SLRP: LXXII. The Enemy Of Philosophy (Part 2: 7 – 11)



This section of your letter begins by looking at an issue I happened to be thinking of yesterday.  The modern philosopher, particularly of the academic stripe, has a certain stereotype.  Bookish, patches on the elbows of the jacket, physically weak.

But in looking back Plato, Zeno, and Chrysippus we see boxers, runners, and wrestlers turned philosopher.  Socrates is reported to have held his discourses often in gymnasiums.  The health of the mind and the health of the body, it seems then, were not held as two distinct things.  Today, it seems like one must forego one or the other to pursue its opposite:  brains or brawn, take your pick.

This line of thought brought me to consider what we mean by health, of course your letter bends towards health of the soul:

“I shall tell you what I mean by health: if the mind is content with its own self; if it has confidence in itself; if it understands that all those things for which men pray, all the benefits which are bestowed and sought for, are of no importance in relation to a life of happiness; under such conditions it is sound.”

We see a harkening back then to the Dichotomy, where our happiness is placed.  What I read here, then, is a call to a healthy προαίρεσις:  that faculty which in part determines what is in our exclusive control, and what is not.  When the προαίρεσις is operating healthily, it understands what true profit is, and does not look to the things for which men typically pray, but rather what are its own goods.

“Now all that which the crowd gapes after, ebbs and flows. Fortune gives us nothing which we can really own.”

The only things we can really own then are the fruits of the προαίρεσις.  Just like Musonius coaches us to not have personal suits over injury, since the only things the courts have jurisdiction over are aprohairetic, external things.  Fortune can only give or take externals.  The προαίρεσις, however, is totally free in its proper domain.

“Assume that a man has good intentions, and has made progress, but is still far from the heights; the result is a series of ups and downs; he is now raised to heaven, now brought down to earth. For those who lack experience and training, there is no limit to the downhill course; such a one falls into the Chaos of Epicurus, – empty and boundless.”

The path of the προκοπτόν is a difficult one.  It doesn’t contain clear markers, or the sixteen steps of knowledge, or benchmarks of progress.  It’s a lot of ups and downs.  We are reminded, with the heavy standard, that every slip trains for the next one.

But there is still a way up, and if we keep feet to path, we’re working in the right direction.


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

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