The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
Our philosophers have precisely defined what a man must learn in order to know how to argue: but we are still quite unpractised in the proper use of what we have learnt. Give any one of us you like an unskilled person to argue with, and he does not discover how to deal with him: he just rouses the man for a moment, and then if he answers him in the wrong key he cannot deal with him any longer: he either reviles him or laughs at him ever after, and says, 'He is an ignoramus, there is nothing to be got out of him.'
But the true guide, when he finds a man wandering, leads him to the right road, instead of leaving him with a gibe or an insult. So should you do. Only show him the truth and you will see that he follows. But so long as you do not show it him, do not laugh at him, but rather realize your own incapacity.
Now how did Socrates proceed? He compelled the man who was conversing with him to be his witness, and needed no witness besides. Therefore he was able to say: 'I am satisfied with my opponent as a witness, and let every one else alone: and I do not take the votes of other people, but only of him who is arguing with me.' [Plato, Gorgias, 474a] For he drew out so clearly the consequences of a man's conceptions that every one realized the contradiction and abandoned it.
'Does the man who envies rejoice in his envy?'
'Not at all; he is pained rather than pleased.'
Thus he rouses his neighbour by contradiction.
'Well, does envy seem to you to be a feeling of pain at evil things? Yet how can there be envy of things evil?'
So he makes his opponent say that envy is pain felt at good things. 'Again, can a man envy things which do not concern him?' 'Certainly not.'
In this way he made the conception full and articulate, and so went away. He did not say, 'Define me envy', and then, when the man defined it, 'You define it ill, for the terms of the definition do not correspond to the subject defined.' Such phrases are technical and therefore tiresome to the lay mind, and hard to follow, yet you and I cannot get away from them. We are quite unable to rouse the ordinary man's attention in a way which will enable him to follow his own impressions and so arrive at admitting or rejecting this or that. And therefore those of us who are at all cautious naturally give the subject up, when we
become aware of this incapacity; while the mass of men, who venture at random into this sort of enterprise, muddle others and get muddled themselves, and end by abusing their opponents and getting abused in return, and so leave the field. But the first quality of all in Socrates, and the most characteristic, was that he never lost his temper in argument, never uttered anything abusive, never anything insolent, but bore with abuse from others and quieted strife. If you would get to know what a faculty he had in this matter, read the Banquet of Xenophon and you will see how many strifes he has brought to an end. Therefore the poets too with good reason have praised this gift most highly:
What follows? The occupation is not a very safe one nowadays, and especially in Rome. For he who pursues it will certainly not have to do it in a corner, but he must go up to a consular or a rich man, if it so chance, and ask him: 'You there, can you tell me to whose care you trust your horses?'
Do you trust them to a chance corner and one unskilled in horse-keeping?
Again, tell me to whom you trust your gold or your silver or your clothes.
'Not to a chance corner either.'
And your body—have you ever thought of trusting that to anybody to look after it?
He too, no doubt, is one skilled in the art of training or of medicine, is he not?
'Certainly he is.'
Are these then your best possessions or have you got something besides, better than all?
'What can you mean?'
I mean, of course, that which makes use of all these possessions and tests each one, and thinks about them.
'Do you mean the soul?'
You are right; that is exactly what I do mean.
'Yes, I certainly think that this is a better possession than all the rest.'
Can you tell me, then, in what manner you have taken care of your soul? for it is not likely that one so wise as you. and of such position
in the state, should lightly and recklessly allow the best possession you have to be neglected and go to ruin.
Well, have you taken care of it yourself? Did any one teach you how, or did you find out for yourself?
When you do this, the danger is, you will find, that first he will say: 'My good sir, what concern is it of yours? Are you my master?' Then, if you persist in annoying him he will lift his hand and give you a drubbing.
That (says Epictetus) was a pursuit I had a keen taste for once, before I was reduced to my present condition.