The Stoic philosophy of Epictetus

in five dialogues

 

 

Dialogue 4.B.2

Medea: Diairesis, Antidiairesis and the Mysterious Judge

 

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Οὐ μὲν οὖν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ, φάναι, ὦ φιλούμενε Ἀγάθων, δύνασαι ἀντιλέγειν, ἐπεὶ Σωκράτει γε οὐδὲν χαλεπόν.

“No, it is Truth, my dear Agathon, that you cannot contradict; Socrates you easily may”
(Plato ‘Symposium’ 201D)

The characters:

Raniero
Irene
Muriel
Medea
Jason
Glauce
The children of Medea and Jason

 

A few days later Raniero, Irene and Muriel gathered again in the amphitheater overlooking the sea.
-Do you remember, Raniero said, ‘The scene of the wind’ that we discussed a few days ago? Today we can add something to it. Watch as the sea is now rough and the wind raises more and more sparkling waves. Just below us, do you see how the sail of that little boat is rocked by the Meltemi?-
-Yes, I see it, said Irene. When observing the movements of the people who are on the boat, you can notice a lot of excitement. I’m afraid something dangerous is happening to them. What are they saying?-
-I hear excited voices, but I don’t understand what they mean-
-All this reminds me of Medea, continued Irene. The mind of Medea was shaken as violently as the sail of that boat in a rough sea. Could you tell us again her story?-
-Yes, I will. It’s always a good thing to go back in time and rethink stories so dramatically true. Now, when Medea after years of mutual love saw herself abandoned by Jason -who wanted to divorce her and marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon the king of Corinth- she took the atrocious revenge that you know-
-Yes, I remember very well: she killed her children-
-Why do you think that she did this?-
-She did this in order to punish Jason. She could not accept being rejected by him after years of life together-
-Let us grant that you are right, continued Raniero. Medea was for sure a woman of great temperament. Certainly she did not lack the ‘representation’ of what is meant when something turns wrong and we don’t get what we want. Medea was looking for a way to punish Jason, whom she judged not only unfair to her, but also insulting and outrageous-
-Let’s forget, at present, about revenge, said Irene. How could Medea not suffer from the choice of Jason? Who doesn’t suffer when he feels rejected?-
-It depends, said Raniero. The man who is refused and continues to desire the appreciation and love of those who reject him suffers the pains of hell. But the man who is rejected and judges this refusal a liberation, doesn’t suffer at all. Please note that Jason, by marrying Glauce, would become king. He cared a lot about this project, but his life with Medea had made it impossible to realize-
-But, according to you, Jason also wanted to send Medea away from Corinth, so as not to see her any more?-
-Certainly not. Jason, on the contrary, had proposed to Medea to remain in Corinth and become his mistress, the mistress of the king! This was a decision that Glauce had approved-
-That’s something that Medea cannot accept and that seems to her as an unbearable outrage, said Irene-
-But from the experience of suffering pain to the project of killing her own children, Raniero suggested, I think that you also see a step which is not automatic, that doesn’t simply follow from the fact of feeling pain and that requires something else to be accomplished-
-So, what brings Medea to make this choice?-
-Medea’s mind, as we have said, is a mind of great strength. Her proairesis is indeed, and you can certainly understand it now, a powerful one-
-Yes, Medea must do something. She cannot remain passive and simply wait and watch-
The most varied possibilities, continued Raniero, swirl in Medea’s proairesis, and we can rightly call them ‘projects’. So Medea thinks: ‘Jason is a traitor and deserves a punishment. I poison him.’ Or: ‘I cannot stand to be considered less worthy than Glauce. I kill her’. Or: ‘I kill myself because I cannot stand what gives me so much pain’. And finally: ‘I kill those I gave him, his children’.
-But they were also her own children...-
-Right! In Medea’s proairesis there is also this judgment: ‘By killing his children I’ll punish myself, too’. But to this statement, just as Euripides makes her say, she immediately replies: ‘I don’t care! I know what evils I am going to do, but my wrath is stronger than my resolutions’-
-Which is the criterion that allows Medea to choose among these projects?-
-Follow me, said Raniero. We must enter deeply into the proairesis of Medea and carefully analyze each one of her projects. The fundamental question that we must ask is the following: ‘Is what I want to do in my exclusive power or not? Let’s see: Is to poison Jason something in my exclusive power?’-
-I think so, answered Irene. At least unless the material conditions don’t allow me to do it. But in any case the action is mine and I can try to put it into practice even if its success is not up to me-
