Thursday, March 02, 2023

Embodied living

If philosophy is the practice of a wise life, its truth cannot be learned apart from its embodiment. Precisely, that is, because philosophy is “practicing the truth” (Ep. 98.17), apprenticeship is the requisite form of study and learning. “Cleanthes could not have been the express image of Zeno, if he had merely heard his lectures,” Seneca tells his pupil. That is why “he shared in Zeno’s life, saw into his hidden purposes, and watched him to see whether he lived according to his own rules” (Ep. 7.6). “What ought to be done,” my dear Lucilius, “must belearned from one who does it” (Ep. 98.17). Practice, Seneca repeatedly insists, is correlated with apprenticeship because knowledge comes by observing a master at work and being trained by his example. For this reason, says Seneca, "I hold that no man has treated humanity worse than he who has studied philosophy as if it were some marketable trade, who lives in a different manner from that which he advises” (Ep. 108.36). Such a person, Seneca’s logic runs, actively prevents the possibility of learning how to live, for he severs the necessary relation between knowledge and life. “A teacher like that can help me no more than a seasick pilot can be efficient in a storm. He must hold the tiller when the waves are tossing him; he must wrestle, as it were, with the sea; he must furl his sails when the storm rages; what good is a frightened and vomiting steersman to me?! And how much greater is the storm of life than that which tosses any ship!” (Ep. 108.36).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 38–39

<idle musing>
Boy, we could sure use some embodied examples now, couldn't we?

The 18th and 19th century German Lutherans had a term for those who spouted orthodoxy but didn't live it: Confessionalism. And they created Pietism as an antidote.

Granted, pietism taken to extreme can be just as bad as confessionalism, but combine the two and you get a good recipe for effective change.
</idle musing>

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