On Progress 

Epictetus – Discourses Book 1
I.4. On Progress

  1. To progress in the path of the philosopher, you must learn to use desire and avoidance properly.
  2. Impassivity and a good flow of life require steering desire towards good things, and avoidance to bad things.
  3. However, eventually desire must be done away with altogether, or one must learn how to defer it.
  4. Avoidance on the other hand must be reserved only for the moral sphere.
  5. This is because trying to avoid anything outside the moral sphere (thus unsusceptible to your moral choices) risks facing something contrary to your aversion.
  6. And this may cause disaster.

You must direct yourself not to an abstract notion of perfection, but to what this perfection will bring – happiness, impassivity and a good flow of life.

You must direct your practice to the purpose of being perfect or virtuous. Reading without practice is not progress, it is idiocy.

  1. Real progress consists in this: Setting as your goal in your practice never to fail in your desires, never experiencing what you avoid, and never to err in impulse and repulsion.
  2. Also, aim for perfection in being attentive and withholding judgment.
  3. Cultivate your character so it is in harmony with nature.
  4. So it is honest and trustworthy,
  5. …elevated and free,
  6. …unchecked and undeterred.
  7. Know that a person who exercises desire or aversion for things outside of his control cannot be free or faithful.
  8. And he will always be subject to those who have power over these things, which are external to him.

You should put your principles in practice from the moment you get up in the morning, and in every situation you face. This is real progress.

Always remember: “A student should expunge from his life sighs and sorrow, grief and disappointment, exclamations like ‘poor me’ and ‘alas’.”  These thoughts are the opposite of progress.

Be like Socrates, not like Priam or Oedipus. “For what else are tragedies but the ordeals of people who have come to value externals, tricked out in tragic verse?”

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