On satisfaction

Epictetus – Discourses Book 1
I.12. On satisfaction

There are five theories about the existence of God.

  1. Outright denial of the existence of any divinity.
  2. That God exists but is completely indifferent to anything.
  3. That God exists but is attentive to only heavenly matters, and that he never attends to earthly matters.
  4. That God exists and attends to earthly matters, including human welfare, but only in a general way.
  5. That God is so attentive to humans that we cannot to anything without him noticing.

Odysseus and Socrates were proponents of the fifth view.

But if God is so attentive to human affairs, and if we wish to ‘follow the gods’ as the Stoics and Platonics tell us to do, how can we be free?

What is freedom? Is it having everything go according to our will and never contrary to it?

Wanting all your wishes realised without caring about the reason behind those wishes is the definition of insanity. Is insanity and freedom the same thing? Of course not.

Freedom does not mean that your wishes get a carte blanche. As with writing, music, and every other art and science where we have to learn to bring our will in line with the way these disciplines work, with freedom too we have to learn aligning our will to the order of the universe that God has created.

Education helps us understand nature’s way, and the way of our own individual nature; so that we can start aligning our will to how things happen, and stay remain true to our own nature.

Complaining, protesting, griping, whining and getting upset when faced with certain circumstances is the exact opposite behaviour we are seeking to achieve.

If you feel desolate when you are alone, you should feel like God’s equal in divine uniqueness instead.

If you are complaining of your company, and being upset of the dispositions of the people who are with you, you should feel like a guest in a feast or festival instead.

If you refuse to keep your will in line with the circumstances, you will be doomed to be unhappy. Then, you are in prison. Conversely, Socrates was not in prison precisely because he chose to be in prison.

You should not complain of the circumstances of your bodily existence, it is a gift from God. Do you want to make God your enemy? Do you want to go against him?

Instead, why not care about and cherish your reason, which is the greatest gift of all and which is your side where you are equal with the gods.

Being miserable for things that you don’t control is a waste of time and potential.

But for the problems that you can control, the virtues of your character are all you need to deal with them.

“You should thank the gods for making you strong enough to survive what you cannot control, and only responsible for what you can. The gods have released you from accountability for your parents, your siblings, your body, your possessions – for death and for life itself. They made you responsible only for what is in your power – the proper use of impressions. So why take on the burden of matters which you cannot answer for? You are only making unnecessary problems for yourself.”

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