Via Negativa and Epictitus

The Enchridion starts by noting that the only things in our control are desire, aversion, and pursuit.

Let’s say that desire and aversion are mental states: opinions or attitudes. Desire is the mental state of wanting to get something and aversion is the mental state of wanting to avoid something.

Pursuit simply means our actions.

Putting it all together: desire and aversion give us directionality, and pursuit gives us velocity.

Whether we actually achieve anything or not is out of our control. The object of our desire may forever elude us. That which we seek to avoid may nevertheless come to pass.

What’s interesting is that Epictetus says to use aversion and pursuit. Do not use desire, at least at the beginning. I will have to think about why that is. The book I got has four different public domain translations of the Encharidion and they are subtly different. And Epictetus is not exactly a garrulous writer.

But at first glance it ties in nicely with the philosophy of progress through the principle of via negativa. Multiplication by subtraction. If all you do is remove those things to which you are averse, great things can happen.

Taleb is the source of the idea of via negativa.

Intuitively this is true: it is easier to identify pain points, obstacles. Remove them. The view will be clearer.

Applied to “what is in my control” this means identifying attitudes or actions of my own which must be removed seeing actions that bring bad results.

Another way of looking at this . . . your greatest liabilities become your greatest assets, right? Flip that on its head. What do I think are my greatest assets? What liabilities lurk beneath the surface there?

Always be weeding the garden. Aversion is the technique for identifying the weeds. Pull them out.

But don’t be too scientific about this. If something is bothering you, take care of it. Don’t go excavating to try and turn up all of the possible buried problems that you need to take care of. It’s like those farms in areas with rocky soil. Keep rolling the field. Your plow will turn up rocks, year after year. Keep on plowing and removing rocks. Let the deeper ones surface when they will.

I think that’s kind of what happens with doing inventories. Or going to a therapist. You deal with what’s top of mind. Digest it and come to peace in whatever way is appropriate. That allows new subconscious thoughts to bubble up. Rinse and repeat.