On precognitions

Precognitions are common to all men, and precognition is not contradictory to precognition. For who of us does not assume that Good is useful and eligible, and in all circumstances that we ought to follow and pursue it? And who of us does not assume that justice is beautiful and becoming? When, then, does the contradiction arise? It arises in the adaptation of the precognitions to the particular cases. When one man says, "He has done well: he is a brave man," and another says, "Not so; but he has acted foolishly"; then the disputes arise among men. This is the dispute among the Jews and the Syrians and the Egyptians and the Romans; not whether holiness should be preferred to all things and in all cases should be pursued, but whether it is holy to eat pig's flesh or not holy. You will find this dispute also between Agamemnon and Achilles; for call them forth. What do you say, Agamemnon ought not that to be done which is proper and right? "Certainly." Well, what do you say, Achilles? do you not admit that what is good ought to be done? "I do most certainly." Adapt your precognitions then to the present matter. Here the dispute begins. Agamemnon says, "I ought not to give up Chryseis to her father." Achilles says, "You ought." It is certain that one of the two makes a wrong adaptation of the precognition of ought" or "duty." Further, Agamemnon says, "Then if I ought to restore Chryseis, it is fit that I take his prize from some of you." Achilles replies, "Would you then take her whom I love?" "Yes, her whom you love." "Must I then be the only man who goes without a prize? and must I be the only man who has no prize?" Thus the dispute begins.

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."