Week 4 & 5 – Stoic views of Death
Seneca – Letters from a Stoic
Roman Imperial Period
- Fatalism our life is already pre-determined for us and everything happens by fate.
However, he believed that people had free will, not everything was determined to take
place but how things would end up in the long run was already paved. Even if you
deviate from this, life will still still happen the way it should.
o “They [the Stoics] the claim that everything happens by fate by using this
example. It is as though a dog dragged behind a cart. If he wants to follow, he is
both dragged and follows, exercising his autonomy in conjunction with necessity.
But if he does not wish to follow, he will nevertheless be forced to. The same
thing happens in the case of men. Even if they do not want to follow, they will
nevertheless be forced to go along with what has been destined.”
- Practical application of philosophy what happens to the soul after the death of the body
is not of Seneca’s concerned, he is more concerned in the practical philosophy that
applies to people in life and why we should not concern ourselves with death during our
lives. 3 components:
o Focus your attention and efforts only on things that are in your control.
o The only thing you have control over in your life is your ability to reason and
make rational choices.
o Everything else is fated to go a certain way so there is no reason to worry about
them. Once we realize this, we can be truly happy.
- Apatheia clear judgment, clear mindedness. Bodily pleasures and pains should not
concern us. All we should be concerned about is the strength of our reason, since this is
all we can control.
- Had a strong view of the power of human psychology and our judgments about our
o Can you be happy on the rack? Could you be happy if you were being tortured?
The most amount of happiness can be found when you’re in the worst scenarios
and still in a pleasurable state. They believed one could be learn to be happy
even if they were being tortured because they had the control to do so.
- Letter XXVI: Rehearsing death
o Everything that lives will eventually, of necessity, die. A natural death is to be
o One should rehearse death. They should prepare for and rehearse for the day
when they will die. They should be ready to leave everything and everyone
behind. Only once they are prepared to do this, to be free from living and all of
the things of life, will they be truly free.
o The one thing that keeps us from being truly free us the love of life. This does
not mean that we should not enjoy life, but that we should not cling to life or
invest more than is reasonable in our lives, since we will all eventually die.
o Death is unavoidable. We must learn to accept that and prepare for it instead of
trying to avoid death and fearing it.
o Being prepared and vigilant is important for happiness
- Letter LIV: Symmetry argument
o The paragraph starting on p.104 and terminating at the top of p.105 contains an
argument similar to the symmetry argument we read by Lucretius.
o Death is simply non-existence. My non-existence in death is the same as my
non-existence before birth, since all non-existence is the same. o “If there is torment in the later state, there must also have been torment in the
period before we saw the light of day; yet we never felt conscious of any
o If we were never conscious of any distress before we were born, then we will not
be conscious of any distress when we die, since they are symmetrical forms of
non-existence. Because of this, we should not fear or avoid death.
o “I ask you, wouldn’t you say that anyone who took the view that a lamp was
worse off when it was put out than it was before it was lit was an utter idiot? We,
too, are lit and put out. We suffer somewhat in the intervening period [when we
are alive], but at either end of it there is a deep tranquility.”
o “[Death] precedes as well as succeeds. Death is all that was before us. What
does it matter, after all, whether you cease to be or never begin, when the result
of either is that you do not exist?”
o Non-existence is neither good nor bad for the thing that does not exist.
- Letter LXXVII: A long life is not inherently better than a short one
o The selection you have begins with more of the symmetry argument