter. Though only fragments remain of his writings he is renowned to have written over 705 works. By the time Epictetus is exhorting and Arrian is copying around the end of the first century CE Chrysippus’ status is now being used by ones who want to give appearance of making progress. So, Epictetus repeatedly challenges the study of Chrysippus as a way of imploring the devotee to what really matters.

An example: “What is the work of virtue? Serenity. Who, then, is making progress? The man who has read many treatises of Chrysippus? What, is virtue no more than this–to have gained a knowledge of Chrysippus? For if it is this, progress is confessedly nothing else than a knowledge of many of the works of Chrysippus. But now, while acknowledging that virtue produces one thing, we are declaring that the approach to virtue, which is progress, produces something else.” (Bk 1.4)

Can progress be made by reading? Certainly. Can progress be made only by reading? Woe! Are there books, the power of which, make unnecessary the hard work of progress toward virtue? Are their sages, heroes, divinities the claiming allegiance to can do anything to guarantee progress? No more than the devotee of the 1st c. would have claimed allegiance to Chryssipus or Christ or Buddha.

Oh you who want progress (and this is an instance of dialogue with self as much as dialogue with another). Don’t be deceived by the allure of the book or the screen (the new source of text). Don’t treat intellectual allegiance as achievement in any significant sense. “I am Republican.” “I am Democrat.” “I am Christian.” “I am atheist.” “I am vegan.” “I am environmentalist”.

The cheapest and most superficial and most illusory work is to wear a title and to claim membership thru words. The hardest work is to become. And the time is short. And so we go.

Kant, in his under-appreciated and heretical Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone defines the church as all the men of good-will. Note that by this definition the church has nothing to do with a particular spatio-temporal building, bill-boarded advertised allegiance, or even what is sung or said on a particular morning. And the same can be said for any of the above currently sexy groups. Real (Kantian) membership is in progress toward good-will and relative to the achievement of good-will.

The best thing we can do with our days is to make ourselves worthy of membership. Let’s go.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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