Camp Seneca: Day 2- On Intoxicants


“[D]runkenness is nothing but a condition of insanity purposely assumed.

— Seneca, Moral Letters, LXXXIII. On drunkenness


One of the things that mark this period of training which is not covered by the Rule of Musonius, is the abstaining from intoxicants.  For me, this means alcohol and caffeine.  It’s a fortuitous twist of fate that I stopped taking caffeine about three weeks ago, so I’ll simply be maintaining that.

Musonius doesn’t cover the consumption of alcohol or other intoxicants, for that we look to Seneca.  In the above cited Letter, he makes reference to a syllogism (like many of the early Stoic ones, poorly formed) in which Zeno proclaims the good man will not be a drunkard (note:  this is an interpretation, he states the good man will not get drunk, but I find Seneca’s argument compelling here).  But, also, we have this:

When he was asked why he, though so austere, relaxed at a drinking-party, he said, “Lupins too are bitter, but when they are soaked become sweet.” Hecato too in the second book of his Anecdotes says that he indulged freely at such gatherings. And he would say, “Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue.”

— Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 7.1. Zeno

So we have a bit of confusion on this issue.

Epictetus mentions drunkness on several occasions, mostly in relation to getting in debates with the drunk, or teaching the drunk.  We also have this:

“That a man is a drunkard who takes more than three glasses; and though he be not drunk, he hath exceeded moderation.”

— Epictetus, Fragments No.3 (Carter’s transl.)

So it’s fair to say that we don’t have an total prohibition on the consumption of wine/alcohol.  However, for this period of training, we’ll be abstaining entirely as a practice.  A Stoic need not be a teetotaler, but clearly moderation is key.  Three glasses of wine might be a pretty lenient view of moderation, come to think of it.  Maybe their glasses were smaller than ours?  It seems fair also to say that while a Stoic might consume alcohol, she won’t become habitually drunk.  I think this reasonably extends to other substances which may have varying degrees of legality in different jurisdictions.

So, questions of law and other things aside, for the purpose of this training, we will be abstaining entirely from intoxicants (whatever that may mean for you).  For me, that’s alcohol and caffeine.  If we find this to be difficult for ourselves, that should prompt an internal discussion about moderation, self-control, and unhealthy behaviors.

Looking forward to hearing back from you all on how the training is going.

This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.