On selected “moral epistles” (from around 65 CE) by Lucius Annaeus Seneca: 4. On the Terrors of Death, 12. On Old Age, 49. On the Shortness of Life, 59. On Pleasure and Joy, 62. On Good Company, 92. On the Happy Life, 96. On Facing Hardship, and 116. On Self Control. We’re joined by Massimo Pigliucci of the How to Be a Stoic blog, who for a long time was on the Rationally Speaking podcast.
Back in ep. 124 we considered the Stoic Epictetus, but due to audience demand, we wanted a second and a third opinion: Seneca, unlike Epictetus, explicitly advocated a public life, and seemed to have less problem with deep friendships and other sorts of attachments, so long as these things are kept in perspective. Unfortunately, Seneca is very light on actual justifications for this perspective, and apparently sees knowing the ultimate truths of existence as a fairly simple matter, the trick being to really internalize these truths and let them guide your actions, especially when tragedy strikes. Life is a battle, says Seneca, and it’s really better for us that it is, as a life without challenge would be a life without meaning.
Massimo, along with Tad Brennan’s The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties, and Fate (2007), provided a reality check for all of this, helping us to interpret the text charitably and see how ancient Stoic writings are integrated into modern practice. The key is that the only thing ultimately important is your own virtue, which is all you have control over. Other things can and should be “preferred,” but aren’t granted the status of moral goods. When you work hard toward a goal, it’s not the goal that’s good, but the working itself.
Massimo and Dylan read from this new translation: Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius (The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca), while Mark and Wes read this electronic version: Delphi Complete Works of Seneca the Younger, though during the recording we were reading some of these from Selected Letters (Oxford World’s Classics), which you can read on the web.
End song: “I Lose Control” by The MayTricks from So Chewy! (1993).