SLRP: XC. On The Part Played By Philosophy (Part 1: 1-6)

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Seneca,

“[The Gods] have given the knowledge thereof to none, but the faculty of acquiring it they have given to all”

It’s sentiments such as this which highlight the distinction between the revealed faith of many religious, and the rational discovery in a religious philosophy such as Stoicism.

 

Posidonius holds that the government was under the jurisdiction of the wise. They kept their hands under control, and protected the weaker from the stronger. They gave advice, both to do and not to do; they showed what was useful and what was useless. Their forethought provided that their subjects should lack nothing; their bravery warded off dangers; their kindness enriched and adorned their subjects.

In the ancient texts, there is a sort of presumed rightness for the law. I wonder if this letter had been penned after the reign of Nero, if your perspective would be different.

Many of us live in countries where the laws are poorly written, arbitrarily interpreted, and randomly enforced. The Venn Diagrams of “that which is right” and “that which is legal” along with “that which is wrong” and “that which is illegal” doesn’t look like you might think it does.

Philosophy offers a test for these things.

I see all points on the political compass in Stoicism, but I think libertarians slash classically liberal slash whatever the term du jour is, can benefit from it the most. Classical liberalism takes a minimalist stance on government, but it does not posit a system of ethics, it only circumscribes the negative space.

Libertarianism needs philosophy.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXIX. On The Parts Of Philosophy (Part 3: 16-23)

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Seneca,

“I ought to be asking you ‘How long will these unending sins of yours go on?'” Do you really desire my remedies to stop before your vices?”

I quite like the suggestion that we ought to let words other than compliments reach us. I’ve been talking with a friend, and we’ve been discussing “the inner critic.” We’re not yet of one mind on this, but I’m enjoying and benefiting from the discussion.

Our topic there is that the inner critic is not always helpful. That we might choose to take the kind of conciliatory manner of the teacher with ourselves. It’s pretty unlikely that we would speak to a student as harshly as we do ourselves. We can see failure as progress in others, but do not apply this to ourselves. So, the inner critic’s ‘bedside manner,’ as it were, may need to be adjusted.

But his job doesn’t go away, as your letter reminds us, Seneca.  Indeed, the remedies must keep coming.
Thank you for the letter.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXIX. On The Parts Of Philosophy (Part 2: 9-15)

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Seneca,

“The greatest authors, and the greatest number of authors, have maintained that there are three divisions of philosophy – moral, natural, and rational”

Read: ethics, physics, and logic.

The first keeps the soul in order; the second investigates the universe; the third works out the essential meanings of words, their combinations, and the proofs which keep falsehood from creeping in and displacing truth.

I quite like the examples that we see elsewhere, of the egg, garden, and animal.  It shows the interrelated nature of the parts, producing the whole.

Aristo of Chios remarked that the natural and the rational were not only superfluous, but were also contradictory

In this, I must disagree with Aristo.  While I do subscribe to this heterodox Stoic position that we can rightly do away with the preferred and dispreferred indifferent things, I think this takes us a step too far.  It may even put us back in the Cynic camp, or as was Aristo’s case, possibly a new school.

Ah ha!

Since, therefore, philosophy is threefold, let us first begin to set in order the moral side. It has been agreed that this should be divided into three parts. First, we have the speculative[17] part, which assigns to each thing its particular function and weighs the worth of each; it is highest in point of utility. For what is so indispensable as giving to everything its proper value? The second has to do with impulse,[18] the third with actions

Here we have something looking like Epictetus’ Three Disciplines/Τόποι. I haven’t seen that elsewhere in the Stoic literature, although it’s a firmly established part of the School since Epictetus’ time. I had assumed previously that it was a novel addition by him, but we here we see strains of it elsewhere and before Epictetus’ time as well.

I look forward to the rest of the letter.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXVIII. On Studies (Part 6: 38b-46)

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Seneca,

“Have I so far forgotten that useful saw “Save your time”? Must I know these things? And what may I choose not to know?”

This brings to mind something I wrote a while back on “amistics.”  The idea of intentionally “choosing not to”something is one which I’ve been chewing on for some time now.  It touches on amistics, on right livelihood of the other day, on the philosopher’s cloak (I and II), on The Rule of Musonius: in short, the whole of living intentionally with virtue as the focus.

I don’t have firm conclusions yet, but I feel some hedging around the horizon…

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXVIII. On Studies (Part 5: 31-38a)

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Seneca,

“One must learn about things divine and human, the past and the future, the ephemeral and the eternal; and one must learn about Time.”

It’s easy to forget in the midst of a letter such as this that we’re all supposed to set aside Stoic physics as an unnecessary anachronism of a primitive past.  What arrogance that is.

I do not think, dear Seneca, that I shall go as far as to expel all of these studies from the life of the one making progress, but a certain focusing in seems useful.  We do have a limited (and an unknown limit at that) amount of time in this life, and many things call us away from focusing on virtue and progress.

I look forward to tomorrow’s letter.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXVIII. On Studies (Part 4: 24-30)

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Seneca,

“Now philosophy asks no favours from any other source; it builds everything on its own soil; but the science of numbers is, so to speak, a structure built on another man’s land – it builds on everything on alien soil; It accepts first principles, and by their favour arrives at further conclusions. If it could march unassisted to the truth, if it were able to understand the nature of the universe, I should say that it would offer much assistance to our minds; for the mind grows by contact with things heavenly and draws into itself something from on high. There is but one thing that brings the soul to perfection – the unalterable knowledge of good and evil. But there is no other art which investigates good and evil.”

I read often in modern Stoic forums that this or that piece of our school needs to be “updated” or modernized or entirely cast aside.  Many of those folks, ironically those who decry the religious nature of Stoicism, have turned a method for description (science) into a religion itself.

They believe so much, rather than using it as the tool it is.  They even have a priesthood who with holy artifacts beyond the ken the average person bring down TRUTH to them.  They misconstrue the falsification of hypotheses for the discovery of truth.

Here, you discuss about math a similar utility.  I wonder if you’d be surprised to find out that selections of your writings are held up by these same folks as evidence of the atheism in ancient philosophy?  I wonder if they read Natural Questions, and these Letters, and see your references to God and Providence.

Your final question of the section, do these studies produce loyalty, kindness, courage, bravery and more?  That seems to be a decided no.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXVIII. On Studies (Part 3: 16-23)

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Seneca,

“For what good does it do us to guide a horse and control his speed with the curb, and then find that our own passions, utterly uncurbed, bolt with us? Or to beat many opponents in wrestling or boxing, and then to find that we ourselves are beaten by anger?.”

Ah ha, this is an interesting question.  If the former is sought for its own sake, I agree with you, that it’s not worthwhile.  It’s worth noting, however, that humans are a mixture of πνεῦμα and σῶμα (in the common sense, not the ontological).  Musonius and Epictetus both recommend a mixture of trainings to effect the self.

Musonius’ distinction of two kinds of training is not seen in Epictetus, where he focuses on the Three Τόποι, but the ideas are not contradictory or mutually exclusive.  We might learn many useful things wrestling, a parallel which Marcus, too, would appreciate.

Thank you for the letter.

Farewell.


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