SLRP: LXXXVIII. On Studies (Part 1: 1-8)



“But there is only one really liberal study, – that which gives a man his liberty. It is the study of wisdom, and that is lofty, brave, and great-souled. All other studies are puny and puerile. You surely do not believe that there is good in any of the subjects whose teachers are, as you see, men of the most ignoble and base stamp? We ought not to be learning such things; we should have done with learning them.”

This reminds me for the section of the Discourses which discusses that there is only one knowledge which has knowledge of itself, comparing grammar, music, etc. to logic/philosophy.  This seems a natural extension of that line of reasoning.

This is one thing which has been on my mind significantly the past few months: right livelihood.  Musonius suggests working the earth, Epictetus the same as well as teaching classes or advising rulers.  That seems to be the limited field going so far back as the early Stoa.

“We have no leisure to hear lectures on the question whether he was sea-tost between Italy and Sicily, or outside our known world (indeed, so long a wandering could not possibly have taken place within its narrow bounds); we ourselves encounter storms of the spirit, which toss us daily, and our depravity drives us into all the ills which troubled Ulysses.”

A wonderful vignette.

The body has certain requirements, and they are but sparse.  It required water, food, sleep, warmth, shelter.  The mind my also require companionship and exercise of some sort.  The soul requires virtue.  The mixture of these, to serve them all requires little on the former, and time and effort on the last.

Right livelihood, then, should meet several criteria (both positive and negative) to my mind:

  • To produce enough to support one’s self and one’s dependents minimally (not luxuriously).
  • To not be involved in any morally repugnant, or even morally dubious thing.
  • To leave one with enough time to focus on philosophy and one’s social roles.
  • To be directed to some useful end.

These are probably not the same criteria most folks use when choosing, or stumbling into, a career.  And it really casts one’s choices in a different light, as well as highly restricts them.

I suspect the most difficult issue is the second one, as this may not be apparent from the outside looking in.  But this criterion would suggest we must leave as soon as possible any employment which caused us to violate our principles.

Food for thought.  Thank you for the letter.


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

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