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CLASSIC 20 Fall - 2000 Letters from a Stoic

CLASSIC 20 Fall - 2000 Letters from a Stoic - Letters...

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Unformatted text preview: Letters fi'om a Stoic Classics 20 Professor Gurval 27 November 2000 Letters from a Stoic a we is :‘d’ S Are humans essentially good or evil? Should life be lived in a rr anner that will bring the most joy or the most pain? Can human beings reach a state of perfectio 1? Philosophy describes More. _ _ . possible answers to those questions that lack any sort of permanent ansr ver. Storcrsm rs only one a 5 S M_ _ ‘ of the many philosophies in which people ali'e taught the how’s and the 'Nhy’s of livrng life. The unattainable goal remains perfection in the mind, perfection in the abi1i1y to act morally and in PM . . . , . . . good consciaée, and perfection in the reasoning of one s actions. Store sm is the search for perfection, and the manner in which one handles temptations of evil or :loubt. Seneca's (flol IUA( l! SJ kméL instruction of all manners of oicis including a person’s comprehens: on of the goals of his philosophy, morality, and how to regard death are meant to be used as :1 teaching guild. [One that will help a Roman citizen strive toward the ultimate goal of perfection n the mind, body, and l spirit] 0 Weiwzc (Swell, Ml ~. pm per ‘04 to 1.714 ”hf-*5, In Letter V of Seneca’s Letters from a my, he uses logic and reasoning in order to relate ? 7 fl rfal I)- his ideals of practicing Stoicism to a non-stoic, or Windividu a1, comparing his ideal 7' LJ’lflJfi (L' 1-0,): philosopher toEthose )of the mistaken perceptions of Roman society. Tl .e true quest of a human being should consist of the personal and individual enhancement of a person in regards to 7 intellect, physical apg' arance and emotional stability: “1 view with ple rsure and approval the way you keep on at your studies and sacrifice everything to your singlr :-minded efforts to make yourself a better man” (Seneca 193). Upon reading this approval, a R: man should observe that first and foremost, Stoicisrn embraces the betterment of the individual. Seneca advises one to conform to the conventional appearance of an individual, eradicating t' 1e argument that philosophers of any kind should appear unkempt and uncleargn order to avoid alienation of those they wish to reforn? The less a person has to criticize £313le a Stoic philosopher, the I we L... new... e- mil-a ‘amwm‘ at GWCMW. weaker the argument against Stoicism in general. Seneca’s argument “Philosophy promises us the feeling of fellowship, of belonging to mankind and being members of a community” (193) is / hard to argue against, for what kind of person would not want humanitl to improve? His reasonability and logical arguments aggi‘tist practicing philosophy also include the actual lifestyle of a Stoic: “Our motto, as everyone knows, is to live in conformity wit 1 nature... philosophy calls for simple living... one’s life should be a compromise between th e ideal and the maular W W éHC '6' Rafi}? 51A 853%? iflw morality’fi93 9‘11). By living'sif‘nply and within 11 ture’s oundaries, an individual now has the L/ ability to Wd perfection. An individual cannot reach perfection with obstacles in his path; they must be cleared in order for life to be worth living: “Your fc od should appease your hunger, your drink quench your thirst, your clothing keep out of the co id, your house he a protection against inclement weather” (197). Living simply means erasing those obstacles that stop him from living a good and moral life, but living simply does not .mply livmg crudely. r .1, i'iai- JG MW? {ELL PEJI‘!1 {(-3 [9"1y”.""" fid‘ Seneca argues that by livingiadmirablyi,’ those around will be more apt to understand the lifestyle /’"—‘---~; . iiif J'y\&--j1-6IL. and not leave any room for criticism against the way of life or the persi )l‘l living it. The ideal and the popular are not always clear or even remotely similar; however, by living simply, the moral way of life will become clear. daint- Wins-M'fii Mob mentality is another state Seneca dictates against in that b: ; aSSOCiatifigJon self viiith Mt/‘A/v .. __._.___* the crowd, immorality naturally and automatically becomes encompas: ied in a person’s mind and Mir-PP ’ (i Mini [A amid’i spirit. The ability to bdcome influenced by the mob is absolute for eve n Seneca admits to being Cpitffected by the violence: “I go home more selfish, more self-seeking a; 1d more self- indulgent... a person crueler and less humane through having been in contact with iiuman beings” (195). The my (Wm La) source of this immorality liesVin t e games, the gladiatorial fights and 1he violence Roman , society adfipted with open arms. Seneca argues that by associating wit h such barbarous activities, an individual is condoning as well as enjoying the violence depicted in the arena, allowing such violence to influence one’s life simply by watching what: transpires. If the simplistic life and the strive for perfection is the way of life a stoic sho 11d encompass, the violence in the games will only lead to the destruction of what an individual has attained in terms of this perfection: “A Socrates, a Cato, a Laelius might have been shak en in his principles by a multitude of people different from himself” (196). In order to prove hi 3 point accurately and with impact, he mentions the names of Socrates, Cato and Laelius, thre e great and moral men revered by the Roman people and associates them with the ability of a :nob to impact the principles of an honest individual. If these men are able to be moved t y the violence of the games, then the simple and uneducated individual has little chance of i vithstanding the degradation of morality. Not only does Seneca use sound logic to confirm the stoic way of life but also he gives advice on how to avoid the influence a mob has on an individual: You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. Bit the right thing is to shun both courses; you should neither become like the bad bl :cause they are many, nor be the enemy of the many because they are unlike you. Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one; men learn as they teach (196). He continues his ideal of the quest for individual perfection through a ::ense of conscience and duty. [6116 can remain an individual, secure within his moral and righteous self while acknowledging the presence of corruption without capitulatiug to the e vil, fofio avoid the i , d (W 3 w) it - l i . , r _ influence of evil altogether leaves the man in ignorance without any le ison acknowledgefi " 'i ”i i E: "1/ (it t“ '7'“ SC cit-v“: f; p") M make him the wiscfl Instead, the answers to the questions a man seeks will not be found in the crowd but within the man’s conscience. The true stoic is one who allo ws other individuals seeking a similar sense of excellence to influence and teach him in a positive manner in order to Cesare 4 intensify the improvement of the individual’s morality and sense of seli Seneca simply Wys>hat he found his search for perfection easier when isola zed from the temptation of evil, but he does not describe it as the only way. Again, he battlesm Wthe common r, “15/! f“: r Mal; ,i ”M (K‘(c(’3§‘pnl/;i . Rolex), we‘ll,“- GQ’LTJ 0217.3 , “misconceptions” held of stoicism b h ng the individuali of itgll. The decision is the ‘ individual’s for who knows what would benefit him best? Here Seneca seemingly weakens his ) argument, however. Throughout Letter VII he talks of the individual a nd the importance of finding the answers within the conscience] and yekhe describes his lett ers as a simple guide in whiehrto help future generations: “1 have only buried myself away beh nd closed doors in order to be able to be of use to more people” (197). His argument remains t] at by teaching and learning, one is, in actuality, helping oneself as opposed to those he is ' caching and learning from. The men of the crowd are not capable of understanding the intri :acies of stoicism but ‘1 fl ’3 milk ‘ilt man '. SLr-i'clr't at” (7‘th maid ‘i'lr-t at a“ (. 3b? inte_r_ac_ti_r_1g, knowledge can be gained and yet Seneca isolates himself f rom this knowledge by Mfi J‘L' JLvT‘ Klan-CL living alone. He seems to contradict himself, therefore losing the impt ct of his words. J g, _, Po Md" I [PW of stoicisrn and therefore the most in depth analysis by Seneca is the relationship between death and control as well as the abolition oi ' fear as seen in his Letter LIV. He first argues that death is a natural part of every person’s exist :nce and should not be feared due to its absolute nature; death comes to all things living, without exceptions: “I shall not be afraid when the last hour comes- I’m already prepared, not planning as much as a day ahead. The man, though, whom you should admire and imitate is the one who finds it a joy to live and in spite of that is not reluctant to die” (205). How can something so pe rrnanent and unconditional cause anxiety, Seneca asks, when nothing can be done to change the outcome of one’s life? Instead of worrying about dying, prepare to live life to the iillest and without fearing Elf-L1 K ”5‘11th 1 the end result. What exactly is the end resultilng‘giisj “0 heaven, hell or afterlife; there Simply ~.__,_. exists a sense of nothingness: “We sufi‘er somewhat in the intervening ieriod, but at either end of it there is a deep tranquillity... [death] precedes as well as succeeds” (I 05). A person’s good deeds accomplished while living will not impact the afterlife of the individual, for those deeds done are meant to intensify the quality of life not death, just as the suff sting endured while alive - / / does not siggify the immrtance of death. Seneca argues that death is a natural occurrence, one to . . . . ‘1'} w , i.” ’IJ . er Lapin?" (\Av‘vi A!“ flfi‘raci- beanttc1patedbutnotinfluent1al. [5“? “PM '1! 5mm 0 » gc J (9 fl, (Mtiwrfl (dew ’x" ‘ ‘Am 1,) The only reason death should be looked at as important, according togoicism, occurs Jfidlgi'ing suicide, for by committing suicide, one is exercising control: “H e escapes necessity because he wills what necessity is going to force on him” (205). Death dug: fihfinor is an ideal r3} which the stoics believed strongly. Because death is certain to occur, the person who is not only willing but also honor—bound to end his life is to be revered as encompassing true wisdom: “For where’s the virtue in going out when you’re really being thrown out” (205). The ultimate freedorn ensues when a person embodies complete control over life and the ability to act accordingly. Cato the Younger as well as Paetus both committed suicide for honorable reasons and were revered for their choice. Again, Seneca relates great names from Roman history and Calm big a Sicil- associates them with Stoicis in order to intensify the honor and impo rtance of relating to the phi1050phy. Seneca uses powerful manners of persuasion to describe the de ails of Stoicisrnain that he relies heavily on logical and rhetorical questions as well as association; with revered Roman men in order to portray his philosophy in a estimable light. Not all philosophers are hermits who live a crude and isolated life. The sense of individuality and the ability to choose a moral and righteous lifestyle that will enable an individual to seek perfection in his humanity is of utmost importance as is the avoidance of mob mentality. By allowing a mind to adhere to the violence } of the crowd, that mind is weakening and losing its ability to see the n: red to accomplish perfection. Such perfection us unlikely to occur, but the need tgL/tgx is of utmost importance. Death should not be feared but anticipated just as one should not be full of concern or worry but of tranquillity and peace. Such are the teachings of Stoicism. Seneca does not force the reader to acknowledge the reasonableness of his philosophy) but gently guides the reader to understanding through logic for who can argue against common sense. \ Mir {31 0-K (flu/ray! I fill {‘11-}ka ,3 H/c' r’fff‘l LEM!— T5“ (”tor/fl J I a i/ur' -, -- 3 m v. 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