CHAPTER 17

How we must adapt preconceptions to particular cases
What is the first business of him who philosophizes? To throw away self-conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn that which he thinks that he knows. As to things then which ought to be done and ought not to be done, and good and bad, and beautiful and ugly, all of us talking of them at random go to the philosophers; and on these matters we praise, we censure, we accuse, we blame, we judge and determine about principles honourable and dishonourable. But why do we go to the philosophers? Because we wish to learn what we do not think we know. And what is this? Theorems. For we wish to learn what philosophers say as being something elegant and acute; and some wish to learn that they may get profit what they learn. It is ridiculous then to think that a person wishes to learn one thing, and will learn another; or further, that a man will make proficiency in that which he does not learn. But the many are deceived by this which deceived also the rhetorician Theopompus, when he blames even Plato for wishing everything to be defined. For what does he say? "Did none of us before you use the words 'good' or 'just,' or do we utter the sounds in an unmeaning and empty way without understanding what they severally signify?" Now who tells you, Theopompus, that we had not natural notions of each of these things and preconceptions? But it is not possible to adapt preconceptions to their correspondent objects if we have not distinguished them, and inquired what object must be subjected to each preconception. You may make the same charge against physicians also. For who among us did not use the words "healthy" and "unhealthy" before Hippocrates lived, or did we utter these words as empty sounds? For we have also a certain preconception of health, but we are not able to adapt it. For this reason one says, "Abstain from food"; another says, "Give food"; another says, "Bleed"; and another says, "Use cupping." What is the reason? is it any other than that a man cannot properly adapt the preconception of health to particulars?

So it is in this matter also, in the things which concern life. Who among us does not speak of good and bad, of useful and not useful; for who among us has not a preconception of each of these things? Is it then a distinct and perfect preconception? Show this. How shall I show this? Adapt the preconception properly to the particular things. Plato, for instance, subjects definitions to the preconception of the useful, but you to the preconception of the useless. Is it possible then that both of you are right? How is it possible? Does not one man adapt the preconception of good to the matter of wealth, and another not to wealth, but to the matter of pleasure and to that of health? For, generally, if all of us who use those words know sufficiently each of them, and need no diligence in resolving, the notions of the preconceptions, why do we differ, why do we quarrel, why do we blame one another?

And why do I now allege this contention with one another and speak of it? If you yourself properly adapt your preconceptions, why are you unhappy, why are you hindered? Let us omit at present the second topic about the pursuits and the study of the duties which relate to them. Let us omit also the third topic, which relates to the assents: I give up to you these two topics. Let us insist upon the first, which presents an almost obvious demonstration that we do not properly adapt the preconceptions. Do you now desire that which is possible and that which is possible to you? Why then are you hindered? why are you unhappy? Do you not now try to avoid the unavoidable? Why then do you fall in with anything which you would avoid? Why are you unfortunate? Why, when you desire a thing, does it not happen, and, when you do not desire it, does it happen? For this is the greatest proof of unhappiness and misery: "I wish for something, and it does not happen." And what is more wretched than I?

It was because she could not endure this that Medea came to murder her children: an act of a noble spirit in this view at least, for she had a just opinion what it is for a thing not to succeed which a person wishes. Then she says, "Thus I shall be avenged on him who has wronged and insulted me; and what shall I gain if he is punished thus? how then shall it be done? I shall kill my children, but I shall punish myself also: and what do I care?" This is the aberration of soul which possesses great energy. For she did not know wherein lies the doing of that which we wish; that you cannot get this from without, nor yet by the alteration and new adaptation of things. Do not desire the man, and nothing which you desire will fall to happen: do not obstinately desire that he shall live with you: do not desire to remain in Corinth; and, in a word, desire nothing than that which God wills. And who shall hinder you? who shall compel you? No man shall compel you any more than he shall compel Zeus.

When you have such a guide, and your wishes and desires are the same as his, why do you fear disappointment? Give up your desire to wealth and your aversion to poverty, and you will be disappointed in the one, you will fall into the other. Well, give them up to health, and you will be unfortunate: give them up to magistracies, honours, country, friends, children, in a word to any of the things which are not in man's power. But give them up to Zeus and to the rest of the gods; surrender them to the gods, let the gods govern, let your desire and aversion be ranged on the side of the gods, and wherein will you be any longer unhappy? But if, lazy wretch, you envy, and complain, and are jealous, and fear, and never cease for a single day complaining both of yourself and of the gods, why do you still speak of being educated? What kind of an education, man? Do you mean that you have been employed about sophistical syllogisms? Will you not, if it is possible, unlearn all these things and begin from the beginning, and see at the same time that hitherto you have not even touched the matter; and then, commencing from this foundation, will you not build up all that comes after, so that nothing, may happen which you do not choose, and nothing shall fail to happen which you do choose?

Give me one young man who has come to the school with this intention, who is become a champion for this matter and says, "I give up everything else, and it is enough for me if "t shall ever be in my power to pass my life free from hindrance and free from trouble, and to stretch out my neck to all things like a free man, and to look up to heaven as a friend of God, and fear nothing that can happen." Let any of you point out such a man that I may "Come, young man, into the possession of that which is your own, it is your destiny to adorn philosophy: yours are these possessions, yours these books, yours these discourses." Then when he shall have laboured sufficiently and exercised himself in this of the matter, let him come to me again and say, "I desire to be free from passion and free from perturbation; and I wish as a pious man and a philosopher and a diligent person to know what is my duty to the gods, what to my parents, what to my brothers, what to my country, what to strangers." Come also to the second matter: this also is yours. "But I have now sufficiently studied the second part also, and I would gladly be secure and unshaken, and not only when I am awake, but also when I am asleep, and when I am filled with wine, and when I am melancholy." Man, you are a god, you have great designs.

"No: but I wish to understand what Chrysippus says in his treatise of the Pseudomenos." Will you not hang yourself, wretch, with such your intention? And what good will it do you? You will read the whole with sorrow, and you will speak to others trembling, Thus you also do. "Do you wish me, brother, to read to you, and you to me?" "You write excellently, my man; and you also excellently in the style of Xenophon, and you in the style of Plato, and you in the style of Antisthenes." Then, having told your dreams to one another, you return to the same things: your desires are the same, your aversions the same, your pursuits are the same, and your designs and purposes, you wish for the same things and work for the same. In the next place you do not even seek for one to give you advice, but you are vexed if you hear such things. Then you say, "An ill-natured old fellow: when I was going away, he did not weep nor did he say, 'Into what danger you are going: if you come off safe, my child, I will burn lights.' This is what a good-natured man would do." It will be a great thing for you if you do return safe, and it will be worth while to burn lights for such a person: for you ought to be immortal and exempt from disease.

Casting away then, as I say, this conceit of thinking that we know something useful, we I I must come to philosophy as we apply to geometry, and to music: but if we do not, we shall not even approach to proficiency, though we read all the collections and commentaries of Chrysippus and those of Antipater and Archedemus.