Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Not Promised Tomorrow

All things, my Lucilius, are another's matter; our time alone is our own affair. Nature sent us into this one fleeting and slippery possession, from which anybody who wants to can cast us out.  
                                                                  Epistle 1

   Time is our own in the sense that we can choose to make proper use of it. Seneca argues frequently that life is not short, that it only seems so because we willingly waste time, and that a virtuous life can be lived just as well in a single day as in an hundred years. 
     Another man's use of his own time - even if he chooses to spend it viciously, even seeking my hurt without cause - is his own business, not mine.  Likewise, just about anything else - from the length of my life to the rising and setting of the sun to the rush hour traffic to the weather - are alien to me. How I use the time I have been allotted by Nature is my own affair. Not even the desperate junkie who puts a knife to my throat cannot rob me of my use of time - he cannot force me to spend my last seconds of my life as a coward.  
     Seneca, though, reminds us that Nature has given us a fleeting and slippery possession. That desperate junkie willing to kill for the possible pocket change I have on my person can indeed shorten my time suddenly, as can myriad other factors beyond my control. I had better, then, start living life well now, not later.  I am not promised tomorrow, or even the next second. [See also next post]        

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Get Back To Work!

Therefore, my Lucilius, do as you write to me that you are doing, and hold every hour in your grasp, so that you depend less upon tomorrow, having cast your hand to work today.  Life passes by while it is postponed.  
                                                     - Epistle 1

     The time to amend our character is now.  Dying daily, as we are, we must not depend on a tomorrow that has never been promised to us, nor even on a later hour in the day.  The natural End or goal of Man's life, living virtuously according to Nature, is the task that is ever at hand.  Indeed, it is the Task of life for a rational creature. We postpone, as it were, life itself, while we are set upon some other task.  Life, then, passes us by.  

Monday, 10 June 2013

Practice What You Preach

Therefore, my Lucilius, do as you write to me that you are doing....
                                               Epistle 1

     Stoic philosophy, especially in its Roman manifestation (which we find here in the works of Seneca), is unlike what many today would consider to be philosophy.  It is not mere esoteric intellectualising, detached from reality, serving no practical purpose.  Whatever intellectualising is done is ultimately for the sake of real world application.  Philosophy has indeed been called ars vitae or the art of life.  The very etymology of the word means the love [philo] of wisdom [sophia] in Greek.  Wisdom is not wit, cleverness, or raw intelligence.  It is correct understanding for knowing what to do and when to do it, with the aim of leading a life worth living.  Of course, uncovering this understanding may take some very heavy intellectualising and vigorous thinking, but this is contemplation in the service of a practical end - living the good life.  Wisdom, then, is an action.  One cannot claim to have attained any measure of wisdom while his actions are out of tune with his intellect.  
     When Seneca urges his friend to do as he writes, these are not casual words.  It is a subtle reminder that authentic philosophy is practised, not just talked about.  

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Death Has Already Passed

We err in that we look towards Death as a future event; the greater part of it has already passed.  Whatever time lies behind us, Death already possesses. 

                                                  - Epistle 1

     In the previous post, Seneca reminded us that we are dying daily, that every moment brings us closer to Death, and therefore the opportunity to live well, that is, to live virtuously, is now.  Even if we die tomorrow, we can live a fully virtuous life today.  Our time is not short if we know how to use it. 
     Seneca now carries this argument one step further.  We are mistaken, he says, when we look towards Death as some sort of terrible future event that has yet to occur.  We perhaps should be looking to the past. We have experienced Death already, or something akin to it, before we were born.  This non-existence was hardly terrible.  In fact, it did not trouble us at all. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

Dying Daily

Who can you show me, who places any value on his time, evaluates the worth of his day, and who understands that he is dying daily?                                 - Seneca, Epistle 1

     Death is not some far off event.  It is happening to us right now.  Every moment brings us closer to it, and even today could be our last day.  Indeed, if one contrasts the vastness of time with our short lives, little more than a drop in the bucket of time, this day might as well be our last.  
     But who really meditates upon this fact?  It is, for most people, a depressing thought, and they ignore it, even deny it, as long as possible.  
     Yet for the Stoic, this thought is not depressing, but essential to happiness.  Once the reality of our mortality is accepted and rehearsed daily in our minds, we will properly estimate the value of our time and our days, and not a moment will be wasted;  for every moment will be dedicated to our true purpose and only source of happiness: the cultivation of Virtue.