What is Being?
In the order of nature some things exist, and other things do not exist, & even the things that do not exist are really part of the order of nature.
We go down twice into the same river, and yet into a different river; For though it has within itself all that it has had, it has it in a different way from that in which it has had it; it keeps changing its arrangement.
We are weak, watery beings standing in the midst of unrealities; For all things abide, not because they are everlasting, it is because they are protected by the care of those who governs all things.
There is a pleasure to be in one’s own company, as long as possible, when One has made themselves worth enjoying.
We are Being.
As we discuss the concept of genus and species in ancient philosophy, specifically in Stoicism; What is the primary idea of genus, which is the source of all classification, by starting from particular terms (species) and working back to a more general idea.
Seneca starts by considering the species “human” and notes that it is a part of the genus “animal”; However, Seneca realizes that there are things like plants and trees that have life but are not considered animals, so they propose a higher genus, “living things”; Seneca then goes on to propose the genus “substance”, which is higher than “living things” but still has some things that don’t belong to it, & then argues that the ultimate genus, the one that is the primary term of classification is, “that which exists”, and that everything can be classified under this term.
Seneca notes that there might be another more primary genus, according to the Stoics, however only intends to discuss that later after proving that the genus “that which exists” is correctly placed first.
The concept of genus and species in the classification of things; Propose that the primary idea of genus can be reached by starting from particulars and working backwards to a more general idea; For example, the species “human” and “animal” can be grouped under the genus “animal”, & belongs to a higher genus, “living things”, which includes both animals and plants.
Then there is an even higher genus, “substance”, which is divided into animate and inanimate; The highest genus is “that which exists”, which includes all things and is divided into things with and without substance.
The Stoics, propose a still higher genus, “something”, which is divided into existing and non-existing things.
Plato divides all existing things into six different categories.
The first category includes things that can only be grasped by thought, not by the senses, such as generic ideas like human, animal, etc.
The second category includes things that stand out above everything else, like deity, which is a pre-eminent being.
The third category includes the idea or pattern of things, which are countless and beyond our sight, but all visible things are created and fashioned according to their pattern.
The fourth category includes form, which is the shape taken from the idea and embodied in the work of an artist.
The fifth category includes things that exist in the usual sense of the term, like humans, cattle, and things.
The sixth category includes things with a fictitious existence, like void or time, that are not considered to exist in the strict sense.
As we discuss about the idea of change and how everything in the world is constantly changing and flowing, including human beings and the universe itself.
We should not fear death, as it is just a natural part of this constant change; Instead, we should focus on finding ways to make our lives meaningful by engaging in activities that bring us joy and enrich our lives, such as finding entertainment in our work.
The habit is to try to find useful elements in every field of thought and that even entertainment can be a source of growth and learning.
Our focus should be on eternal and permanent things, not on fleeting and imaginary things that excite our senses; We should turn our minds towards the divine and ideal forms of things, and disregard anything that is insignificant.
The world, being mortal, can be protected from perils by Providence, and in the same way, our own bodies can be made to last longer if we control our desires and pleasures.
Look towards the ideal forms of things, and practicing self-control, we can overcome the weaknesses of our bodies and live a better life.
One should not hasten the end of life artificially, but instead wait for it to come naturally; However if old age brings physical and mental impairments, one would rather leave life than endure the suffering.
However to seek death, if the illness is curable illness, then it is a defeat, however if the pain cannot be endured, then death is acceptable because it would hinder one’s reasons for living.
If I may first point out that there is something called genus and something called species.
For the present, however we are seeking the primary idea of genus, on which the others, the different species, depend, which is the source of all classification, the term under which universal ideas are embraced; And the idea of genus will be reached if we begin to reckon back from particulars; for in this way we shall be conducted back to the primary notion.
Now human is a species, as Aristotle says; so is horse, or dog; We must therefore discover some common bond for all these terms, one which embraces them and holds them subordinate to itself.
And what is this?, It is “animal.”, And so there begins to be a genus animal, including all these terms, human, horse, and dog, Yet there are certain things which have life (anima) and yet are not “animals.”
For it is agreed that plants and trees possess life, and that is why we speak of them as living and dying; Therefore the term living things will occupy a still higher place, because both animals and plants are included in this category.
Certain objects, however lack life, – such as rocks; There will therefore be another term to take precedence over living things, and that is substance, I shall classify “substance” by saying that all substances are either animate or inanimate.
