SLRP: 1.LXXXIII. On Drunkenness (Part 2: 8 – 19a)



[D]runkenness is nothing but a condition of insanity purposely assumed. Prolong the drunkard’s condition to several days; will you have any doubt about his madness? Even as it is, the madness is no less; it merely lasts a shorter time.

The thrust of your letter thus far, is that while philosophy does not require teetotalism, however this would not be to counter purposes, it does require moderation.  There seems to be a but of a conflict with what we’re reported of Zeno, that at one time he said the good man does not get drunk, and at another that even the beans are improved by soaking.

Maybe we expect a but much from Zeno.  Either way, the question of intentionally altering human consciousness, specifically for recreation or relaxing, is certain one which philosophy ought to be able to answer.

I agree with you, that when we look at the very early Stoics, while their conclusions often seem to me to be correct, their arguments are often lacking.

Drunkenness kindles and discloses every kind of vice, and removes the sense of shame that veils our evil undertakings. For more men abstain from forbidden actions because they are ashamed of sinning than because their inclinations are good.

It just so happens that this week I was discussing αἰδώς with a group of Stoics.  We were discussing its English translation, which is often rendered as ‘shame.”  I provided “shamefast,” which often gets incorrect reported as ‘shame faced,’  and we came to the understanding that it is the pre-emptive feeling (a good passion) which alerts the good person to a possible future moral failing.  It is a moral self-respect which a good person has which does not permit him or her to do a certain morally corrupt thing.

Here, Seneca, you seem to look down on this pre-emptive sort of avoiding evil, but I’m not sure that you’re correct here.  Indeed, especially as those of us training, this kind of feeling is useful measurement device.

How often do the Stoics admonish us to live as if all our deeds were public, as if all our thoughts were commonly available to others.  The purpose of recollecting to ourselves in the evening is to being the habit and thought that our actions, no matter how secret, will get exposed if only to ourselves before bed.

I think the argument that the person who does not exercise the due control over appetites, over food and drink, indeed does wrong.  This is a useful reminder for many of us moderns.

I thank you for the letter, and look forward to tomorrow’s.


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

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