The very rarely discussed §73 of Epictetus’s Enchiridion


“If a messenger should bring you a letter informing you that you are now counted among the members of a council of scholars who shall meet frequently to discuss the methods, rules, and scope of notions by which you teach the youth, remind yourself what kind of consortium this is.  When they insist that you meet with the council, place before you what happens at such meetings.

“There will be talk of small affairs; others will speak of minor distractions in a way that is not authentic in order to provoke jolliness, but they will not succeed; the most senior of the scholars will urge that the meeting come to order, and will drearily say that the order of the world is determined by gods we cannot see, and so we have no choice but to proceed with this work; someone will suggest a new rule; another will affirm it and another will affirm it and another will affirm it, and then yet another will affirm it with little vigor; and you will silently form the opinion that this rule makes no sense and could not be improved except by its annihilation; someone will note that we have never done things this way before, and someone else will note that they already do this better at another academy; someone else will demand that discussion proceed to the subject of the statements of culmination in the instruction of the youth and the most senior member of the council will agree that there is no subject so important as the statements of culmination in the instruction of the youth; someone will argue for a change of one word in the statements of culmination in the instruction of the youth, and then argue for half the remainder of the meeting that this word matters more than all other words in the statements of culmination in the instruction of the youth and that the statements of culmination in the instruction of the youth matter more than all other matters in the instruction of the youth; and you may note that the youth who are instructed by this particular scholar often complain to you that they understand nothing and feel no closer to wisdom or virtue; and the most senior member of the council will note that given how fraught discussion has become, the council should meet much more often at early hours of the day.

“I did not agree to serve on the council,” you may say. “They wrote my name upon its scroll whilst I was tending to my fields, and never asked me.” Yes, this is how those who assemble scholarly councils conduct themselves.

“These things may hinder you in your affairs and so you must prepare for them. Ask yourself not what Socrates might have done, nor Heraclitus, but rather Diogenes of Synope. If this meeting were an ox cart, Diogenes of Synope would have directed it into the roadside canal to divert its progress. It is not in your power that this council should exist or not exist, nor what it should do; in your power are your own acts and opinions, and how you exercise them when the council convenes. You may object regularly and strenuously to points that mean even less to the other scholars than they do to you.  You may tell them long stories of that one time, back then, when you did that thing, but which do not lead to a conclusion. Recall the lessons of Chrysippus on the compounding of assertibles. You may vigorously insist that the form of some resolution of the council implies a contradiction for several consecutive meetings, and that their powers of reason will not allow them to discern it until you have explained and written out numerous arguments in the most esoteric forms of notation. Then, note that there may not be such a contradiction, but that it depends on how you read one of the words in one of the initial assumptions. Do this many times. If you vex them sufficiently, the members of the council will no longer tell you when they meet.”

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