Monday, 10 June 2013

A Single Arrow Cannot Hit Two Targets

And so, being set upon such aims [see previous post], remember that you must not in any slight degree arouse yourself to lay hold of them, but must put away completely some things and set aside others temporarily.   But if you wish for these things as well, and yet at the same time desire both office and wealth, it may be that you will not even achieve these latter ambitions because you simultaneously aim at the former.  What is more, you will utterly fail at attaining the former goal, which alone produces freedom and happiness.
                                                   - Encheiridion 1  

     "No man," Matthew's Gospel declares, "can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other."  A similar concept is at work in Stoicism.  Virtue is the sole good, Vice is the sole evil, and all else is indifferent.  There are no half measures.
     We cannot attribute even partial value to a thing indifferent, a false good, and still fully value Virtue, the Good.  She requires our complete attention and devotion.
     And we certainly cannot strive after both and still hope to attain either one.  A single arrow cannot hit two targets.  Chasing after anything besides Virtue will eventually demand that we sacrifice Virtue in some way.  Likewise, if it is Virtue we seek, we will inevitably have to sacrifice other ambitions or desires.
     Yet when we recognize - as another ancient Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, had written - the true "nature of the Good, that it is beautiful," we understand that putting away these other ambitions is no real sacrifice at all.