Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 15
How it is all connected. In this discourse as documented by Arrian, Epictetus is asked whether each of our actions are observed by god. This conversation turns into an inspirational discussion fast. Whether you accept the concept of god, lean more towards atheism, or the Stoic idea of the rational universe, this one has you covered. We are going to look at how it is all connected and made into one. From this discourse, we can see that Epictetus leans into god, Zeus, but there are signs that he is talking about the rational universe.
“Do you not think that all things are bound together in a unity?”Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 14.1
There is no need to look at this question from a specific standpoint. Gods or the atoms, as Marcus Aurelius asks himself, are not at stake here. It is all connected and we are part of the universe. It’s either by the divine or natural laws that we and everything around us act. If you look at it from a nihilist point of view, you can still make a point that it is all connected. Whether it has meaning or not, that’s a different question. But modern-day science shows us that, even beyond the concept of god, there is a connection throughout the universe. The air molecules we breathe, have been inhaled by many creatures in the history of the earth.
Connection with the heavens
“Do you not think that things on earth feel the influence of what is in the heavens?”Epictetus, The Discourse, Book 1, Chapter 14.2
In what follows there are some wonderful examples of how plants grow, bear fruit, and let the fruit ripen at the right time. Epictetus explains this as ‘god’s express command’, but we can also look at nature and its cycles and rhythm. There is no reason why both concepts can’t exist together. The result, the fruit will ripen at the right time, remains the same. Moreover, we can see the influences from the world around in the flora and fauna. As we read a bit further in this chapter, he goes on to talk about the Sun and the Moon. How their waxing and waning brings about change and transformation.
“But if the plants and our bodies are so intimately bound to the universe and affected by its influences, must our souls not be much more so?Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 14.5
What a wonderful transition to show how all is connected. From the plants and bodies to our souls. Even our soul is connected to the universe. Epictetus sees god and the universe as one. Which we can see from this extract and how he exchanges from one to the other without changing the meaning. Back to our soul, because that’s an eye-opener. If everything else is connected, why not our soul? No, rather especially our soul, as we see from the ‘much more so’ at the end of the quote. Our soul is what connects us, our consciousness to the universe. Some might argue that we are the universe observing and experiencing itself.
Souls connected to the Universe
Epictetus questions that if our souls are so bound to the universe, or god, must he then not be aware of every motion? Since motion is akin and innate to himself. We have been given this part of the essence of the gods, this rational and logical aspect. Which allows us to reflect on the ‘divine governance’ or fate. We have the capacity to be moved by thousands of things in our senses and our intelligence, Epictetus continues. After which it is our responsibility to learn which of these to assent, dissent, or refer from judgment on. Our minds are capable of preserving many impressions and from these, we can learn and build many things, one of these being our memory. And if we are able to do all this, can then god not be able to perceive all things?
“Why, does any one tell you that you possess a power equal to Zeus?”Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 14.11
This guest of Epictetus tells him that he can not pay attention to all these thousands of things at once. That’s when he comes back at him with this reply. Do you think you are equal to the universe? While we are part of it and a pivotal one on a certain level, we also remain a mere blip in the grand scale of things. Only the sage, as the Stoics believe, is on par with the gods. She does know it all and is capable of coming to the correct judgment. But Epictetus has a solution for the fact that we can’t cover it all.
“He (Zeus) has assigned to each man a director, his own personal daemon.”Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 14.12
The good spirit
This good spirit, the daemon, vigilates and makes sure no false reason can deceive us. In a sense, this is our reason and logic where Virtue lies. Because Epictetus reminds us that we are never alone. This daemon watches over us all the time. Making sure that we are living in accordance with Nature and Virtue at all times. Even when we are in a dark room, with the doors locked, thinking there is no one there. Our duty to live virtuously is one we must attend to at all times. Because it is all connected, it is also all perceived.
“Will you not swear your oath to god, who have received so many and such great favours, or if you have sworn, will you not abide by your oath?”Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 14.15
The interesting connection Epictetus makes here is with Caesar. At his birth, the infamous Nero ruled. Later he lived through the year of the four emperors, Domitian, who banished all philosophers from Rome, and the last emperor in his lifetime Hadrian. Who later adopted Marcus Aurelius as his heir. But after Julius Caesar and Augustus, these figures were seen as gods. That’s why this link works on many levels in connection with this discourse. Because Epictetus looks at the oath the soldiers give to their Caesar. To put the safety of their leader first, yet they do so to receive their pay. And what do we receive? A good life. And what must we swear for that?
“Never to disobey, never to accuse, never to find fault with anything that god has bestowed, never to do or suffer unwillingly and with a bad grace that is inevitable.”Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 14.16
How is it all connected brings us to Stoic fate and its acceptance of it. Rather being able to welcome it and never to find fault with it. Because if we judge fate as wrong, then we can find ourselves in the role of victim. While Nature happens the way it should. It is up to us to learn to find the right impression and then come to the proper action. Our ego and emotions can cloud this judgment. But by understanding them and coming to terms with both, we can leave the judging of situations to our reason and logic. That is how it is all connected, through the natural and logical course of events. So whether it is god, the universe, or atoms, we are all connected and have our duty to live in accordance with this connection.