On the Faculty of Choice
Brian E. Denton

Knowledge and Understanding

Strictly speaking, perhaps what is under Prince Andrei’s control is not his opinion as such, but whether it will be an informed or uninformed opinion. He chooses to make his an informed opinion. This is the rational choice, by the account of Collingwood in the Principles of History, which I have elsewhere quoted:

The rational activity which historians have to study is never free from compulsion: the compulsion to face the facts of its own situation. The more rational it is, the more completely it undergoes this compulsion. To be rational is to think, and for a man who proposes to act, the thing that is important to think about is the situation in which he stands. With regard to this situation he is not free at all. It is what it is, and neither he nor anyone else can ever change that.

Meanwhile, Mr Denton, Brian, is there great significance in the last sentence of your quotation of Epictetus? — :

But if he is wholly intent on reading books, and has labored at that only, and gone abroad for the sake of that: I bid him go home immediately, and not neglect his domestic affairs, for what he has travelled for is nothing.

Who goes travelling in order to read books? One may need to travel to avoid the distraction of one’s domestic affairs. Epictetus may be alluding to an earlier passage of the Discourses, which I looked up (we are in Book I, Chapter 4):

How then do we admit that virtue is such as I have said, and yet seek progress in other things and make a display of it? What is the product of virtue? Tranquillity. Who then makes improvement? It is he who has read many books of Chrysippus? But does virtue consist in having understood Chrysippus? If this is so, progress is clearly nothing else than knowing a great deal of Chrysippus.

Understanding Chrysippus, or indeed anyone else, would seem to be desirable; but merely knowing a great deal, in itself, may be worth little. I suppose this is the gist of one of the 101 Zen Stories,A Mother’s Advice”:

Jiun, a Shogun master, was a well-known Sanskrit scholar of the Tokugawa era. When he was young he used to deliver lectures to his brother students.
His mother heard about this and wrote him a letter:
“Son, I do not think you became a devotee of the Buddha because you desired to turn into a walking dictionary for others. There is no end to information and commentation, glory and honor. I wish you would stop this lecture business. Shut yourself up in a little temple in a remote part of the mountain. Devote your time to meditation and in this way attain true realization.”

With that, I shall stop (for now) this business of writing a comment!

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