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: 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.