On Real Ethics as Superior to Syllogistic Subtleties
The question in this letter is: "whether the Stoic belief is true: that wisdom is a Good, but that being wise is not a Good."
He summarizes the Stoic school position:
They (the Stoics) declare that wisdom is a Good; it therefore follows that one must also call wisdom corporeal. But they do not think that being wise can be rated on the same basis. For it is incorporeal and accessory to something else, in other words, wisdom; hence it is in no respect active or helpful.
He then uses the remainder of the letter to disagree and provide ideas supporting his position and to hold the stance that talking about such inane quibbles mean nothing and are a waste of time and energy.
Here are various quotes of him expressing distaste for discussing this difference.
wasting words on a subject that is perfectly clear.
How will it profit me to know whether wisdom is one thing, and being wise another?
Fortune has set before you so many problems – which you have not yet solved – and are you still splitting hairs? How foolish it is to practise strokes after you have heard the signal for the fight! Away with all these dummy-weapons; you need armour for a fight to the finish.
Let us rush past all this clever nonsense, and hurry on to that which will bring us real assistance.
are you taking time for matters which serve merely for mental entertainment?
Nature has not given us such a generous and free-handed space of time that we can have the leisure to waste any of it.
so short and swift, that carries us away in its flight, of what avail is it to spend the greater part on useless things?
What he finds of value is practical use of philosophy. Understanding what wisdom is, and then being wise, are productive uses of time and energy. But focusing on minutiae about whether being wise is a Good or not, is a waste of brain cells.
Practical knowledge and use is focused on applying remedies.
show me the way by which I may attain those ends. Tell me what to avoid, what to seek, by what studies to strengthen my tottering mind, how I may rebuff the waves that strike me abeam and drive me from my course, by what means I may be able to cope with all my evils, and by what means I can be rid of the calamities that have plunged in upon me and those into which I myself have plunged. Teach me how to bear the burden of sorrow without a groan on my part, and how to bear prosperity without making others groan; also, how to avoid waiting for the ultimate and inevitable end, and to beat a retreat of my own free will, when it seems proper to me to do so.
Tell me by what means sadness and fear may be kept from disturbing my soul, by what means I may shift off this burden of hidden cravings. Do something!
Make me braver, make me calmer, make me the equal of Fortune, make me her superior.
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