Saturday, January 19, 2019

Seneca On Learning from the Enemy

Today I found an interesting thought in Seneca’s letter to his friend Lucilius. While advising Lucilius to read wisely, Seneca says that there is nothing wrong in venturing into the enemy camp to pick up the good thoughts that they may possess. He was a Stoic, but he was not averse to examining the competing philosophy of the Epicureans to find thoughts which corresponded with his own thinking.

Here’s an excerpt from Seneca’s Letter II to Lucilius (Seneca: Letters from a Stoic; Selected and Translated by Robin Campbell; Page 34):
After running over a lot of different thoughts, pick out one to be digested thoroughly that day. This is what I do myself; out of the many bits I have been reading I lay hold of one. My thought for today is something which I found in Epicurus (yes, I actually make a practice of going over the enemy’s camp—by way of reconnaissance, not as a deserter!). ‘A cheerful poverty,’ he says, ‘is an honorable state.’ But if it is cheerful it is not poverty at all. 
Seneca calls Epicurean philosophy, the enemy camp, but in his letters there are several references to Epicureanism. He agrees with Epicurus one some points while drawing distinctions where he finds them necessary.

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