Saturday, January 2, 2021

Letters from a Stoic 44 - On Philosophy and Pedigrees

On Philosophy and Pedigrees

Lucilius complains in a letter, to which Seneca responds.  What does Lucilius complain about?  He complains "saying that nature in the first place, and fortune in the second, have treated [him] too scurvily."

What is the Stoic response to someone who is complaining about his lot in life?  What do we tell someone who says they were born with the odds stacked against them; that they didn't have the advantages and privileges of their peers?

Seneca says, "you have it in your power to separate yourself from the crowd and rise to the highest human happiness!"

He says, "a noble mind is free to all men."

He says, "Philosophy neither rejects nor selects anyone; its light shines for all."

Advantage does not bestow a good flowing spirit and happiness to the person.

Privilege does not grant someone virtue or arete.

Lack of advantage and privilege, likewise, does not grant, nor take away a good flowing spirit, happiness or virtue.

A hall full of smoke-begrimed busts does not make the nobleman. No past life has been lived to lend us glory, and that which has existed before us is not ours; the soul alone renders us noble, and it may rise superior to Fortune out of any earlier condition, no matter what that condition has been.

Seneca continues with advice for gaining contentment, regardless of circumstances.

by your own efforts come to be the only free man amid a throng of gentlemen ... You should look, not to the source from which these things come, but to the goal towards which they tend.

First, recognize that you have the power to be a free person, regardless of your status in life.

Second, the past does not matter in this quest.  No matter how many injustices implemented to correct an injustice from the past, your circumstance will be the same.  Therefore, don't look to the past to fix yourself.  Rather, look towards your aim.  What are you striving for?  Most likely, you are striving for happiness.

Problems begin when people misunderstand how to go about attaining happiness.  Many seek happiness in acquiring things that don't truly matter and they misuse them.  They think that their means of living (health, wealth, possessions) will bring them happiness.  In fact, it is the wise use of indifferents which demonstrates an excellent character, is what brings a person happiness.

they regard the means for producing happiness as happiness itself, and, while seeking happiness, they are really fleeing from it. For although the sum and substance of the happy life is unalloyed freedom from care, and though the secret of such freedom is unshaken confidence, yet men gather together that which causes worry, and, while travelling life's treacherous road, not only have burdens to bear, but even draw burdens to themselves; hence they recede farther and farther from the achievement of that which they seek, and the more effort they expend, the more they hinder themselves and are set back.

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