SLRP: LXXXI. On Benefits (Part 4: 23b – 32)

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Seneca,

So the close of this letter leaves us with several interesting points.

“But no man can be grateful unless he has learned to scorn the things which drive the common herd to distraction…”

Again, the call for training to be able to set aside the worldly things that hamper philosophy.  But we still hear that Stoics aren’t ascetics, they’re just trying to scorn worldly things… right.

“We are deflected from the right course by riches, titles, power, and everything which is valuable in our opinion but worthless when rated at its real value.”

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXI. On Benefits (Part 3: 19b – 23a)

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Seneca,

I’ll admit, when I hear other Stoics talk about gratitude, I found myself a little turned off.  Not because graciousness is bad, or even dispreferred, but mostly because there’s a large-ish push about gratitude in the fluffier self-help sections of the internet these days.  Of course, having a negative judgement against something because it might be popular in softer circles is just as much of an error of thinking about something positively because the cool kids are doing it.  So I’ve tried to set aside those preconceived notions, and read these section in the spirit in which their meant

“[T]he reward for all the virtues lies in the virtues themselves.”

This seems to me to be the test as to whether we’ve really internalized that virtue is the only good.  It’s not good because [something].  It simply is good.  When we get to the point that we can see the practice of inculcation of virtue as a self-fulfilling reward, I think we’re measurably closer to the goal.

“Let us therefore avoid being ungrateful, not for the sake of others but for our own sakes. When we do wrong, only the least and lightest portion of it flows back upon our neighbour; the worst and, if I may use the term, the densest portion of it stays at home and troubles the owner.”

In the Venn Diagram of “the golden rule” and “the Wiccan creed” lies your, Seneca, position on gratitude.  (;  This is a useful thought-model though.

“The ungrateful man tortures and torments himself; he hates the gifts which he has accepted, because he must make a return for them, and he tries to belittle their value, but he really enlarges and exaggerates the injuries which he has received. And what is more wretched than a man who forgets his benefits and clings to his injuries?”

This paragraph stuck out at me.  I recall getting gifts, and thinking immediately how I would repay it.  It never occurred to me that this was an ungrateful attitude.  That’s some serious food for thought today.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXI. On Benefits (Part 2: 10b – 19a)

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Seneca,

This section of the letter is full of what I might call the “economic position on social interaction.”  We’re talking a lot about give and take, benefits or profits, capital and interest.  It reminded me of this, also:

 

“…[S]ince I thought it improper to take something from a person who had himself not received anything.”

— Ps-Diogenes, Cynic Epistle XXXVIII

The Cynic Epistle in question has a sort of capitalist tinge, that the mendicant philospher is giving just value for what we begs, namely his teachings and example.  Your Sage, however, seems to be concerned with giving better than she gets.  But we still see some of the former:

“For anyone who receives a benefit more gladly than he repays it is mistaken.”

Overall, this kind of example I think is a good one.  It take a rather heady subject and couches it in the very mundane sort of interaction we’re very familiar with.

Looking forward to the rest of the letter.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXI. On Benefits (Part 1: 1 – 10a)

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Seneca,

My first reading of this was that we we’re going to see a contradiction from before, the extolling of retreat for philosophical practice would be contra this admonishment to mix even with many ungrateful persons that we find the few good ones.

“In order to discover one grateful person, it is worth while to make trial of many ungrateful ones.”

That certainly looks like a mark in the pro column for worldly engagement.  And then we have this:

“If one were compelled to drop everything that caused trouble, life would soon grow dull amid sluggish idleness…”

This is when I realized that we’re not talking about a retreat versus world issue, what we’re seeing is a test for what’s leftover.  We’re not abandoning life, or society.  We’re paring down, digging for the quality amongst the dross.

We’re not compelled to leave off everything, and what we do renounce should be towards a purpose, again not for mere dislike.

I look forward to the rest of the letter.

Farewell.


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

Camp Seneca: Day 13 – The Seventh Precept

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“For this is the object always set before him by the wise and good man … Is it to marry? No; but if marriage is allowed to him, in this matter his object is to maintain himself in a condition conformable to nature.”

— Epictetus, Discourses IV.5



The seventh of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

7.  To use sex only for virtuous purposes, and within the confines of fidelity.

We take it upon ourselves to use our sexual faculties with kindness and virtue. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XII, Lectures XIII A and XIII B, Lecture XIV, and Lecture XV in regards to family life.

 

I don’t think is a topic I’ve addressed much.  The other day, I promised an issue which I thought should raise some controversy… but really hasn’t.  So the section from Musonius on which this precept is based states that sexual activity is only acceptable within the confines of marriage and for the purpose of procreation.

You can see that I’ve made a change a here, for “within the confines of fidelity.”  I admit this is a divergence.  There’s a few reason for it.  One is that concept of marriage these days has a controversy surrounding its definition and applicability which I wanted to avoid.  It’s not my intent to exclude anyone from using this system.  Second, I think Musonius may have been a little short-sighted in this position which we took.

