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    Letters from an invalid philosopher: the fallibility of mind and body in Seneca’s Epistulae morales

    Edwards, Catharine (2023) Letters from an invalid philosopher: the fallibility of mind and body in Seneca’s Epistulae morales. In: Fuhrer, T. and Soldo, J. (eds.) Fallibility and Fallibilism in Ancient Philosophy and Literature. Philosophie der Antike 45. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter, pp. 127-145. ISBN 9783111314358.

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    Anyone who wishes to make progress towards Stoic wisdom must cultivate a heightened awareness of their own fallibility, their susceptibility to the error of failing to appreciate that only virtue is truly good. Seneca’s letters, the main focus of my discussion, regularly exhort his addressee Lucilius to scrutinise his (Lucilius’) faults. In doing so, they also showcase the failings of their author; Seneca often confesses his own flaws. He describes himself disturbed by a range of emotions all of which ultimately derive from attributing value to circumstances a true Stoic should regard as indifferent. Stoic discipline focuses on the identification and cure of the particular weaknesses impairing one’s mental and spiritual disposition, failings of the animus. Physical deficiencies might seem irrelevant to this quest for mental perfection; the capacity of the Stoic wise person for virtue is in no way compromised by illness, Seneca insists, or the loss of a limb. At the same time, Seneca regularly presents the therapy offered by philosophy as a cure for mental ills which is analogous in important respects to that offered by medicine in relation to physical ones. The place of this analogy in Stoic thinking was long established. I want to look more closely, however, at the significance of bodily failings in Seneca’s letters and their complex relation to fallibility of the animus. In the end, I shall argue, the differences are more important than the parallels. Failings of the mind require therapeutic attention, but they are never to be welcomed. Failings of the body, by contrast, while they may sometimes be an impediment or distraction, can also offer the opportunity to hone crucial facets of Stoic virtue, such as fortitude and endurance.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Catharine Edwards
    Date Deposited: 22 May 2024 11:51
    Last Modified: 22 May 2024 11:51


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