Physics => Philosophy: On Piety


I was flipping through the Discourses, and came across the opening of Discourses II.23. We often get asked how empirical observation leads to philosophical conclusion.

Epictetus lays this out in the vein of piety, which may not hold as much water for some as it does others, but still hits the mark regarding observation and conclusion, so stick with me on this:

“… Of an impious man, because he undervalues the gifts which come from God, just as if he would take away the commodity of the power of vision, or of hearing, or of seeing. Has, then, God given you eyes to no purpose? and to no purpose has he infused into them a spirit so strong and of such skillful contrivance as to reach a long way and to fashion the forms of things which are seen? What messenger is so swift and vigilant? And to no purpose has he made the interjacent atmosphere so efficacious and elastic that the vision penetrates through the atmosphere which is in a manner moved? And to no purpose has he made light, without the presence of which there would be no use in any other thing?”

Now, we moderns have a different conception, it’s actually 180 degrees the other way around, the the eye functions as it does precisely because the environment is conducive to that development, and the trait is probably tied to reproductive success.

Yet still, *that* process is one in which we could find gratitude and humility. Remembering, that the Stoic god is the god of nature and nature’s providence, not a personality in the way we’re familiar from the Abrahamic faiths.

The humility we might feel under the auspices of such a system, I think, Epictetus would recognize as piety. [Interpretative speculation.]

This is indicative of why Stoicism, even if you eventually come to some other conclusion, needs to be viewed with its own lens of its own teleology. The perspective of the ancients lacks a crucial point if it is ignored. You can pull away some tricks, but you’re missing out on the systemic integrity, and the exhaustiveness of the School otherwise.

Now, that doesn’t obligate us as individuals, it’s not a sin or a heresy to disagree, but it’s reasonable to view it as close to they way they did if we want to understand it more fully. Once we’ve covered this groundwork, we’re free to disagree and do our own philosophizing from there.

My conception of piety has changed significantly from that of a person raised in the west under an Abrahamic model, to being exposed more thoroughly to this one; and my experience and understanding is deeper because of it.

That, in and of itself, is no small thing.

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