SLRP: LXXXIV. On Gathering Ideas (Part 1: 1 – 8a)

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Seneca,

[M]y passion for literature makes me lazy and careless about my body…

You and me both.  This first part of the letter explicitly states something I’ve come to know, but hadn’t distilled so concisely.  Through writing, we form and organize those things we’ve taken in, and this leads to a synthesising and framing of the information in a new and more useful way.

It is often when I sit down to write, either for myself alone or for the blog, that I find ideas have coalesced and grown in new directions.

When I sit at the keyboard to explain a topic or facet, my understanding deepens.  We learn as we teach, and even when the student is our own self, this holds true.

I look forward to the rest of the letter.

Farewell.


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

Email list

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the-at-signFor those of you who have been following the blog for the past two and a half years, thank you.  If you wouldn’t mind also signing up for the email list, I would certainly appreciate it.

I won’t spam you, and you’ll get a first crack at news, ebooks, and other philosophy-related stuffs.  Thanks again.

— MountainStoic.com

Update: The Stoic Bookshelf

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bookshelf-organization

One of the most frequently used pages by visitors on the blog is The Stoic Bookshelf.  I’ve been very good about buying new books, mediocre at reading new books, but entirely atrocious at updating that list.

So, I’ve made some updates and additions there.  That page will be undergoing a pretty serious overhaul in the coming weeks.  But, for the time being, head over and see what’s new.

Plutarch: On Curiosity

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I have just finished reading the section of Plutarch’s De Moralia “On Curiosity.” The Greek word in question is a bit difficult to translate, so you also see “On Being a Busybody” used.

You can read it here:  http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/De_curiositate*.html

The thrust of the essay, is an argument against the sort of curiosity which feeds on knowing the failings of others.  The gossipy nature, the uncovering of secrets, etc.  So the essay both argues against this, showing how this nature is at the extreme leading to things like adultery; and it offers a therapy to undo these habits.

 The fact that gossiping and nosiness are habits is an important one.  If you will permit the liberty, I’ll transpose some of his exercises to the utility of today as well as note the examples given.

Plutarch suggests that we not read every bit of graffiti, or signage that we pass.  That this little intrigue reduced our ability to study and descent important things, and trains the moral will into insinuating ourselves into things not our business.

He suggests that when we’re walking, we don’t peek in the doors of neighbors.  We might also practice not checking out the workspace of our colleagues, and keeping our attention outside of their offices, cubes, or desks where we might work.  Turn the gaze inward, to the self, and not to others.

Plutarch suggests that when a letter arrives, we delay opening it for a time.  This can be true for email, push notifications for smart phones, and the other ten-thousand digital intruders of the day.  We may even block those things into chunks: to check email once or twice a day, turn off the push notifications from Facebook, YouTube, or our favorite Stoic blogger, and instead only give a set amount of time to these things each day.

One of the things which Plutarch mentioned, is that the person who loves to uncover secrets also loves to share it.  I suspect that the second part is easier to wrangle than the first.  We might adopt an purposeful silence, not sharing the social tidbits which we might uncover.  This will lead in time to a reduction in the former.

I suspect that part of the allure of sharing gossip is being perceived as the person “in the know.” Restricting such speech, then, will immediately curtail this feedback.

Plutarch remarks that the very people who seek out such knowledge are the ones we hide it from, and so the work of the gossip is twice as hard.

While not a Stoic work per se, this fits nearly into many philosophical settings.  It’s short, and I recommend it to your reading.

It is important to remember how we train the moral will, and what small things lead to greater.

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

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Seneca,

[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.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXIII. On Drunkenness (Part 1: 1 – 7)

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Seneca,

“At any rate, it is thus that we should live, – as if we lived in plain sight of all men; and it is thus that we should think, – as if there were someone who could look into our inmost souls; and there is one who can so look. For what avails it that something is hidden from man? Nothing is shut off from the sight of God. He is witness of our souls, and he comes into the very midst of our thoughts – comes into them, I say, as one who may at any time depart.”

I have not been doing a very good job at doing the morning and evening review.  I will take your letter as an invitation to begin the practice again.  I think I will change the manner somewhat, however.

Previously, I would do so quietly and internally while waiting for sleep.  I also tried handwriting out in a journal using a three-fold set of questions:

  • That which I did well the day.
  • That which I did ill the day.
  • That which I have left undone.

Yet, I think this too narrow a focus, and doesn’t provide for the kind of introspection and review that the exercise required.  Henceforth, I will think I type out my review, beginning with a diary-like accounting of the day, and then finishing by way of summary with my three points above.

Thank you for the timely reminder.  Although the purpose of today’s letter has yet to be uncovered, this was a needed sentiment.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXII. On The Natural Fear Of Death (Part 3: 19 – 24)

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Seneca,

You cannot “still braver go,” if you are persuaded that those things are the real evils. Root out this idea from your soul; otherwise your apprehensions will remain undecided and will thus check the impulse to action.

This is the most poignant reminder in today’s letter.  The purpose of our training is not in mere logical exercises or tricks, but to root out false beliefs, and in their place leave assents to true propositions according to nature.

It’s an interesting idea that the Sage might not have to be brave to face a death such as the Spartans saw at Thermopylae, but since his beliefs are founded on correct assents, he knows death is no evil, and this experiences no fear which needs to be combated with bravery.

Thank you for the reminder and food for thought.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: 5.LXXXIII. On Drunkenness (Part 3: 19b – 27)

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Seneca,

When the strength of wine has become too great and has gained control over the mind, every lurking evil comes forth from its hiding-place. Drunkenness does not create vice, it merely brings it into view…

It has long been my contention that intoxication of this sort does not bring about new evils.  It simply rearranges priorities.  As you note, the lustful man does not hide his vice, nor does the cruel man but become more cruel.  Alcohol and the like seem not to create new evils, but only bring them to the surface.

There are, perhaps, other more rare vices which do seem to change the quality of the person, if not with a single use but through prolonged exposure.  The heartily addicted sometime seem this way.

It is still due to ignorance that mean do evil:

[T]hat what men call pleasures are punishments as soon as they have exceeded due bounds

All are deprived of truth against their will.  It is through a misunderstanding good and evil that folks seek escape or (incorrect) therapy for their passions.  You will sometimes see it claimed that addiction is moral problem, not a criminal one.

I generally agree with this sentiment, but would take a Stoic turn.  It’s not that person needs to be saved to change their behavior, but that they must instead learn to distinguish between what’s good and evil, and what’s up to us and what’s not.  In short, they must learn to diaresize, and master the προαίρεσις.  It’s not a moral failing, but a moral blindness.

Farewell.


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

Seneca Reading plan, redux!

Aside

About this time last year, I packed up my earthly belongings and hauled them about 1300 miles across the country.  In that moving, my Seneca reading plan fell by the wayside.  I’ll be picking it back up from where I left off, in week 27 of the reading plan.

So, those sorts of posts may become more frequent.

In a side note, I’m also doing some more reading on Stoic ἄσκησις, so expect some thoughts and posts in that vein.