Excerpt from Epictetus' Discourses, Book I, Chapter 8 (emphasis mine):

You know, I once said the same thing to Musonius when he reproached me for not discovering the omission in a certain syllogism. I said, 'It's not like I burned down the Capitol.' And he said, 'Idiot, the omission here is the Capitol.'

I mean, are these the only crimes, killing your father and burning down the Capitol? But to use one's impressions recklessly, carelessly and at random, to fail to analyse an argument as either valid proof or fallacy, and, in a word, to fail to see in the act of question and answer what agrees with your position and what conflicts - is nothing wrong in all of that?

I suppose that Capitol is the name of some ancient city, but I nonetheless struggle to understand Epictetus' message here.

Is it:

  1. A simile? Not observing that a premise is missing from a syllogism is as grave as burning down a city?
  2. A literal correlation? That omission from the syllogism was about the Capitol?
  3. If something else, what?

Update: as per @Cascabel's comment, Capitol is a building part of the The Capitoline Hill in Ancient Rome.

  • When Epictetus referred to the Capitol, he meant this. The point seems to be that what he missed in the syllogism was more substantial than burning down the building. – Cascabel Dec 1 '20 at 15:16
  • This seems to be a copy/paste of the reddit post. – Cascabel Dec 1 '20 at 18:27
  • @Cascabel yes, I posted the question on Reddit too. – Paul Razvan Berg Dec 1 '20 at 18:27
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    Well, now we are going in circles, because the "self-answer" posted below quotes a comment from that post on reddit, which was inadequate there. – Cascabel Dec 1 '20 at 18:35
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    The first metaphor involved, that negated by Epictetus, is 'burning down the Capitol' ≅ 'Missing the omission in syllogism A'. (I can't find a 'does not represent' symbol, to show a 'rejected-metaphor'.) Musonius tweaked the metaphor to 'The Capitol itself' ≅ 'The omission in syllogism A' (and perhaps sloppy analysis per se). The Capitol (think those great buildings in the US) is a further figurative representation, of an enormity. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 1 '20 at 19:23

As per Reddit user @Kromulent's comment, saying that "it's not like I burned down the Capitol" is an ancient version of our modern "it's not the end of the world".

So it is a simile.

And the meaning of his teacher's reply is that he actually made a major error even if it's not the worst that can be made.

  • I updated the answer with more details. – Paul Razvan Berg Dec 1 '20 at 18:35

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