Friday, 21 October 2016

Seneca's Daily Examination of Conscience

From the great Roman Stoic Philosopher, Seneca; one of the big three, along with Plutarch and Cicero, of Western Moral Philosophy. These three authors were indispensable reading in the West for over a thousand years and did so much to inculcate the refinements of culture and civilisation throughout Europe and America.

All our sense should be educated into strength: they are naturally able to endure much, provided that the spirit forbears to spoil them. The spirit ought to be brought up for examination daily. It was the custom of Sextius when the day was over, and he had betaken himself to rest, to inquire of his spirit: ‘’What bad habit of yours have you cured today? What vice have you checked? In what respect are you better?’’ Anger will cease, and become more gentle, if it knows that every day it will have to appear before the judgment seat.

What can be more admirable than this fashion of discussing the whole of the day’s events? How sweet is the sleep which follows this self-examination? How calm, how sound, and careless is it when our spirit has either received praise or reprimand, and when our secret inquisitor and censor has made his report about our morals? I makes use of this privilege, and daily plead my cause before myself: when the lamp is taken out of my sight, and my wife, who knows my habit, has ceased to talk, I pass the whole day in review before myself and repeat all that I have said and done: I conceal nothing from myself, and omit nothing: for why should I be afraid of any of my shortcomings, when it is in my power to say, ‘’I pardon you this time: see that you never do that anymore?

In that dispute you spoke too contentiously: do not for the future argue with ignorant people: those who have never been taught are unwilling to learn. You reprimanded that man with more freedom than you ought, and consequently you have offended him instead of amending his ways: in dealing with other cases of the kind, you should look carefully, not only to the truth of what you say, but also whether the person to whom you speak can bear to be told the truth.’’ A good man delights in receiving advice: all the worst men are the mort impatient of guidance. (On Anger 3,36)

ps. there is a bit of a Seneca revival these days, check out what all the fuss is about:

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