The Teacher's View: Seneca's Letters From A Stoic

Moral Letters to Lucilius by Seneca. Letter 48 – On Quibbling as Unworthy of the Philosopher

In the Imperial Period, Stoicism had significant influence on Romanliterature, and Seneca's tragedies are of particular interesthere. In Seneca's case, we do not see a poet appropriating orintegrating Stoic ideas, but actually a Stoic philosopher writingpoetry himself. The precise way in which Seneca's Stoicism isrelevant to his tragedies is controversial. Traditionally scholarsdebated whether and why a philosopher like Seneca would write poetry atall—to some this seemed so unlikely that prior to Erasmus it wasthought that there were two ‘Senecas,’ the philosopher andthe tragedian (cf. Fantham 1982, 15). Today it is widely assumed thatsome of the themes in Seneca's tragedies are at least related tohis philosophical views. Seneca's interest in ethics andpsychology—first and foremost perhaps the destructive effects ofexcessive emotion—seems to figure in his plays, and perhaps hisnatural philosophy plays an equally important role (cf. Fantham 1982,15-19; Gill 2003, 56-58; Rosenmeyer 1989; Volk 2006; on the range ofSeneca's writings, see Volk and Williams 2006). In thisarticle, we do not consider his tragedies, but only hisprose writings.

Another side of Seneca's independence has been emphasized byInwood (2005 [1], 18-22): Seneca, educated by Roman philosophers, isgenuinely thinking in Latin. In order to see the force of thispoint, let us compare Seneca to Cicero. Cicero conscientiously tellshis readers which Greek term he translates by which Latin term. It isthus possible to read Cicero's Latin philosophy with the Greekterminology in mind; at least for the most part, we can think about hisarguments in the terms of the Greek debates. Seneca is, at many points,not interested in mapping his terminology directly onto the Greekphilosophical vocabulary. Rather, he thinks in his own language (seeLong 2003, who situates Seneca vis-à-vis other Romanphilosophers), and he expects to be read by people who do theirphilosophizing in Latin, as well.

You are right when you urge that we increase ourmutual traffic in letters. But the greatest benefit is to be derivedfrom conversation, because it creeps by degrees into the soul. Lecturesprepared beforehand and spouted in the presence of a throng have in themmore noise but less intimacy. Philosophy is good advice; and no onecan give advice at the top of his lungs. Of course we must sometimesalso make use of these harangues, if I may so call them, when a doubtingmember needs to be spurred on; but when the aim is to make a man learnand not merely to make him wish to learn, we must have recourse to thelow-toned words of conversation.

20.07.2008 · Seneca's Letters From A Stoic ..

The Stoic distinction between valuable and good things is at thecenter of Seneca's Letters. So-called preferredindifferents—health, wealth, and so on—have value(their opposites, dispreferred indifferents, have disvalue).But only virtue is good. Again and again, Seneca discusses howhealth and wealth do not contribute to our happiness. Seneca approachesthis issue not as an academic puzzle, as if we needed to be compelledby intricate proof to accept this point. He speaks very directly to hisreaders, and his examples grip us moderns as much as they gripped hiscontemporaries. We tend to think that life would be better if only wedid not have to travel for the lowest fare, in the most uncomfortablefashion; we are disheartened when our provisions for dinner are nobetter than stale bread. By addressing these very concrete situations,Seneca keeps hammering home the core claim of Stoic ethics: that virtuealone is sufficient for happiness, and nothing else even makes acontribution.

Massimo Pigliucci on Seneca’s Stoic philosophy of ..

In his discussion of how the virtuous person responds to weaknessesin others, Seneca extends the Stoic spectrum of rational feelings toinclude mercy (clementia). Seneca's treatise OnMercy has puzzled historians: by praising the goodness of theyoung Nero as Emperor—his mercy, as opposed to cruelty, severity,and pity—Seneca creates the prototype of “advice toprinces” literature (see Long 2003). We cannot here enter intothe question of whether Seneca chooses to ignore or did not know of themurder Nero had recently committed. What matters from the point of viewof philosophical thought on the emotions is that, in exploring mercy,Seneca devises a rational response to human failings that goes alongwith beneficial action.

