SLRP: LXXXII. On The Natural Fear Of Death (Part 2: 8 – 18)

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Seneca,

I think this is one of my favorite sections of your Letters thus far.  It addresses several interesting topics, first being the importance of practice and study.

“This strength of heart, however, will come from constant study, provided that you practise, not with the tongue but with the soul, and provided that you prepare yourself to meet death.”

You brought up a point which is one I noted several months ago, that sometimes the arguments of the Old Stoa are … less than convincing.  Specifically, I’m thinking of some of Zeno’s arguments as reported by other sources.  It reaffirmed that opinion of mine, to see that you too shared this opinion.

“Our master Zeno uses a syllogism like this: “No evil is glorious; but death is glorious; therefore death is no evil.” A cure, Zeno! I have been freed from fear; henceforth I shall not hesitate to bare my neck on the scaffold. Will you not utter sterner words instead of rousing a dying man to laughter?”

It’s important to note, that although this particular argument might not be convincing, as you note his interlocutor successfully refutes by turning it about, it doesn’t mean that the idea is wrong or untrue.

There are other arguments that Zeno makes, that despite his argument being unconvincing seems to me to have a true conclusion.

The next part that stands out to me is the explanation of how the manner in which we treat an indifferent is not itself indifferent.

This careful division, of the context in which virtuous choice occurs, and the choice itself is poignant.

“For it is not poverty that we praise, it is the man whom poverty cannot humble or bend. Nor is it exile that we praise, it is the man who withdraws into exile in the spirit in which he would have sent another into exile. It is not pain that we praise, it is the man whom pain has not coerced. One praises not death, but the man whose soul death takes away before it can confound it.”

A reminder, then that each intention contains the possibility for virtue.

“Everything, if you add virtue, assumes a glory which it did not possess before.”

This is, following, is an important note.  What trouble might arise if we put off this practice, suddenly to find ourselves face-to-face with death without having done the training?

“Therefore, although death is something indifferent, it is nevertheless not a thing which we can easily ignore. The soul must be hardened by long practice, so that it may learn to endure the sight and the approach of death.”

 

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXII. On The Natural Fear Of Death (Part 1: 1 – 7)

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Seneca,

I’m wondering if there’s a nuance that I’ve missed before now, between Fortune and Fate.  This polemic against Fortune seems as suited to a Cynic discourse against Fate.  I suppose the snide among us might say, “There is a difference, you can tell, you know, because of the spelling.”

“[G]ird yourself about with philosophy, an impregnable wall. Though it be assaulted by many engines, Fortune can find no passage into it.”

We have the (later dubbed) amor fati component of the Stoic worldview, and if Fortune and Fate are used interchangeably, this kind of charge seems to be a contradiction.

Instead, if we look at it as Fortune being the fickle nature of externals in relation to ourselves, and Fate being the divine order, that apparent contradiction vanishes.

“The soul stands on unassailable ground, if it has abandoned external things; it is independent in its own fortress; and every weapon that is hurled falls short of the mark.”

This seems to be the case, then.  The Stoic instructed by you, Seneca, accepts whatever Fate brings, and attempts to set aside the things on which fickle Fortune preys.

Fate versus Fortune will be interested fodder for the day.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXI. On Benefits (Part 4: 23b – 32)

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Seneca,

So the close of this letter leaves us with several interesting points.

“But no man can be grateful unless he has learned to scorn the things which drive the common herd to distraction…”

Again, the call for training to be able to set aside the worldly things that hamper philosophy.  But we still hear that Stoics aren’t ascetics, they’re just trying to scorn worldly things… right.

“We are deflected from the right course by riches, titles, power, and everything which is valuable in our opinion but worthless when rated at its real value.”

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXI. On Benefits (Part 3: 19b – 23a)

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Seneca,

I’ll admit, when I hear other Stoics talk about gratitude, I found myself a little turned off.  Not because graciousness is bad, or even dispreferred, but mostly because there’s a large-ish push about gratitude in the fluffier self-help sections of the internet these days.  Of course, having a negative judgement against something because it might be popular in softer circles is just as much of an error of thinking about something positively because the cool kids are doing it.  So I’ve tried to set aside those preconceived notions, and read these section in the spirit in which their meant

“[T]he reward for all the virtues lies in the virtues themselves.”

This seems to me to be the test as to whether we’ve really internalized that virtue is the only good.  It’s not good because [something].  It simply is good.  When we get to the point that we can see the practice of inculcation of virtue as a self-fulfilling reward, I think we’re measurably closer to the goal.

“Let us therefore avoid being ungrateful, not for the sake of others but for our own sakes. When we do wrong, only the least and lightest portion of it flows back upon our neighbour; the worst and, if I may use the term, the densest portion of it stays at home and troubles the owner.”

In the Venn Diagram of “the golden rule” and “the Wiccan creed” lies your, Seneca, position on gratitude.  (;  This is a useful thought-model though.

“The ungrateful man tortures and torments himself; he hates the gifts which he has accepted, because he must make a return for them, and he tries to belittle their value, but he really enlarges and exaggerates the injuries which he has received. And what is more wretched than a man who forgets his benefits and clings to his injuries?”

This paragraph stuck out at me.  I recall getting gifts, and thinking immediately how I would repay it.  It never occurred to me that this was an ungrateful attitude.  That’s some serious food for thought today.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXI. On Benefits (Part 2: 10b – 19a)

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Seneca,

This section of the letter is full of what I might call the “economic position on social interaction.”  We’re talking a lot about give and take, benefits or profits, capital and interest.  It reminded me of this, also:

 

“…[S]ince I thought it improper to take something from a person who had himself not received anything.”

— Ps-Diogenes, Cynic Epistle XXXVIII

The Cynic Epistle in question has a sort of capitalist tinge, that the mendicant philospher is giving just value for what we begs, namely his teachings and example.  Your Sage, however, seems to be concerned with giving better than she gets.  But we still see some of the former:

“For anyone who receives a benefit more gladly than he repays it is mistaken.”

Overall, this kind of example I think is a good one.  It take a rather heady subject and couches it in the very mundane sort of interaction we’re very familiar with.

Looking forward to the rest of the letter.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXXI. On Benefits (Part 1: 1 – 10a)

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Seneca,

My first reading of this was that we we’re going to see a contradiction from before, the extolling of retreat for philosophical practice would be contra this admonishment to mix even with many ungrateful persons that we find the few good ones.

“In order to discover one grateful person, it is worth while to make trial of many ungrateful ones.”

That certainly looks like a mark in the pro column for worldly engagement.  And then we have this:

“If one were compelled to drop everything that caused trouble, life would soon grow dull amid sluggish idleness…”

This is when I realized that we’re not talking about a retreat versus world issue, what we’re seeing is a test for what’s leftover.  We’re not abandoning life, or society.  We’re paring down, digging for the quality amongst the dross.

We’re not compelled to leave off everything, and what we do renounce should be towards a purpose, again not for mere dislike.

I look forward to the rest of the letter.

Farewell.


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

SLRP: LXXX. On Worldly Deceptions

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Seneca,

This is an interesting, letter, and I thank you for it.  The part which stood out most to me is:

“[Y]ou can acquire virtue without equipment and without expense. All that goes to make you a good man lies within yourself.”

This is a helpful and needed reminder.  The intellectual work, while necessary, isn’t the end.  Once a firm grasp of the tenets of the School is had, practice is all that’s required.

Farewell.


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