Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bullshit Or Not: Epictetus Edition

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the bits is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, "In Search Of..." called, "Bullshit or Not?" with the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." It's a line I like so much that I've stolen it for an occasional series of posts.

Today's comes from the famed Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Born a slave and becoming crippled later in life, Epictetus' life was not a happy one. From this vantage point and through the system of stoicism, he gave us all advice on how to live life. Here's one bit:

Remember you must behave as you do at a banquet. Something is passed around and comes to you: reach out your hand politely and take some. It goes by: do not hold it back. It has not arrived yet: do not stretch your desire out towards it, but wait until it comes to you. In the same way toward your children, in the same way toward your wife, in the same way toward public office, in the same way toward wealth, and you will be fit to share a banquet with the gods. But if when things are set in front of you, you do not take them, but despise them, then you will not only share a banquet with the gods but also be a ruler along with them.
Epictetus gives us the opposite of "You snooze, you lose," but "You snooze, you rule with the gods."

So, is there something inherently problematic with desire and with ambition? As usual, responses can range from a single word to extensive dissertations. So, from our Roman philosopher of the day, bvllshit or not?