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How One May Be Aware Of One’s Progress In Virtue
by [?]

Sec. I. What amount of argument, Sossius Senecio, will make a man know that he is improving in respect to virtue, if his advances in it do not bring about some diminution in folly, but vice, weighing equally with all his good intentions, “acts like the lead that makes the net go down?”[249] For neither in music nor grammatical knowledge could anyone recognize any improvement, if he remained as unskilful in them as before, and had not lost some of his old ignorance. Nor in the case of anyone ill would medical treatment, if it brought no relief or ease, by the disease somewhat yielding and abating, give any perception of improvement of health, till the opposite condition was completely brought about by the body recovering its full strength. But just as in these cases there is no improvement unless, by the abatement of what weighs them down till they rise in the opposite scale, they recognize a change, so in the case of those who profess philosophy no improvement or sign of improvement can be supposed, unless the soul lay aside and purge itself of some of its imperfection, and if it continue altogether bad until it become absolutely good and perfect. For indeed a wise man cannot in a moment of time change from absolute badness to perfect goodness, and suddenly abandon for ever all that vice, of which he could not during a long period of time divest himself of any portion. And yet you know, of course, that those who maintain these views frequently give themselves much trouble and bewilderment about the difficulty, that a wise man does not perceive that he has become wise, but is ignorant and doubtful that in a long period of time by little and little, by removing some things and adding others, there will be a secret and quiet improvement, and as it were passage to virtue. But if the change were so great and sudden that the worst man in the morning could become the best man at night, or should the change so happen that he went to bed vicious and woke up in the morning wise, and, having dismissed from his mind all yesterday’s follies and errors, should say,

“False dreams, away, you had no meaning then!”[250]

who on earth could be ignorant of so great a change happening to himself, of virtue blazing forth so completely all at once? I myself am of opinion that anyone, like Caeneus,[251] who, according, to his prayer, got changed from a woman into a man, would sooner be ignorant of the transformation, than that a man should become at once, from a cowardly and senseless person with no powers of self-control, brave and sensible and perfect master of himself, and should in a moment change from a brutish life to a divine without being aware of it.

Sec. II. That was an excellent observation, Measure the stone by the mason’s rule, not the rule by the stone.[252] But the Stoics, not applying dogmas to facts but facts to their own preconceived opinions, and forcing things to agree that do not by nature, have filled philosophy with many difficulties, the greatest of which is that all men but the perfect man are equally vicious, which has produced the enigma called progress, one little short of extreme folly, since it makes those who have not at once under its guidance given up all passions and disorders equally unfortunate as those who have not got rid of a single vile propensity. However they are their own confuters, for while they lay down in the schools that Aristides was as unjust as Phalaris, and Brasidas as great a craven as Dolon, and Plato actually as senseless as Meletus, in life and its affairs they turn away from and avoid one class as implacable, while they make use of the others and trust them in most important matters as most worthy people.