SLRP: XXIV. On Despising Death (Part 2: 14 – 26)

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Seneca,

Your letter on death, that it is not a singular thing but in fact the culmination of a long process is an interesting and true one.  I was thinking this morning about Providence, Fate, determinism, and the cosmos.  Just the little things, right?

I was thinking about determinism and death.  If the cosmos is providentially ordered by the Logos, we are fated to be presented with certain choices.  Chyrsippus well handled the issue of moral culpability, choice, and agency, in my mind, so I won’t re-hash that.  If you’ll permit me to take it for granted that there are some things which are up to us, I’ll do that.

So, we’re fated to be presented with certain choices.  Certain dilemmas and trials.  This is because God, Providence, Nature, the Logos, what have you, determines the wisest and best course for the cosmos.  My test, then, is a test not of my abilities or my endurances per se, but rather a test of my willingness to accept the best for the cosmos.

Can I arrange my will in line with that of Providence?

If we examine the doctrine of Ekpyrosis (Gr: ἐκπύρωσις), then we can take it literally or figuratively.  If literally, then the cosmos will unfold as it has again and again, endlessly.  Until at its culmination it is consumed in the cosmic fire.  Since it is arranged to the best and highest good, we can infer that the same actors, the same choices, and the same situations will arise.  Endlessly.  There is a sort of immortality, then; and we should willingly embrace any hardship including death in the furtherance of virtue.

If we take it figuratively, then we understand that everything will be raised to the level of cosmic fire, the good, the bad, the indifferent.  My choices, then, do not echo into eternity.  The salvation of the Stoic is in the here and now, in virtue.

Both of these are conciliations to the soul.  We should then throw ourselves into any needed hardships, including death, knowing that those tests are ours and they are needed.  Whether it’s the same over and over, or there’s annihilation becomes a moot point, because the result as a motivation for our actions is the same.  We have the opportunity to choose virtue, to choose to bring our will into alignment with the universal logos, the artificial (creative) fire of the cosmos.

If we are working to align ourselves to our highest and best natures (a big if), then there is no need to worry about the choice.  We don’t need to play it safe.  Do the hard thing, when the hard thing is right.

I can easily accept causal determinism, that specific causes yield specific effects.  It is contrary to my normal way of thinking to apply that same criteria to the motivations of rational agents.  Something in me rebels.  For this reason, Chrysippus’ compatiblist stance seems to find the sweet spot.  Me, the self, the ἡγεμονικόν still has the freedom, the choice, to choose correctly.

I don’t yet know that I grok Fate, but slowly, I’m coming to have an appreciation for it.  The measure of death in your letter is a good barometer for that test.

Farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

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