Friday, September 28, 2012

Seneca's Prioritizing

It is always something enlightening when I receive insight into the priorities of philosophers; it allows me to see how they make decisions along with their reasoning. I believe it was Aristotle who said that people become accustomed to virtues through those who accurately practice noble virtues. It is good to have an example or an ideal to mirror oneself. I think that this goes for all other actions as well - not just simply finding exemplars of virtue. In the case of Seneca, I admire his ability to prioritize. In the modern age (especially in developed countries such as the United States), priorities seem to be grounded in personal pleasures and overly selfish well-being.


I recently finished Seneca's incomplete collection of letters entitled Letters from a Stoic (2004). His knowledge is so sublime and his aphorisms have the ability to open the gates of one's intellect. There are numerous passages that are well worth looking over and studying. Perhaps one of the most intriguing passages has to do with prioritizing things in one's life:

The man who does not value his wife or a friend highly enough to stay on a little longer in life, who persists in dying in spite of them, is a thoroughly self-indulgent character. This is a duty which the soul should also impose on itself when it is merely the convenience of near and dear ones that demands it. And not only if and when it feels the wish to die, but also if and when it has begun to carry out the wish, it should pause a while to fit in with their interests (184, Letter CIV).

This quote deals with one of the great existential problems that Seneca struggles with: the choice either to live or die. But the quote delves even further than this mere conflict. Seneca imples that the selfless character should die (or even live) in consideration of others. This profound insight, this prioritization of others, is the result of great wisdom and practice.

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