“Every error implies conflict; for since he who errs does not wish to go wrong but to go right, plainly he is not doing what he wishes.” Epictetus (See Full Quote Here)
What is Epictetus getting at here? If you read the full excerpt, there is a lot to digest in this philosophical pondering. In the end, it comes down to this: Think before you do. When I take an action, when I make a decision about what to do, and when I choose how I will live my life, it should be consistent with my values, with my rationality.
But to know if my actions are consistent with my values, I actually have to determine what my values are. This is step one. It is not easy and it is never really finished. Constant reevaluation is necessary. If I decide lying is wrong, then I will be challenged. What if an attacker asks where my family is hiding? Can I lie to that person? Is that an exception? Are there others? Exceptions like these would be included in your philosophy, your concept of how to live. If you act “in conflict” to your philosophy, you have made an error.
To be clear of error, you must always resolve the conflict between your philosophy and your actions, thoughts, and words. To be content, one of them has to change: either your philosophy or your action. This can’t be taken lightly, we can’t just go about changing our philosophy whenever we act in a different way. There is either a virtuous way to live or there is not. It works best when I construct the majority of this view ahead of time. Most often, I will not act in contradiction to my philosophy. However, throughout my life I will have times when I realize that my view on “how to live” is wrong…then I must adjust according to my action in a particular situation.
- Decide on what is virtuous
- Act that way
- When I don’t act that way was it because:
a) I was wrong – then learn and do not repeat
b) The situation calls for an adjustment in philosophy – then learn, adjust and repeat
Isn’t this what Epictetus was getting at?