Volume 2, Issue 3, 2018
Ancient Greek Philosophy: Hellenistic Philosophy
Passions and Individual Responsibility in Seneca
For Seneca passions are not just bad judgments that need to be defeated. Even though he generally agrees with Chrysippus on the matter of the ontology of passions, Seneca differentiates mainly in his emphasis that passions are the reason why man leads an inauthentic, unhappy and undignified life. The Roman philosopher employs practical techniques that refer to the ordinary man, the man who rationally desires to change his merely-being into well-being. But that action requires the energetic engagement of the individual and the admittance of his particular responsibility. The role of individuality is particularly stressed, especially on the premises that man needs to make this constant and conscious effort to help himself, and to cure his own soul, often with the aid of others who share the same path. Under this prism, the treatment of passions leads to a culmination where man is not only bound to achieve his ontological excellence, but also to relieve his soul from the traumas of passions and to connect himself with the moral and existential safety that the presence of “recta ratio” guarantees. Seneca in De Ira defines passion as the result of an ‘impetus’, an horme, which lacks self-control and is closed to reason and counsel. As such, a passion makes the soul unfit to know the right and the true. In such a condition, man loses contact with the firm cognitive criteria that would allow him this knowledge and would ensure a eudaemonistic living “secundum naturam”. Although Seneca is convinced that the stoic teaching should address literally everyone in order to ameliorate one’s life and make it authentic and right, he upholds that it is better to totally exclude passions from the soul than try to control them. That gives certain gravity to the recognition that virtue, although it potentially belongs to every human being, is an absolute good, the only good that can be attained. But virtue, through this condition of emancipation from passion and of correction, is not an idealistic situation. Virtue is necessary, because only virtue can save man from leading an unhappy life, since it is the crucial prerequisite for the life of a rational and conscientious being.