March 24

HATH God, then, given you eyes in vain? Is it in vain that He hath infused into them such a strong and active spirit as to be able to represent the forms of distant objects? What messenger is so quick and diligent? Is it in vain that He hath made the intermediate air so yielding and elastic that the sight penetrates through it? And is it in vain that He hath made the light, without which all the rest would be useless? Man, be not ungrateful; nor, on the other hand, unmindful of your superior advantages; but for sight and hearing, and indeed for life itself, and the supports of it, as fruits, and wine, and oil, be thankful to God: but remember, that He hath given you another thing, superior to them all: which makes use of them, proves them, estimates the value of each.

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book ii. §23. ¶1.


  1. Summary: "Be not ungrateful nor unmindful of your gifts but remember what is best of all: your reason, which estimates the value of each."

    It is important that we are grateful, for all of our gifts. Gratitude is not often touted as a Stoic attitude, especially from the so called 'classical stoics'. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thankfully.

  2. Yes, and this is one of the things that has led me to conclude that Stoicism is, at heart, a theistic philosophy. The other is that it posits purpose to existence. I was reading a book by a Catholic "No One Sees God", and he made an insightful comment: "The logic used in deciding whether to link one's identity to atheism or to God is sui generis. The argument is not whether there is one more object in the world (God), or one less (atheism). The center of the argument concerns whether I should think of the universe as impersonal and indifferent to me, and ruled by randomness and chance. Or whether I should interpret it as personal through and through, in such a way that all things that are (and have been, and will be) dwell in the presence of God, a Person (not in a literal but in an analogous sense) who understands and chooses all that He brings out of nothingness into existence."

    And what is the proper response to this? Thankfulness, and, as one of your earlier posts said, hymning God's praise at all times. How to reconcile this with intellectual atheism? I have no idea. For now I'm going with the flow and seeing where it all leads.

  3. To clarify, by writing "at heart" I mean that Stoicism is at least psychologically a theistic philosophy. It may be that when one uses Stoic criteria to try to intellectualize what "God" means you are left with mist. One of the gifts I gained as a Catholic was a sense of how Catholics think about doctrine. In Catholicism, as opposed to the original Lutheran or Calvinist Protestants, God is seen as having interacted with people through history. These interactions have created a cloud of experiences, some of which have been "crystalized" into scripture, others into traditions, liturgies, hymns, etc. To understand what is the "truth" one studies these "crystalized" experiences as one would any object found in nature in order to find what they really say, and done with the confidence that they will fit together.

    The correlation with Stoicism is that one of the "crystalized" pieces of Stoic experience is that God has providential care of us and that it is right and proper that we thankfully praise him. It is one of the realities of Stoicism that need to be integrated into the whole schema.