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18.4.Wassenhove

For a Stoic philosopher, appealing to a student's emotions presents an obvious paradox, given that the goal of a Stoic education—living in harmony with nature—crucially involves eradicating the emotions (pathe). This seeming contradiction did not go unnoticed among the Stoics’ contemporary critics (Graver 2007:206). In his Tusculan Disputations (III.77), Cicero confronts the problem of Alcibiades' compunction at his own moral stagnation—an emotional reaction that might seem justifiable on account of its concern with moral development. In light of Cicero's discussion, the problem of 'progressor pain', as Margaret Graver terms Alcibiades’ emotion (2007:206), is often portrayed solely as a form of remorse over one’s moral shortcomings. Nonetheless, I propose that the problem of shame at one's own failings is equally problematic from a Stoic perspective. Stoic theory draws a distinction between the pathos ('irrational emotion') aischune, which is to be avoided, and the eupatheia ('good emotion') aidos. But as Rachana Kamtekar (1998:137-142) has pointed out, this distinction cannot justify a role for shame in moral education, since eupatheiai are the exclusive domain of Stoic sages. In her study on aidos in Epictetus, Kamtekar deftly explores the ways in which Epictetus attempts to resolve this seeming inconsistency. In this paper, I will discuss what I take to be Seneca's solution to this problem. I will do so by closely examining two intricately connected letters, 11 and 25. In Ep. 11, Seneca praises a friend for his verecundia, which the philosopher regards as an index of his young friend’s promising moral character. In the letter's postscript, Seneca urges Lucilius to adopt Epicurus' advice to live as if a man of high character were constantly watching him (Ep. 11.8). In Ep. 25, Seneca writes about another friend and suggests that this young man's pudor should be fostered (Ep. 25.2). Like Ep. 11, this letter concludes with a postscript in which Seneca elaborates upon the need to adopt an internal observer. The structural similarity between the two letters, as well as the etymological wordplay in Ep. 11 between the need to revere (vereor) the internal observer and the need to feel verecundia, directs our attention to the fact that, for Seneca, the ability to cultivate an internal moral compass has as its prerequisite the ability to feel ashamed before an exemplary moral figure. The fact that Seneca encourages Lucilius to adopt an historical exemplum as his internalized observer is, I claim, highly significant. It clearly resonates with Seneca's innovative theory that humans obtain an understanding of goodness by studying the lives of exemplary people (Ep. 120, discussed in Inwood 2005). In light of this theory, I argue that the internalized observer is not just a device that forces Lucilius to censure his thoughts and feelings. It also functions as an instrument that allows him to obtain a better understanding of the Stoic moral ideal, as his grasp of moral ideas is enhanced and refined by each encounter with this internalized exemplum. I argue that it is this perfection of his moral insight that will —as Seneca hopes in Ep. 25.6— allow Lucilius to eventually discard this device and become fully autonomous. Thus, I conclude that Seneca justifies the incorporation of feelings of verecundia and pudor in his account of moral progress by showing how such emotions may bring about their own superfluousness.

Bibliography

  • Graver, M., Stoicism & Emotion, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • Inwood, B., 'Getting to Goodness', in: Inwood, B., Reading Seneca : Stoic Philosophy at Rome. Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 271:301.
  • Kamtekar, R., “AIDOS in Epictetus”, CPh 93.2 (1998): 136-60.

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