The aim of this site is to show you how to enjoy life more by learning a philosophy of the good life from the Ancient Roman Seneca. Life is rarely a smooth pathway. It issues challenges, some demanding and some that can imperil our will to live, or diminish our capacity for enjoying life.
To survive and thrive in the face of life’s challenges we will usually need the capacity for state of the art decision-making. It is how we respond to challenges and what we do after them that forms the central part of what we can control in life. This entails a seriously thinking through our moral compass, so we don’t end up making rash decisions that can have long term deleterious consequences for our relationships.
In the post-modern West it is possible to live a life without religion. It is probably possible to live without a moral compass. However, whether it is possible to live a good life that is actually good, and a life that meets life’s challenges with dignity without a solid moral compass, is an experiment few of us are willing to attempt.
So many of the people around us think of themselves as morally sound people. Yet many are likely to live in a way that simply reflects the prejudices of their upbringing, community, and education. We need to find a sense of the good that is actually good, a moral ideal that helps us live our lives as morally sound people. Seneca might be heroically old school but he can help us with this task.
Seneca wrote his book Letters to Lucilius (or the Moral Epistle’s) as an learning tool that provides a comprehensive moral education. He did not write it so the people who study it walk away thinking like Seneca. Just as Seneca asserted his independence of judgement from the textbook philosophy of the Stoics, he expects his readers to be able to think for themselves after working through his collection of letters.
Seneca by and large writes without using the technical language of the Greek philosophers. He has also written what remains one of the best programs of moral education available for people who want to develop their own moral compass with an idea of what is good that is actually good. Furthermore, Seneca does not aim to educate us to be good Stoics, his aim is to encourage us to think soundly for ourselves. He wrote in such a way that (like Montaigne) anyone is able to contemplate what they read in the epistles and develop their own moral thinking.
I acknowledge the work of Professor Brad Inwood whose work was my initial guide and has informed my learning about Seneca. When I writing these posts my main reference is Gummerre’s 1920 translations of Seneca’s Moral Epistles published in three volumes in the Loeb Classic library editions by Harvard University Press. In 2015 Margaret Graver and A.A.Long published a new, complete translation, which I highly recommend. Elaine Fantham’s 2010 Oxford World’s Classics translation of selected letters is another superb resource.
The 5 essays on Seneca’s ideas on freedom all expand on Inwood’s work in ‘Seneca on Freedom and Autonomy,’ chapter 11 in Reading Seneca: Stoic Philosophy at Rome, Oxford University Press 2008.