Roman Calendar

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Obedience" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


. . .

Must we obey our parents in all things, or are there circumstances where we don't listen to them? Well it seems a good thing for everyone to obey their mother and father - I certainly recommend it. However, let us examine obedience - what is obedience - who is the disobedient person?

Take this case. A father who isn't a physician or experienced in treating sickness prescribes for his handicapped son something harmful - the son is aware of that fact. Surely by not following his father's prescription he isn't disobeying and isn't disobedient, is he? It wouldn't seem so.

Suppose the father were ill and demands wine and food that he ought not to have - it would aggravate his illness if he took it - and his son, realizing this, wouldn't give it to him - surely he isn't disobeying his father, is he? Certainly you can't think so.

. . .

Sure, disobedience is a word of reproach and shame, but refusing to do what you ought not to do merits praise, not blame. Thus, if your father or the archon or even the tyrant orders something wrong or unjust or shameful, and you don't carry out the order - you are in no way disobeying - as you do no wrong nor fail to do right. Disobedience is disregarding and refusing to carry out good, honourable, and useful orders.

The obedient person listens to anyone who counsels what is appropriate and follows it voluntarily . . .

Don't let your father be an excuse for your own misdeeds - there is no reason for you to follow evil commands . . ."

An early iteration of the principle most firmly established in the Western mind at Nuremburg - "I was just following orders" is insufficient excuse for doing evil.

It is interesting that Rufus focuses so much on parental, and particularly fatherly, authority. This is, no doubt, a reflection of his times, in which patria potestas was largely undiminished.

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