-Well, you missed the point, said Raniero. You are unaware of making contradictory statements. The decision to walk is one thing, but to walk is a different thing. The first is a project in my exclusive power, the second is an action that is not in my exclusive power because it is subject to all sort of possible accidents. One thing is to have the necessary judgments and to conceive a project, another thing is to put it into practice. In fact, its realization is always subject to possible accidents. Check again the project ‘I poison Jason’ and give me a new answer. Know that it is no longer possible to enter the room of Jason, that all his food is checked by a slave and that he is surrounded by bodyguards who watch over his safety-
-The answer that I must give you, said Irene, is then the following: ‘To poison Jason is not in the exclusive power of Medea. In the exclusive power of Medea is only the project of poisoning him’-
-What can we say about the project ‘I kill Glauce’?-
-We can say that to kill Glauce is not in the exclusive power of Medea, and that only the project to kill her is in Medea’s exclusive power-
-‘I kill myself’ is the third alternative that Medea conceives. But she rules out this project, because the suicide appears to Medea as a complete victory of Jason and Glauce, who not only would not need to commit a murder to get rid of her, but would also inflict on her the humiliation of celebrating the memory of a virtuous mother and a perfect wife-
-And in this case, added Irene, Medea would not get what she wants, which is to save her place at Jason’s side. But doesn’t Medea realize that by committing suicide she can at least stop the pain she feels?-
-Even in the case of the project ‘I kill myself’ we must consider whether this is something in the exclusive power of Medea or not. You’ll see that if we look carefully at this project, which seems closest to depending exclusively on her, we will find that it is not so-
-But suicide is the only thing, said in surprise Irene, for which I don’t need others and that is entirely up to me ...-
-Jason has already thought about that. He has put in place not only his security measures but has given secret and peremptory orders to prevent any action that could lead to the suicide of Medea. Medea is unaware of this, but she is surrounded by people who watch over her safety. We can believe or not in the possibility of preventing a suicide, but this must be said to remind once more that the realization of a suicide is not in our exclusive power, while in our power is only the decision to put an end to our life. For the rest I agree with you that the death would release Medea from all the pain and anger she feels-
-Also to kill their children, protested Irene, is not in the exclusive power of Medea, but that’s what happens. Which is the difference between this project and the previous ones?-
-There is no difference at all, answered Raniero with a serious tone. This project is also subject to the conclusions we have reached in the case of the other ones. To conceive the killing of her children is in the exclusive power of Medea, but to make this happen is not in her exclusive power-
-But most of the other plans of Medea do not come true while this one is successful. Why does this happen?-
-It happens simply because the circumstances do not prevent its success. Medea’s children, like all children, are raised and cared for by women. Medea has given Jason two children, and they are still with her night and day. Jason has never even remotely thought to remove them from the care of their mother, because this is his culture. Jason is a Greek. Medea is not a Greek and, though a king’s daughter, she is perceived as a barbarian of Pontus who conceives a plan of tremendous atrocity, a plan that no Greek woman could ever have been able to conceive-
-So, asked Irene, the projects ‘I poison Jason’, ‘I kill Glauce’, ‘I kill myself’, ‘I kill my children’ are completely equivalent with respect to their design and their possibility of realization?-
-Let’s be more precise, continued Raniero. They are completely equivalent in terms of their conception, because they are all projects in the exclusive power of Medea. They are perfectly equivalent also because their practical realization is always subject to all sort of uncertainties. They are no longer equivalent if you consider that it’s impossible to know exactly and in advance which and how many impediments will hamper or which events will make easier the realization of any of them-
-You mean the difference between them goes back to that ‘... subject to all sorts of possible accidents’?-
-You are right. And this is the reason why only the attempt to realize them can tell us which plan of ours  will be successful and which will not-
-But we can judge that one plan is more likely to be successful than other ones. Don’t you think so, Raniero?-
- I agree, of course. But the crucial point still remains this: any project which needs the involvement of our body or of any external person or object has no certainty of realization. And for the time being that’s all we need to hold firmly in this discussion about Medea-
