Seneca, also known as Seneca the Younger, was a significant philosopher belonging to the Roman times. His works, essays and tragedies majorly contributed to the development of Stoicism, a school of thought which states that virtue and goodness is based on knowledge. Many students and followers of stoic approach came towards the philosophy through the contributions made by Seneca.
Seneca wrote twelve essays on philosophy, a hundred and twenty-four letters on principles of morality, nine tragedies and satire. His writing style was engaging, as he believed that any philosophy would be best conveyed to the reader by truly involving him the in thought process.
Through his writings, Seneca touched the major themes of stoicism: suffering is inevitably important, simplicity leads to contentment, the universe is being dealt with divine rationality, and that knowledge should be gained in any and all forms. He attempted to help his readers out by making them face their problems in life and by providing logical steps on how to solve them. One major theme of his letters is acceptance of human mortality and how to channel ones’ fear of death into motivation for virtue.
Even though his writings mirror the main ideas of Stoicism, Seneca established his worth as an independent thinker and not as a single-minded, rigid philosopher. In one of his works, On the Private Life, he emphasizes the point by stating that he will not do what was ordered to him by his leaders, but he will do what he was led to.
In the same book, and in On Peace of Mind, he discusses the choice of leading a practical and political life or a life of thinking and philosophy. He asks what amount of thinking and activity would make us live at peace with ourselves, and concludes that thinking is equally important to acting. Philosophical thinking is the basis of our actions, and is thus important for leading a peaceful life.
On the topic of soul, Seneca states that soul is a rational being, able to act on its own. He holds the Stoic view that soul is physical; it is a body. He bases his theory on account of the fact that only bodies are capable of action and can cause a reaction.
Seneca is often attributed with being the discoverer of the concept of will. He states all human souls leave impression which affects other human souls. All souls have the power to either accept or negate these impressions. By accepting these impressions, souls make our bodies act accordingly. Thus all actions are completely controlled by our decisions of accepting and rejecting certain soul impressions. We have the power to be virtuous or evil.
On human emotions and reactions, Seneca was of the view that emotions mirror a person’s opinion. Emotions cannot be controlled; they are illogical. He worked in great depth on the emotion of anger and came to the conclusion that an ideal person would try to replace his angry outburst of emotion with a response based on righteousness. He also wrote extensively on fear of death, and how it can be tamed to achieve virtue and greatness.
Seneca also differentiated the good from the valuable and discussed how money and health is valuable, but not good, as it fails to bring us true happiness. According to him, only virtue and benefiting others can bring contentment. A good person’s life, even if he is not helping others with his actions, is still beneficial, as virtue affects from far away.
Seneca’s philosophy is one of righteousness, virtue and morality. His concepts on theology, philosophical psychology and epistemology have been neglected for centuries. The recent times have witnessed the revival of Senecan philosophy, as more Stoicists and philosophers rediscover the loftiness of Seneca’s ideas.