On the Purpose of Philosophy
$29.95* per week to get access to all classes and forums, and a copy of
The Poet & The Sage when you enrol.
*Members of The Walled Garden Philosophical Society get 20% off this grove.
On the Purpose of Philosophy
XVI. On Philosophy: The Guide of Life
1. It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun. This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make noble ones. You must persevere, must develop new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a good inclination becomes a good settled purpose. 2. Hence you no longer need to come to me with much talk and protestations; I know that you have made great progress. I understand the feelings which prompt your words; they are not feigned or specious words. Nevertheless I shall tell you what I think, – that at present I have hopes for you, but not yet perfect trust. And I wish that you would adopt the same attitude towards yourself; there is no reason why you should put confidence in yourself too quickly and readily. Examine yourself; scrutinize and observe yourself in divers ways; but mark, before all else, whether it is in philosophy or merely in life itself that you have made progress. 3. Philosophy is no trick to catch the public; it is not devised for show. It is a matter, not of words, but of facts. It is not pursued in order that the day may yield some amusement before it is spent, or that our leisure may be relieved of a tedium that irks us. It moulds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone; it sits at the helm and directs our course as we waver amid uncertainties. Without it, no one can live fearlessly or in peace of mind. Countless things that happen every hour call for advice; and such advice is to be sought in philosophy.
4. Perhaps someone will say: “How can philosophy help me, if Fate exists? Of what avail is philosophy, if God rules the universe? Of what avail is it, if Chance governs everything? For not only is it impossible to change things that are determined, but it is also impossible to plan beforehand against what is undetermined; either God has forestalled my plans, and decided what I am to do, or else Fortune gives no free play to my plans.” 5. Whether the truth, Lucilius, lies in one or in all of these views, we must be philosophers; whether Fate binds us down by an inexorable law, or whether God as arbiter of the universe has arranged everything, or whether Chance drives and tosses human affairs without method, philosophy ought to be our defence. She will encourage us to obey God cheerfully, but Fortune defiantly; she will teach us to follow God and endure Chance. 6. But it is not my purpose now to be led into a discussion as to what is within our own control, – if foreknowledge is supreme, or if a chain of fated events drags us along in its clutches, or if the sudden and the unexpected play the tyrant over us; I return now to my warning and my exhortation, that you should not allow the impulse of your spirit to weaken and grow cold. Hold fast to it and establish it firmly, in order that what is now impulse may become a habit of the mind.
7. If I know you well, you have already been trying to find out, from the very beginning of my letter, what little contribution it brings to you. Sift the letter, and you will find it. You need not wonder at any genius of mine; for as yet I am lavish only with other men’s property. – But why did I say “other men”? Whatever is well said by anyone is mine. – This also is a saying of Epicurus: “If you live according to nature, you will never be poor; if you live according to opinion, you will never be rich.” 8. Nature’s wants are slight; the demands of opinion are boundless. Suppose that the property of many millionaires is heaped up in your possession. Assume that fortune carries you far beyond the limits of a private income, decks you with gold, clothes you in purple, and brings you to such a degree of luxury and wealth that you can bury the earth under your marble floors; that you may not only possess, but tread upon, riches. Add statues, paintings, and whatever any art has devised for the satisfaction of luxury; you will only learn from such things to crave still greater.
9. Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping-point. The false has no limits. When you are travelling on a road, there must be an end; but when astray, your wanderings are limitless. Recall your steps, therefore, from idle things, and when you would know whether that which you seek is based upon a natural or upon a misleading desire, consider whether it can stop at any definite point. If you find, after having travelled far, that there is a more distant goal always in view, you may be sure that this condition is contrary to nature.
Translated by Richard M. Gummere
I’m a philosopher in my heart, a poet by calling, and a musician in my being. As the CEO and Co-Founder of The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, I’m honoured be among other brilliant philosophers and seekers who are working to make the world a better place through great ideas and communal meaning-making. Follow the link below if you’d like to work one-on-one with me as your philosophical mentor.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Brandon Tumblin and his initiatives in the Strong Stoic Grove.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Juan Perez and his initiatives within The Agora Grove.
Enroll now to enter The Sanctuary.
Join our growing community of seekers and citizens from around the world who are rediscovering their humanity and connectedness by way of the philosophical and spiritual path.
Depending on the assignment, you may need to upload multiple files. Most file types are accepted, but please let me know if you need assistance (email email@example.com)
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Simon J. E. Drew and his initiatives within The Sanctuary Grove.
To interview me on your podcast, or to have me speak at your next event or gathering, simply fill in the form below and I’ll be in touch as soon as possible.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to J.W. Bertolotti and his initiatives with Reading and the Good Life.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Sharon Lebell and her initiatives within this Grove.
100% of your donation will go toward the building and growing of our community in The Walled Garden Philosophical Society.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Prof. Joe Siracusa and his initiatives in this grove.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Judith Stove and Simon Drew and their initiatives in this grove.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Kai Whiting and Chris Fisher and their initiatives in the Dirk Mahling Memorial Stoa.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to David Alexander and his initiatives in the Prosoche Project Grove.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Judith Stove and her initiatives in the Roots of the Garden Grove.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Rocco Jarman and his initiatives in this Grove.
Of your donation, 20% will go to The Walled Garden Philosophical Society, and 80% to Rocco & Simon and their initiatives in this Grove.