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Wednesday, March 25, 2009


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There is a wonderful passage preserved in the fragments of Epictetus (Schenkl 10, ex Gellius AN xvii.19). “Most of those,” Epictetus said, “who now appears to be philosophizing are philosophers of this kind: aneu tou prattein, mechri tou legein.” The maxim I’ve given in transliteration means something like “without taking actions, but as far as words go.”

Epictetus overlaps Seneca by a few years. Seneca writings were well known. There were many Stoic philosophers in the first and second century of the Christian era, including Musonius Rufus and Marcus Aurelius. To a man, I believe, none of these Stoics say even a word about Seneca and his writings. Utter silence gives a measure of the contempt Stoic philosophers had for Seneca and his writings.

Sometimes the messenger profanes the message. If I believe the messenger is lying to me, I have reason to believe that what he says he is false. I do not believe Seneca when he tells me turn away from externals and pursue a calm & reflective inner life. He did not. I don’t believe he believes the words he writes so artfully. He is a writer, pursuing literary acclaim, not a philosopher. He is a walking testimonial that one can know and mouth Stoic doctrine eloquently, but be unimproved by it as a man. This in a way is evidence that Stoic and philosophic ideals generally are a sham, and it is foolish to believe in them.


You write, "If I believe the messenger is lying to me, I have reason to believe that what he says he is false."

Perhaps if the messenger speaks of particulars, but no if he speaks of what is universal.

If a reprobate tells you he alone witnessed Bill knife Phil at the bar last night, knowing his character, you may have reason to think his statement is false. But if the same reprobate tells you "Thou shall not murder", you cannot have good reason to think this statement if false because of his character. This is because you can determine the truth of that statement without reference to his character. That is the nature of universal truths. You can obtain knowledge of them independent of anyone else.

This holds with the hypocrite. The hypocrite is not forged upon acts willfully contradicting statements about particulars. In fact, I don't know how that is even possible. A man who says he walked his dog at six o'clock in the morning but didn't is a liar but not a hypocrite. The hypocrite speaks of what is universally true, which you can determine as true or false on your own without regard to his contradictory acts.

In summary, none of us gets off the hook for knowing what is universally true by claiming the messenger is a bad man.

Bill T

How come there is no comment field in many of your blog entries, such as "The Trouble with Continental Philosophy: Tillich"?


The short answer is that to limit the number of lousy comments I receive, I limit the number of posts on which I accept comments. Comments are often frustrating and useless, ignorant and irrelevant, and they make a lot of work for me since I feel obliged to respond. The really bad ones I delete, but that is work too. This is not to say that I don't receive some excellent comments. On some posts, though, it is quite predictable that nothing intelligent will be said, e.g., the Badiou post.

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