SLRP: LXXVIII. The Healing Power Of The Mind (Part 4: 22-29)

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Seneca,

There does seem to be an interesting double-thinking occuring in this article.  It may be that it’s a rhetorical device, but it’s a thing I too have been thinking about lately.  It is true, as you say:

“[T]he thirstier a man is, the more he enjoys a drink; the hungrier he is, the more pleasure he takes in food. Whatever falls to one’s lot after a period of abstinence is welcomed with greater zest.”

This is exactly the Epicurean position, that by abstaining from the fanciest of things, we are able to take pleasure in mere barley cakes and water.  And pleasure, or lack of pain, is the Epicurean goal.

The Stoic twist, then, should be that although there is a body-pleasure, and even its perception may be increased by our training, it is still an indifferent.  It’s important to remember that the increased pleasure should not become the focus of the training.

I wonder, though, if as a stepping stone, that’s an appropriate thought during training.  To be able to hold off now for the future pleasure?  Epictetus gives us a similar trick:

‘If you are struck by the appearance of any promised pleasure, guard yourself against being hurried away by it; but let the affair wait your leisure, and procure yourself some delay. Then bring to your mind both points of time: that in which you will enjoy the pleasure, and that in which you will repent and reproach yourself after you have enjoyed it; and set before you, in opposition to these, how you will be glad and applaud yourself if you abstain.”

—Epictetus, Enchiridion 34

Which bears a similarity to a Fragment of Musonius, explicitly playing of the Epicurean position, it seems.

“If one were to measure what is agreeable by the standard of pleasure, nothing would be pleasanter than self-control; and if one were to measure what is to be avoided by pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control.”

— Musonius, Fragment 24

It seems to me, that this sort of an aid to training, as an intermediary argument for the person just starting in philosophy, considering the practices of philosophy as a pleasure with which the uninstructed person is already attached has a fair broad basis in the text.

At some point, however, that needs to flip, and the προκόπτων must come to the understanding that:

“[A]ny life must seem short to those who measure its length by pleasures which are empty and for that reason unbounded.”

Farewell.


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

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