From Arrian (Epictetus), Discourses, 2.4:
“But, goes on Epictetus, if we abandon this fidelity to which we are by nature born, and make designs against our neighbor’s wife, what are we doing? Why, what but ruining and destroying? Whom? The man of fidelity, of self-respect, or piety. Is that all? Are we not overthrowing also neighborly feeling, friendship, the state?”
I am born to fidelity? Note the teleological definition of man that the “born to” phrase captures. Sure, one could use “born” to refer to the process by which one is physically pushed into the world. Or, one would could judge that there is becoming which is more than mere change. It is not mere events that are happening but something that is being revealed, uncovered. The end toward which we are born, says Epictetus, is fidelity, loyalty to our nature.
In the above passage Epictetus has as his target a man engaging in adultery, a form of social infidelity. And yes, the man is guilty of contributing to social deterioration by not respecting what is another’s. But, I have been tracking the relationship between self-interest and morality, and here we see that the social pathology caused is a product of a far more important pathology. It is the inability of a man to be true to himself. the social pathology is a product of the personal pathology. Deteriorating states are made up of deteriorating persons.
The man who engages in adultery, or any other immorality, has first and foremost acted suicidally. He has voluntarily traded a worse self for a better self. He has chosen, voluntarily, infidelity over fidelity. He has looked in upon the possibilities that lie within him and chosen the one that is further from that which he was born to. This is nothing if not the voluntary choosing of the way of death and destruction.
Am I suicidal? It would be easy to look and judge superficially that I have never in the most vulgar and direct sense tried to snuff out my own animal life. A far more careful answer would ponder to what degree I choose what is worse for what is better.
Are there areas where I am not sure about the moral good (virtue and right)? No. Earthly good (gold)? Yes. This is a heartening and troubling distinction. Heartening in that it means I am most secure in what matters most. Troubling in that I continue to encounter moments of unreasonability in me where I recognize that the feelings are not oriented toward the moral good as the ought to be. I am thankful for another day to choose. The primary bet is that ultimately feeling follows choice (I say nothing here about time (how long it takes for feeling to follow choice)).
I do not think, at this point in time, that I can meditate too little on the identity of self-interest and moral good. The best me is the one that has fidelity to his nature. His nature is not merely animal. It is animal plus! Plus what? Plus moral good.