-Are you suggesting, my dear Raniero, that we should resign ourselves to what happens, stay still and do nothing? Is yours an invitation to be passive? Sometimes to move a simple chess pawn, even if we know that the situation is difficult, could change something and make it easier to accept the facts that we don’t like-
-Don’t misunderstand my words. I repeat that we cannot move a piece of the game with the guarantee of success, but I tell you that only by kicking the ball with strength and skill towards the goalkeeper we know if we scored a goal, if the shot hit the goalpost or if the goalkeeper saved our shot-
-So yours is not an invitation to passivity but to something else. However, I don’t understand to what, said Irene thoughtfully-
-My invitation is an invitation to ‘diairesis’-
-Diairesis? What does it mean? It’s a word I’ve never heard, protested Irene-
-Be patient and everything will slowly become clearer to you. Let’s go back to Medea. Since we know that each project of Medea is aproairetic, we must assume that her proairesis has a natural ability to choose which project has to be implemented-
-I agree. It can only be this way, but I am unable to give a name to this natural ability-
-Let’s make a comparison with what happens in Court and imagine that the various projects are different defendants and that this ‘natural ability’ is their judge-
-Yes, nodded Irene. The comparison is clear and I like it-
-Once the judge has examined the defendants and the witnesses, has heard the prosecution and defense speeches and has read the relevant articles of the Code, it decides for conviction or acquittal. In our case let’s call the judge that chooses between the different projects of Medea ‘antidiairesis’ -
-Antidiairesis? You enjoy muddling my ideas, said Irene. A little while ago you were talking about diairesis. Now you come out with this new word. I don’t understand anything anymore!-
-The two judges, diairesis and antidiairesis are twin brothers, as Apollo and Artemis were, or, if you prefer, the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux-
-Why is the judge that chooses which plan of Medea has to be implemented called ‘antidiairesis’?-
-Even if this definition doesn’t completely satisfy me, let’s temporarily define antidiairesis as the judge that operates upon things that are not in our exclusive power. The antidiairesis works according to the instruction it receives from diairesis, while the diairesis is the judge that operates on what is in our exclusive power. Remember that our argument started from this basic question: ‘Is what Medea wants to do a thing in her exclusive power or not?’ We concluded that to conceive a project is in Medea’s exclusive power but that to carry it out is not in the exclusive power of Medea. The judge that chooses which project of Medea must be implemented is called antidiairesis because it’s the judge appointed to carry out what is not in her exclusive power-
-Does this mean that antidiairesis is a bad judge?-
-Not at all. It is a judge not only good but necessary, that, however, plays a very different role from that of its brother diairesis-
-And what is the role played by the judge that you call diairesis?-
-As I told you, diairesis is the judge appointed to judge whether a project is in our exclusive power or not and, if it is in our exclusive power, to carry it out-
-You continue to amaze me, said Irene, and I am almost short of breath. Are there also projects that depend solely on us?-
-Certainly, replied calmly Raniero. I am aware that you’ve never heard about this, but we have to go up only few more stairs. I can anticipate, so that it might be clearer to you, that the projects whose realization depends solely on us are, as you will see, those proceeding from our natural ability to change our view of a given situation-
-And then ...?-
-Let’s go on with the Court’s comparison and accept that in this Court there are two judges. The judge diairesis is the first to receive and study the papers of the trial. In our case, the projects swirling in the mind of Medea. It has done its work and found that the implementation of none of these projects is in the exclusive power of Medea. As the judge diairesis is appointed to judge whether a project is in our exclusive power or not, what did it have to do?-
-It had to stop there and pass the papers to someone else-
-We accepted, for the moment, that there are only two judges in our proairesis. So... and here Raniero stopped talking-
-So..., said Irene, it... passed the papers to his brother, to the antidiairesis-
-That’s right. Let’s suppose that this is what happens in people’s proairesis. If the judge diairesis finds that the project doesn’t fall under its competence, it passes the case to its brother antidiairesis, giving intructions on how to carry on the further steps-
-I understand. It’s clear that Medea’s projects fall under the competence of the judge antidiairesis. Medea is confused, upset, and doesn’t realize that the implementation of none of the projects swirling in her mind is in her exclusive power. I guess this is the only door that Medea can open in order to express, in a brilliant albeit terrible way, her unhappiness-
