In coming weeks, Beautiful Rich Sage’s posts will look more closely at Seneca’s philosophy of freedom. For Seneca and the Stoics, freedom was an important element of the highest good. For us too, freedom is a central idea in the way we live our lives. In the West, many of us tune into an existential conception of freedom; which is often challenged in our working life.
The growth of China and India’s economic and political power is one of many 21st century dynamics fueling an increase in the demands humanity is already imposing on other living things on this planet. In some areas, these demands have the potential to increase exponentially, with little hope they will be reversed in our lifetime. The challenge to maintain our present levels of freedom in the face of web 2.0 industries has increased dramatically for Westerners.
Living in the West still gives us many choices. We can still choose to do things that will improve the planets capability to limit the sixth mass extinction event. Although, that’s often another way of saying we can choose the limits and challenges we and our society are willing shoulder in the interests of humanity’s future.
Where Seneca’s freedom matters
A way into thinking about our freedom in the our personal life, in society, and for our planet is by reflecting on Seneca’s ideas about freedom. Next weeks installment looks into Seneca’s view that suicide is a form of freedom. This is not a view that convinced many back in his day, and even fewer in the 21st century West. Although it is a view also attributed nearly 2,000 years later to some of the Existentialists. To my mind Seneca’s primary rationale for his thoughts on suicide is as a creative maneuver, an idea that creates mental space to exercise freedom.
Seneca did write about suicide many times, and his view was controversial back then. Why Seneca spent so much time writing about suicide is unknown. It could be that as someone who suffered ill health all his life, in his most wretched phases he contemplated whether it would be a moral act to take his own life.
We do not have to agree with Seneca, but he is a Stoic philosopher, and one of their primary aims was to increase human freedom and choice. So we can reflect on Seneca’s views, contrast it with our own, with Sartre’s, and with Wittgenstein’s. Then we will have learned something of what we think freedom is and what of it we want for ourselves and our society.
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