Where to Begin?

The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus (late 1st century AD), emphasized the importance of education for living a moral life.

“They are thieves and robbers,” you may say.

What do you mean by thieves and robbers?

“They are mistaken about good and evil.”

Ought we then to be angry with them, or to pity them? But show them their error, and you will see how they desist from their errors.

Epictetus goes on to argue that the thief and the robber are simply ignorant of what is good.  They suffer from a deficiency in moral faculties like that of a person who cannot see.  If the thief understood his true good, he would not have done it!  Thus, there is no real basis for retributive justice.

“Ought not then this robber and this adulterer to be destroyed?”

By no means say so, but speak rather in this way:

“This man who has been mistaken and deceived about the most important things, and blinded, not in the faculty of vision which distinguishes white and black, but in the faculty which distinguishes good and bad, should we not destroy him?”

If you speak thus, you will see how inhuman this is which you say, and that it is just as if you would say, “Ought we not to destroy this blind and deaf man?” But if the greatest harm is the privation of the greatest things, and the greatest thing in every man is the will or choice such as it ought to be, and a man is deprived of this will, why are you also angry with him? Man, you ought not to be affected contrary to nature by the bad things of another. Pity him rather: drop this readiness to be offended and to hate, and these words which the many utter: “These accursed and odious fellows.”

The robber is like the blind and the deaf and so we ought to pity him instead of judge him.  Knowledge is the solution.  Educate him to his true his good and he will turn from his ways!

The essence of Greek philosophy may be summed up in the two words inscribed on a plaque and placed above the door of the temple of Apollo in Delphi: “Know Thyself”.    The gnostic sects that emerged in the late Roman period likewise emphasized the importance of self awareness.

 “Ignorance is slavery. Knowledge is Freedom. Seeking the Truth, we discover its seeds within us. If we unite with It, It will receive us in the Primordial Consciousness.”  (“The Gospel of Phillip,” The Gnostic Society Library, http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html)

Although modern humanism is more secular in outlook, it also begins and ends with man.  And it also places a great deal of faith in education.

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man.  (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle II)

In contrast, the Bible tells us that we can and must know God, that we do not begin to live apart from God, and that only through the knowledge of the Holy One do we come to a true understanding of ourselves.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord… and I said Woe is me, for I am lost!  (Isa. 6:1a,5a ESV)