On Benefits Book I, X


There are many cases, wherein a man speaks of himself as of another.

As, for example, “I may thank myself for this; I am angry at myself; I hate myself for that.”

And this way of speaking has raised a dispute among the Stoics, “whether or not a man may give or return a benefit to himself?”

For, say they, if I may hurt myself, I may oblige myself; and that which were a benefit to another body, why is it not so to myself?

And why am I not as criminal in being ungrateful to myself as if I were so to another body?

And the case is the same in flattery and several other vices; as, on the other side, it is a point of great reputation for a man to command himself.

Plato thanked Socrates for what he had learned of him; and why might not Socrates as well thank Plato for that which he had taught him?

“That which you want,” says Plato, “borrow it of yourself.”

And why may not I as well give to myself as lend? If I may be angry with myself, I may thank myself; and if I chide myself, I may as well commend myself, and do myself good as well as hurt; there is the same reason of contraries: it is a common thing to say, “Such a man hath done himself an injury.”

If an injury, why not a benefit?

But I say, that no man can be a debtor to himself; for the benefit must naturally precede the acknowledgment; and a debtor can no more be without a creditor than a husband without a wife.

Somebody must give, that somebody may receive; and it is neither giving nor receiving, the passing of a thing from one hand to the other.

What if a man should be ungrateful in the case? there is nothing lost; for he that gives it has it: and he that gives and he that receives are one and the same person.

Now, properly speaking, no man can be said to bestow any thing upon himself, for he obeys his nature, that prompts every man to do himself all the good he can.

Shall I call him liberal, that gives to himself; or good-natured, that pardons himself; or pitiful, that is affected with his own misfortunes?

That which were bounty, clemency, compassion, to another, to myself is nature.

A benefit is a voluntary thing; but to do good to myself is a thing necessary.

Was ever any man commended for getting out of a ditch, or for helping himself against thieves?

Or what if I should allow, that a man might confer a benefit upon himself; yet he cannot owe it, for he returns it in the same instant that he receives it.

No man gives, owes, or makes a return, but to another.

How can one man do that to which two parties are requisite in so many respects?

Giving and receiving must go backward and forward betwixt two persons.

If a man give to himself, he may sell to himself; but to sell is to alienate a thing, and to translate the right of it to another; now, to make a man both the giver and the receiver is to unite two contraries.

That is a benefit, which, when it is given, may possibly not be requited; but he that gives to himself, must necessarily receive what he gives; beside, that all benefits are given for the receiver’s sake, but that which a man does for himself, is for the sake of the giver.

This is one of those subtleties, which, though hardly worth a man’s while, yet it is not labor absolutely lost neither.

There is more of trick and artifice in it than solidity; and yet there is matter of diversion too; enough perhaps to pass away a winter’s evening, and keep a man waking that is heavy-headed.