Musonius values the institution of family highly, and neglect the bonding and closeness between married persons which is only aided by sexual activity between them seems a glaring omission.  My thought, is that Musonius has actually made an error.  The sexual act is pleasurable, but the Stoic should be able to see its utility beyond the pleasure which occurs with it.

It’s important that he or she does not become a slave to it, but its presence shouldn’t be a reason to turn aside entirely.

For these reasons, I’ve adopted the term fidelity in the precept rather than marriage.

This is something which I expected lots of controversy around, but only ever received maybe one comment towards that end.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

SLRP: LXXX. On Worldly Deceptions

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Seneca,

This is an interesting, letter, and I thank you for it.  The part which stood out most to me is:

“[Y]ou can acquire virtue without equipment and without expense. All that goes to make you a good man lies within yourself.”

This is a helpful and needed reminder.  The intellectual work, while necessary, isn’t the end.  Once a firm grasp of the tenets of the School is had, practice is all that’s required.

Farewell.


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

Camp Seneca: Day 11 – The Sixth Precept

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“Aeschylus at the Isthmian games was watching a boxing-match, and when one of the men was hit the crowd in the theatre burst into a roar. Aeschylus nudged Ion of Chios, and said, “You see what a thing training is; the man who is hit says nothing; it is the spectators who shout.” ”

— Plutarch,  How a Man May Become Aware of His Progress in Virtue.



The sixth of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

6.To strengthen the body and soul through cold and heat, thirst and hunger, scarcity of food and hardness of bed, and abstaining from pleasure and enduing pain.

We take it upon ourselves to experience austerity, that we might become more wise, more just, more temperate, and more courageous. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture VI and Lecture VII in regards to training and austerities.

I’ve discussed training at least or twice on the blog.  The core theory is described in this post.  Then, some of the specifics were distilled here.  Finally, the Rule of Musonius was produced from these ideas.

Epictetus gives a warning:

“We ought not to train ourselves in unnatural or extraordinary actions, for in that case we who claim to be philosophers shall be no better than mountebanks. For it is difficult to walk on a tight-rope, and not only difficult but dangerous as well…”

— Epictetus, Discourses III.12.

So we know that we’re not engaging in beds of nails, or emaciated bodies, or damaging the body.  Not all movement is progress, and considering the wide variety of human practices that we have available, we need to pick and choose carefully.

“Since it so happens that the human being is not soul alone, nor body alone, but a kind of synthesis of the two, the person in training must take care of both, the better part, the soul, more zealously; as is fitting, but also of the other, if he shall not be found lacking in any part that constitutes man.”

— Musonius, Lecture VI.

Musonius breaks down the two kinds of training, in the above.  In one of the previous posts I broke that down into:

  • Soul and Body:
    • Designed to instill discipline to both by exposure to:
      • cold and heat
      • thirst and hunger
      • meager rations
      • hard beds
      • avoidance of pleasure
      • patience under suffering (note: not causing suffering)
  • Soul Alone:
    • Designed to build the habit of handling impressions appropriately
      • to have ready to mind the proofs regarding apparent and real goods and evils
      • distinguish between apparent and real goods and evils
      • practice in not avoiding apparent evils
      • practice in not pursuing apparent goods
      • practice in avoiding real evils
      • practice in pursuing real goods.

This precept is geared to the first type, of body and soul together.  Parts of this practice are woven throughout the other precepts, in eating only once per day, we’re experiencing hunger, in dressing modestly and not for fashion we can choose things that allow us to feel the heat or cold.  In controlling our sexual urges and abstaining from alcohol, we’re avoiding pleasures, etc.

“I am inclined to pleasure: in order to train myself I will incline beyond measure in the opposite direction. I am disposed to avoid trouble: I will harden and train my impressions to this end, that my will to avoid may hold aloof from everything of this kind.”

—Epictetus, Discourses III.12

The issue of pleasure is an interesting one.  Since pleasure and pain are classed as indifferents.  We have the story of the Spartan boy who asked if pain were not a good, Musonius references this, .

If then we place these two young men in the position of pupils of a philosopher arguing that death, toil, poverty, and the like are not evils, or again that life, pleasure, wealth, and the like are not goods, do you imagine that both will give heed to the argument in the same fashion, and that one will be persuaded by it in the same degree as the other? Far from it. The one reluctantly and slowly, and fairly pried loose by a thousand arguments, will perhaps in the end give sign of assent—I mean of course the dullard. The other quickly and readily will accept the argument as cogent and relevant to himself, and will not require many proofs nor a fuller treatment. Was not just such a lad that Spartan boy who asked Cleanthes the philosopher if toil was not a good?

— Musonius, Lecture 1.

and it’s also related in Lives VII.5

A Lacedaemonian having declared that toil was a good thing, he was overjoyed and said,

          “Thou art of gentle blood, dear child.”

— Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers VII.5

 

The danger of the doctrine relating to pleasure is that the situation is one in which self-delusion is possible.  “If pleasure is an indifferent,” we might be inclined to say, “then it doesn’t matter if I indulge.”

But indulgence trains the moral will.

And that is the core reason behind this precept.

 


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.