Meeting 22

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DATE: Tuesday, December 8

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : On Friendship with God: Seneca and Shaftesbury

SPEAKERS: Ryan Darr (Princeton University), Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest)


Friendship with God in Shaftesbury’s The Moralists

Ryan Darr (Princeton University)

In his philosophical dialogue, The Moralists, Shaftesbury addresses two interrelated themes: the good of human beings and the problem of evil. The former is the topic of the primary dialogue, while the latter is the concern of the one to whom the dialogue is being recounted. Both are answered through Shaftesbury’s notion of friendship with God, the “Genius” who governs the cosmos. Friendship with God is the human good, and through friendship with God we recognize that there is no real ill in the world. In this paper, I reconstruct Shaftesbury’s notion of friendship with God and then argue that there is tension between the account of the human good and the resolution of the problem of evil.

Friendship with God in Seneca`s Epistles: philosophical reflections and literary devices

Dana Jalobeanu (ICUB-Humanities & Department of Theoretical Philosophy, University of Bucharest)

Friendship is one of the main themes in Seneca’s Letters to Lucilius. Some may say, perhaps, that it is the main theme. And yet, to date, scholars failed to agree on many of its details. Debates range over the question whether Seneca’s conception of friendship is Stoic, influenced by the Epicureans or by Plato’s early dialogues; or, whether it was constructed in opposition with Cicero’s conception of friendship. Other questions regard the nature and functions of friendship: is it a relationship among the sages, or maybe the right kind of relationship between the wise and God? Is friendship a form of the exercise of virtue? Or a pedagogic tool for the proficiens? To date, scholars even fail to agree over the question which particular letters from the collection are letters on friendship.

            In this talk, I suggest that a possible reason for such a diversity of interpretations lies in the fact that the theme of friendship is central to the very particular interplay between philosophy and literature which represents the main characteristic of the Letters. Seneca does not subject the notion of friendship to philosophical reflection only; he employs vivid examples and creates powerful characters; a whole cast friends live in the pages of his Letters. As some scholars have already emphasized, this literary approach often led Seneca in unexpected directions and resulted in surprising philosophical innovations. My claim is that his theory of friendship is one of them.

            My investigation focuses on a particular form of imaginative exercise proposed by Seneca in the Letters; the requirement to “make friends.” This is described as an act of craftmanship (Seneca uses a plethora of metaphors for it, such as sculpting, painting, gardening) which follows our natural instinct but which can have different degrees of sophistication and self-reflection according to where we are on Seneca’s scale of proficiency. The sage is making friends as Phidias is making statues, using all the “human stuff” available to him; and, in this, he imitates God, the craftsman of the universe. The philosopher aims to do the same, but his craftmanship differs in substantial ways from that of the wise. His creation is of a second order. He cannot shape friends in his own image (since he is not always living only according to the dictates of reason). He cannot make friends in the image of the sage, since he only has dim reflections of that. In a way, the philosopher – proficiens does not even know what is his own image, since he has, at best, a limited knowledge of his own self. If the model of making friends is vertical and top-down for the sage, for the proficiens making friends involve a complex loop of action and passion, creation and reflection, appropriation (of the other) and self-discovery. In this process we first become acquainted, then gradually reveal, fix, and eventually take possession of what is called the god within us, i.e., the highest “part” of the mind (animus rectus, bonus, magnus). As I will show in my talk, the Letters read like a depiction of this gradual uncovering and fixing of the god within; a masterful depiction of an intricate maze of literary devices and philosophical reflections, imaginative and cognitive exercises reminiscent of a good (Senecan) play.

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