Musonius Rufus — Lecture VII: That one should disdain hardship
Nobody enjoys hardship. Or, at least, that’s what people are likely to say if asked: do you prefer to work hard or to dedicate yourself to some pleasure? But the issue is only superficially so straightforward. Let me prove to you right here that sometimes people prefer hardship to pleasure.
Consider again the question I have just posed: do you prefer to work hard or to dedicate yourself to some pleasure? The answer will depend on what kind of work and for what purpose I would have to carry it out, as well as on what sort of pleasure we are talking about. For instance, while I don’t enjoy going to the gym, I am happy to endure several hours a week of exercise for the sake of keeping my body in as good a shape as possible. As for pleasures, I willingly pass on the pleasure of an additional glass of wine, because I think I have had enough tonight and I don’t want my mental faculties to be impaired, or my sleep to be affected.
This is the sort of thing Musonius Rufus, Epictetus’ teacher, talks about in his seventh lecture. He begins it by suggesting that it is a good idea to examine why people voluntarily go through hardship, in order to convince ourselves that enduring hardship for a good reason is something that human beings can do, and in fact actually do, all the times. He then provides some examples:
Consider what intemperate lovers undergo for the sake of evil desires, and how much exertion others expend for the sake of making a profit, and how much suffering those who are pursuing fame endure, and bear in mind that all of these people submit to all kinds of toil and hardship voluntarily.
The argument that Musonius makes in this lecture is that we should be happy to endure hardship for a good cause, such as improving our character and becoming better human beings, since it is clearly within the range of human behaviors and abilities to endure comparable hardship for things that are actually not worth the effort. He continues by flipping around the intemperate behaviors he just listed, advising us to make efforts in the exact opposite direction: