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.

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