-However, to tell you the truth, at this point I see a serious difficulty. We know that diairesis is the judgment that is able to distinguish what is in our exclusive power and what is not. We also know that antidiairesis works upon external things, upon what is not in our exclusive power, according to the instructions of diairesis. We know that Medea ignores the existence of the diairesis. But, then, who has written the instructions for the antidiairesis that Medea is certainly using?-
-Is there in our proairesis, asked Irene, a mysterious judge that we have not yet discovered?-
-You are probably right, my dear Irene. On the papers that were passed to antidiairesis something was written that obviously was not written by diairesis. If it was not written by diairesis it must have been written by someone else, because we know that Medea is ignorant of diairesis. On the other hand it is certain that the antidiairesis only has the task of working in accordance with the instructions written on those papers. This is a question to which I am unable to give a clear answer now. One thing we know for sure is that Medea sees the source of her affliction as being outside herself. It cannot be but like that because Medea, unable to use the diairesis, that is, to grasp what is in her exclusive power and what is not, is unable to assess which is her contribution to the desperate grief that she feels. If the behavior of Jason was in itself the cause of the affliction of Medea, then anyone in the face of such behavior should experience the same affliction-
-In a similar way, interrupted Irene, if death was in itself a terrible event, no one should commit suicide-
-Exactly. The cause of the affliction of Medea is therefore not the refusal by Jason but the judgment, which is exclusively of Medea, that the refusal of Jason is an insult, an injustice that humiliates her. The friends of Medea, as a matter of fact, do not have the same feelings about the behavior of Jason-
-It seems obvious to me, Irene interrupted, that the friends of Medea are not feeling the same affliction as she does. Maybe they feel a similar affliction because of their friendship with Medea-
-This may be the case, but theirs is a different affliction. The crucial point we have now reached is this: is there a project whose realization is in the exclusive power of Medea and that the appropriate use of diairesis would allow her to find? Or, to go back to the comparison with a Court: is there at least one project that depends exclusively on Medea, and that therefore the judge diairesis would not even need to pass to his brother?-
-Let me think for a moment, sighed Irene. From what you have said so far I think that a reasonable answer could be this one: Medea can change her judgment on the situation in which she is trapped-
-That’s exactly what I think too. We are touching the very heart of the problem. There is something which is entirely up to Medea: the judgment that she has of Jason and of his behavior. Jason, with his refusal, appears to Medea like a traitor worthy of the worst revenge. This judgment is in the exclusive power of Medea and she can change it. If Medea looked at Jason as at an unhappy careerist unworthy of her love, she would totally change her plans. Medea wants at all costs to live with Jason. Tell her: ‘Look at Corinth. It’s a dirty, unattractive, uncomfortable town with an unhealthy climate. You want light, air and sun. If you remember what you really like, you’ll see Corinth with new eyes and will consider the possibility of abandoning both Corinth and Jason as a stroke of luck. Jason can prevent you from committing suicide, from killing Glauce, your children or him; but Jason can’t prevent you from considering him an unhappy careerist, and therefore from judging the possibility of being deserted by your husband as highly desirable for you and a real stroke of luck. Does he want to keep the children with him? Let him have the children!-
-I understand what you are saying and I know that your words will be very helpful to me, said Irene. But Medea doesn’t change her mind because she doesn’t think that Jason is an unhappy careerist. She knows how important it is to become the Corinth’s king-
-Sure, Medea continues to appreciate Jason and knows he is a man of great value. But the situation has changed. We are no longer in the happy days of the conquest of the Golden Fleece. Let’s go straight to the heart of the problem and let me explain the situation with words that Medea can neither use nor understand. What Medea cannot accept is, in fact, that a man of the value of Jason no longer has, as before, the same judgments of Medea. We are faced with the full conflict of two proairesis. Medea has come to the conclusion that her most vital project is now the one of mastering Jason’s proairesis and force it back in line with her own. Medea ignores what proairesis and diairesis are, and nobody can teach her on the subject. Do you still believe that it’s correct to call ‘project’ or ‘activity’ the attempt to master the proairesis of someone else, and to call ‘passivity’ the plan of making the right use of your own proairesis? In the first case you have no certainty of success and are doomed, as Medea, to failure. In the second case, on the contrary, the diairesis will tell you how to live well and be happy-
