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Reasonable Application of Judgement

One of the three central disciplines of Stoicism includes assent. In this discipline, Stoics works to refine one's judgement in response to external circumstances. Arrian's account of Epictetus includes many passages where Epictetus criticizes others for their neglect (purposefully or unknowingly) in developing the ability to see objects as they truly exist: without human commentary or dependence on an observer. In the Discourses, for example, Arrian records:


"When you're shown some money, have you trained yourself to make the right response, that 'It is not a good thing?' Have you trained yourself in replies of this kind, or merely in replying to sophistic arguments? Why should you be surprised, then, that you excel in areas in which you have practiced, while you remain exactly the same in those in which you haven't? Why is it, for instance, that an orator who knows that he has written a good speech, and has fixed it in his memory, and is bringing an attractive voice to the task, still feels anxious nonetheless? Because he is not merely content merely to practice his art. What else does he want, then? To receive praise from his audience. Now the matter in which he has trained himself is to be able to practice his art, and he has never trained himself to deal with praise and censure. For when has he heard anything from anyone about what praise is, and what censure is, and what is the nature of each? And what kinds of praise are worth seeking, and what kinds of disapproval are to be avoided? When has he ever undergone any course of training with regard to these principles? Why are you still surprised, then, that he excels other people in the areas in which he has studied and learned, but is no different from the multitude in which he has not? He is rather like a lyre-player who knows how to play his instrument, and sings well and has fine robes to wear, but trembles nonetheless when he has to come on stage. Yes, he knows all of that, but he doesn't know what a crowd is, or understand the nature of its shouts and jeers. He doesn't know, indeed, what this anxiety itself is, and whether we ourselves are responsible for it or other people are, and whether or not it lies in our power to put a stop to it. And so he leaves the stage puffed up with pride if he receive applause, but his conceit is soon pricked and deflated if he meets with jeers. We too experience something of this kind. What do we admire? Externals. What do we make the prime object of our concern? Externals. And then we're unable to grasp how it is that we fall prey to fear, or fall prey to anxiety" (2.16: 3-11).


This is a lengthy passage, and there is a lot of things to unpack. Epictetus maintains that some people live life without ever examining judgements about certain things (i.e., money, crowds, shouts, and jeers). This lack of introspection is harmful in the Stoic way of life. Socrates holds a similar view in his immortalized phrase: "The unexamined life is not worth living." The person who neglects his judgmental faculty is also vulnerable to anxiety. If, for instance, someone fails to recognize that the crowd's reaction is outside of the performer's control, they are apt to believe that the performance alone causes blame or scorn. These types of people are extremely malleable and go through the motions of life based on external circumstances. If we analyze the nature of things and work to develop the accuracy of our judgments, we will move closer to inner peace.


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