Skip to main content

When is life complete? An ambiguity in Seneca's letter no. 12

"Every day, then, should be treated as though it were bringing up the rear, as though it were the consummation and fulfillment of one’s life."

- Seneca, Letters 12.8

" Anyone who has said, “I have done living” rises profitably each morning, having gained one day."

- Seneca, Letters 12.9

In my opinion, there's a huge difference between living as if each day is what makes our life complete and living as if each day is an added bonus to a life that was already complete when we woke up. From the first point of view, our life is both not complete when we begin the day and also assumed to be only completed if we live through the entire new day. Since the core mission of Stoicism is to teach us how to be happy always and at any moment, this point of view does not seem to align with Stoicism at all. The second point of view seems to be much healthier and truly Stoic.

Comments

  1. Compare with this quote:

    "They live ill who are always beginning to live." You are right in asking why; the saying certainly stands in need of a commentary. It is because the life of such persons is always incomplete. But a man cannot stand prepared for the approach of death if he has just begun to live. We must make it our aim already to have lived long enough."

    - Seneca, Letters 23.9-10

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Aristotle on happiness and external goods

According to popular opinion both in ancient Greece and today, happiness requires things such as wealth, good health, good looks, friends, family and good reputation. In Plato's dialogue Euthydemus Socrates challenges those beliefs by claiming that none of those things are good, if they are not used wisely. In fact, Socrates claims that a person who has wisdom doesn't need any of those things at all since he or she can turn any situation into something beneficial for him- or herself. "If wisdom is present, the one for whom it is present has no need of good fortune". - Socrates in Euthydemus, 279E In other words, Socrates claims that wisdom is a sufficient requirement for happiness (and a necessary requirement too, of course). Aristotle famously challenges that claim. But what exactly does he say? Let's have a look. "we suppose happiness is enduring and definitely not prone to fluctuate, but the same person’s fortunes often turn to and fro. For clearly

Stoicism and Evil Governments

This article claims that a Stoic has no reason to get depressed by bad political conditions since an evil government is not really a bad thing for a Stoic - since nothing can be bad for a Stoic except his own bad choices. Even so, the article claims, a Stoic acknowledges that an evil government is capable of doing "terrible things" to people. To make this line of thinking work we have to think of ourselves as Stoics who can't be harmed by an evil government - since nothing can be bad for us as Stoics except our own bad choices - and other people as non-Stoics who will suffer terribly if they are oppressed by the evil government. In my opinion, this interpretation of Stoicism is flat out wrong. First of all, an evil government is indeed a bad thing. The Stoics distinguish between internal good/bad things such as our own good or bad choices and external good/bad things such as other people's happiness or unhappiness: "some bad things are in the sou

Not wanting is just as good as having

" Not wanting is just as good as having ."  - Seneca, Letters 119.2 The reason that not wanting is just as good as having is, of course, that both when we have something and when we don't want that thing we don't need that something. In both cases we are in a state (in regard to that thing) where we don't feel that our life is incomplete due to not having that thing. However, simply being in a state of "not having" does not equal being content, happy, wise. A person who does not have something is not content if that person is in a state of wanting what he or she hasn't got. To be content, happy, wise is to fully understand that we always already have all we need for happiness in ourselves. A stoic does not want food, health, wealth etc. Wanting  something is to desire   that thing - which is to suffer from the false belief that the thing is question is a necessary condition for happiness. A Stoic knows that the only  thing which is necessary fo