Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014
“You must never lie!” That is a core principle of philosophy based on theorems. We derive this from demonstrations of the theorems that one ought not to lie. But “What are the origins of the principle we ought not to lie?” “What are the origins of that theorem?” and “What are the origins of a need for demonstrations?” These questions devolve endlessly into variations of “What is demonstration, consequence, contradiction, truth, and falsehood?” Each of these topics is linked to the others and can never be wholly separated, but the quest is worthless if we do not obey the first one, and lie. Therefore, “I must never lie!” We may spend our time and energy arguing the myriad of other topics, and even analyze lying itself; and truth may ultimately be impossible to define precisely, but “We must never lie” or everything becomes meaningless.
That “I must never lie!” is absolutely necessary if I am ever to be attuned to the Universe I live within. Lying is thought to be an external act that somehow benefits the teller of the lie, but actions form habits, and the habits cycle endlessly back on their creator. Thus, it is within ourselves that lies will corrode away the possibility of ever finding tranquility and contentment. It is easier to observe ourselves lying to other people than to ourselves; therefore we must prevent lying where we can see it, before it infects our own habits, and then becomes impossible to root out of our own being. Lying to ourselves is certain to lead us unto a life of mental corruption and eventually despair.