Getting rid of bad habits

In the dialogue Minos, which has been attributed to Plato, Socrates refers to the importance of learning how to distinguish between good and wicked men (διαγιγνώσκειν χρηστοὺς καὶ πονηροὺς ἄνδρας, Minos 319a). In Aristophanes’ play The Acharnians, the chorus complain of the indignity that those who pursued the enemy at the battle of Marathon are now in old age pursued in the law courts by young speakers (‘wicked men’, ἀνδρῶν πονηρῶν) practised in rhetoric (698-700).

Epicurus uses similar vocabulary in Vatican Saying 46 (quoted below), but here the term ‘wicked men’ is applied figuratively to bad habits that distort the individual’s outlook and behaviour. Perhaps we can say that for Epicurus the wicked opponents of our moral situation are to a significant extent internalized: we are a problem to ourselves, in so far as we have within us habits of thought and conduct that need to be driven out like wicked men.

The opportunity to improve, and hence to progress towards greater happiness, is available to us if we are prepared to examine ourselves and distinguish between habits worth developing and habits that must be completely eradicated.

Thoughts for the Day, September 6: ‘Let us completely chase away bad habits as if they were wicked men who have done great harm for a long time’ (Vatican Sayings 46).

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