-The judgment of Medea, Irene sighed, has not turned negative upon Jason. It has turned negative upon her own value and upon the value of her relationship with Jason-
-This is one of the characteristics of a proairesis that ignores or underrates its power to diairesize. At some point, such a proairesis is forced to deface the past, to depreciate it, to see lies and deception even where there was sincerity and loyalty. If you don’t use diairesis, your proairesis will never appreciate itself for what it really is and at some point will believe itself worthless-
-I wanted to ask you one more question, continued Irene. What makes you say that Medea wants Jason to have her ideas? Why do you exclude that it is vice versa?-
-The reason is simple. The strenght of Jason’s proairesis outclasses that of Medea’s proairesis, and Jason shows himself definitely superior to her in their conflict. Jason is not afraid to lose Medea: he is ready to abandon her. On the contrary, Medea is afraid to lose Jason: the idea of ​​living away from him without avenging herself for the affront she believes she suffered at his hands is unbearable for her. In this clash of proairesis the winner is inevitably the one who is willing to yield ground to the other, in the sense that Jason is willing to yield ground peacefully to Medea, while Medea is not. The discomfort of Medea arises from the fact that she has fallen in contradiction with herself. She wants Jason but at the same time she doesn’t want Jason like he is, that is Glauce’s husband and king of Corinth. Jason, on the contrary, is not in contradiction with himself because he wants Medea as she is, the wife and mother of his children. Jason and Medea are in real opposition: Jason has a plan that Medea rejects, Medea has a plan that Jason refuses-
-You used the word ‘contradiction’ before, and now you use the word ‘opposition’. Can you explain me why you do this?-
-You must know and remember that no contradiction can be detected in aproairetic things. The contradictions exist only in the brain of human beings, and they are personal and are unbearable. It’s impossible to believe that something is ‘white’ and at the same time ‘not white’: you have to choose ‘white’ or ‘not-white’. The contradictions must be resolved quickly, otherwise it’s impossible to communicate and also to act: no person can say or do one thing and at the same time the opposite one! The conflicts, on the contrary, are everywhere in nature, are actual oppositions of different plans and are bearable. For example, Medea notes, and could not do otherwise, that Jason has his own opinions and has projects that she doesn’t like at all-
-In the case of Jason and Medea, do you think it’s possible to overcome the conflict?-
-The exit from the contradiction is necessary and unavoidable. The conflicts, however, although they are bearable, are deadlocks rationally insolvable. The conflicts can persist indefinitely or end because one party drops a plan or because some facts change. It’s a pure question of opposing forces, and the stronger will always prevail over the weaker-
-Let me go back to one thing that you said and that I had not taken into account. You said that Jason had proposed to Medea, after his marriage to Glauce, to become his mistress. We may call this a compromise proposal, advanced in order to resolve the conflict, but Medea rejects it. Indeed this proposal offends Medea. Why? Which judgment underlies the rejection of Medea?-
-Can a person consider that something is useful to him and not choose it? He cannot. When Medea says: ‘I know what evils I am going to do, but my wrath is stronger than my resolutions’ she says this because she prefers to gratify her resentment and take revenge on her husband rather than to save her children. The same is true in the case of Glauce. Could Medea find it helpful to share with Glauce the bed of Jason? Her behavior clearly tells us: ‘No’. There can be many, different and easy to imagine judgments that underlie this behavior. For example: ‘Jason prefers the kingdom to my love. My love is not enough for Jason and he wants to find the love of a different woman. Jason is a selfish person and doesn’t care about choosing something that deeply hurts me. Jason simply wants to ‘have it all’. Finally Medea is jealous of Glauce because she fears her as younger, more beautiful, more interesting, and is afraid to be abandoned forever by Jason. All these judgments of Medea reflect her inability to use the diairesis and to recognize her contribution to the desperate grief she is living in. Medea, behaving this way, leaves the key to her happiness and unhappiness entirely in the hands of Jason-
-I see that the sailboat is no longer here below us, said at this point Irene-
-The sea has calmed down and it has certainly reached safely the port of the island, assured Raniero-
-I think that today we have talked enough, concluded Irene. Would anyone like to swim? I’m really looking forward to do it. What about us all going to Kedros beach?-


 
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