LETTER VIII

Here Seneca is accused of living a hidden life of reflection and writing and not living up to the requirement that a man dies in harness. Seneca see his writing as being very important to generations of people to come and therefore the best use of his time. In fact he stays up all night and only falls asleep when his eyelids close and he can no longer keep them open. As a heavy snoozer myself, this is quite a life style, and one that I have no experience with whatsoever.

Seneca feels he has identified the right path late in life. He sees avoiding the mob and the gifts of chance as being the key to happy living. He goes as far to say that when something unexpected and welcome comes into your life - treat it with suspicion and alarm. This is the conservative narrow mindedness of a Bavarian hill farmer! The gifts of chance are compared to snares or baited bounties - we think that they are gifts to us when in fact it is we who are caught.

This is a familiar stoic mind set - opportunities of chance whether good or bad are to be avoided or at least distrusted as they have nothing to do with our own behaviour. The gifts of chance are not our possessions, for they can be taken away at any stage. We only have our own thoughts and behaviour - Seneca sees philosophy as being the route to freedom from the Lady Fate’s gifts.

I have been thinking about this idea. The idea of being a philosopher these days has a poor image. I conjure up thoughts of skinny arts students who can talk for hours in intricate loops in a very annoying way. Philosophy and the study of it are very different to Seneca - he sees it as the only way to effectively reject the mob and the gifts of chance and to live a happy life.

For myself I can see that the gifts of chance are things that I have spent a lot of my life thinking about and placing special meaning on. They may make for a good story, but over-analysis is useless because I have no control over what chance will give me.

At the moment I am not sure what the study and application of philosophy actually means to me. I do know that for me successful outings in philosophy have involved a mixture of thought and action. It’s easier said than done, but I think that over the last few years I have edged towards a more reflective and simpler life.

The question is what steps to I need to progress down this path? Currently I am a mixture of certain stoic principles and enlightened hedonism. I am not quite sure where I am headed - one thing that I have gained from Seneca’s letters so far is the importance of learning and sharing as a lifestyle. It allows for the stoic principles to be implemented in the proper environment. This is something that I have consistently underestimated over the last few years.