Stoic Philosophy of Seneca the Younger

Stoic Philosophy of Seneca the Younger ..

Three of Seneca's writings bear the title‘consolatio’—consolation. They, too, areletters, and, as Williams argues, Seneca in them transforms the genreof philosophical consolation into his own mode of therapy (2006). Inthe ad Heluiam (To His Mother Helvia), Senecaconsoles his mother for his absence and exile. Seneca uses his exile asa metaphor, and ultimately addresses what he takes to be a many-facetedcondition in human life: any kind of alienation from one'simmediate community, any enforced detachment from it, raises the issuesthat political exile raises. As this example shows, his consolationsare thus rather independent of his particular situation, and of theparticular addressee. Still, we might want to note that at times, inconsoling his mother for his exile, or, in ad Marciam (ToMarcia), a woman for the loss of her child, Seneca discussesvirtue with a view to gender. In her life up to now, he tells hismother, she has moved beyond the ordinary faults of women; her virtuewas her only ornament. In accordance with this, she should now try notto fall into grief in the way women tend to—excessively. Byholding on to virtue, it seems, his mother can transcend typical, yetmerely contingent features of female life. (On Seneca's depictionof female virtue, cf. ad Heluiam 14-18 and ad Marciam1 and 16; Harich 1993).

Seneca on Philosophy : Stoicism - reddit

It has often been noted that later Stoics, including Seneca, seem tolose interest in the ideal agent—the sage or wiseperson—who figures so prominently in early Stoic ethics. Ratherthan assume that the later Stoics are “disillusioned” or“more realistic,” we should note that Seneca's focuson the progressor (proficiens)—the person who isseriously trying their best to move forward in their way of lifetoward that ideal—is part and parcel of his own, specific way ofdoing philosophy. The early Stoics' sage may, first andforemost, be a tool for developing theories. The early Stoicsspell out what knowledge or wisdom is by explaining what aknowledgeable or wise person would do (how she assents, how she acts,etc.). But Seneca's philosophy is a practice of trainingourselves to appreciate to the fullest the truths of Stoicism. In thispractice, accounts of, for example, the wise person's assent,can only play a limited role. We need precisely what Seneca offers:someone who takes us through the various situations in lifein which we tend to lose sight of our own insights, and fall victim tothe allurements of money and fame, or to the violence of emotionsevoked by the adversities of life. We need to learn how to overcomeour own residual tendencies, despite our better intentions, to suffersuch failures.


Seneca's writings usually have an addressee—someone whois plagued by a ‘sickness of the soul’ (On Peace ofMind begins with a full diagnosis of the addressee's stateof mind—first by the patient, and then by the insightfultherapist Seneca). Seneca steps back from a format in which aphilosopher justifies a theory in a step-by-step argument (Long 2003,204; on the question of why Seneca chooses to write letters, see Inwood2007, xiv-xv). Discussion proceeds from a (perhaps merely presumed)situation in the addressee's life, meandering back and forthbetween more general and more specific considerations, arguments,side-issues, and sometimes consolation. This engaging style views thereader as a participant in philosophical thought. Seneca thinks thatone cannot passively adopt insights. One must appropriate them as anactive reader, thinking through the issues for oneself, so as then togenuinely assent to them (Letter 84.5-10; Wildberger2006).

Seneca - Letters From a Stoic | Seneca The Younger | Nero

Like other late Stoics, Seneca is first and foremost interested inethics. Although he is well versed in the technical details of Stoiclogic, philosophy of language, epistemology, and ontology, he does notdevote any significant time to these fields (Cooper 2004). However, weshould not let the old prejudices about Roman versus Greek thoughtinfluence our interpretation of Seneca's interest in practicalquestions. As Veyne puts it, “Seneca practiced neither a debasednor a vulgarized philosophy aimed at the supposed ‘practicalspirit’ of the Romans” (2003, ix). Rather, it isSeneca's very conception of philosophy as a salutary practicethat makes the ethical dimension of his thought so prominent (onphilosophy as therapy, see Nussbaum 1994).