There is still something superior to “substance”; for we speak of certain things as possessing substance, and certain things as lacking substance.
What, then, will be the term from which these things are derived?, It is that to which we lately gave an inappropriate name, that which exists.
For by using this term they will be divided into species, so that we can say: that which exists either possesses, or lacks substance, This therefore, is what genus is, – the primary, original, and (to play upon the word) general.
Of course there are the other genera: but they are special genera: human being, for example, a genus; For human comprises species: by nations, – Greek, Roman, Parthian; by colours, – white, black, yellow.
The term comprises individuals also: Cato, Cicero, Lucretius; So human falls into the category genus, in so far as it includes many kinds; but in so far as it is subordinate to another term, it falls into the category species.
However the genus ”that which exists” is general, and has no term superior to it; It is the first term in the classification of things, and all things are included under it.
The Stoics would set ahead of this still another genus, even more primary; concerning which I shall immediately speak, after proving that the genus which has been discussed above, has rightly been placed first, being, as it is, capable of including everything.
I therefore distribute “that which exists” into these two species, – things with, and things without, substance.
There is no third class, And how do I distribute substance?
By saying that it is either animate or inanimate, And how do I distribute the animate?, By saying: Certain things have mind, while others have only life.
Or the idea may be expressed as follows: Certain things have the power of movement, of progress, of change of position, while others are rooted in the ground; they are fed and they grow only through their roots, Again, into what species do I divide animals?, They are either perishable or imperishable.
Certain of the Stoics regard the primary genus as the something, I shall add the reasons they give for their belief; they say: in the order of nature some things exist, and other things do not exist.
And even the things that do not exist are really part of the order of nature; What these are will readily occur to the mind, for example centaurs, giants, and all other figments of unsound reasoning, which have begun to have a definite shape, although they have no bodily consistency.
Now I return to the subject which I promised to discuss for you, namely, how it is that Plato divides all existing things in six different ways.
The first class of “that which exists” cannot be grasped by the sight or by the touch, or by any of the senses; but it can be grasped by the thought, Any generic conception, such as the generic idea human, does not come within the range of the eyes; however human in particular does; as for example, Cicero, Cato; The term animal is not seen; it is grasped by thought alone; A particular animal, however, is seen for example, a horse, a dog.
The second class of “things which exist,” according to Plato, is that which is prominent and stands out above everything else; this, he says, exists in a pre-eminent degree; The word “poet” is used indiscriminately, for this term is applied to all writers of verse; however among the Greeks it has come to be the distinguishing mark of a single individual; You know that Homer is meant when you hear people say the poet, What then, is this pre-eminent Being?, A Deity, surely one who is greater, and more powerful than anyone else.
The third class is made up of those things which exist in the proper sense of the term; they are countless in number, but are situated beyond our sight, What are these?, you ask; They are Plato’s own furniture, so to speak; he calls them ideas, and from them all visible things are created, and according to their pattern all things are fashioned; They are immortal, unchangeable, inviolable, And this idea, or rather, Plato’s conception of it, is as follows: The ‘idea’ is the everlasting pattern of those things which are created by nature.
I shall explain this definition, in order to set the subject before you in a clearer light: Suppose that I wish to make a likeness of you; I possess in your own person the pattern of this picture, wherefrom my mind receives a certain outline, which it is to embody in its own handiwork; That outward appearance then, which gives me instruction and guidance, this pattern for me to imitate, is the “idea”, Such patterns therefore, nature possesses in infinite number, – of people, fish, trees, according to whose model everything that nature has to create is worked out.
In the fourth place we shall put form, And if you would know what “form” means, you must pay close attention, calling Plato, and not me, to account for the difficulty of the subject; However, we cannot make fine distinctions without encountering difficulties; A moment ago I made use of the artist as an illustration; When the artist desired to reproduce Vergil in colours he would gaze upon Vergil himself; The “idea” was Vergil’s outward appearance, and this was the pattern of the intended work; That which the artist draws from this “idea” and has embodied in his own work, is the “form.”
Do you ask me where the difference lies?, The former is the pattern; while the latter is the shape taken from the pattern and embodied in the work; Our artist follows the one, but the other he creates; A statue has a certain external appearance; this external appearance of the statue is the “form”, And the pattern itself has a certain external appearance, by gazing upon which the sculptor has fashioned its statue; this is the idea, If you desire a further distinction, I will say that the “form” is in the artist’s work, the “idea” outside its work, and not only outside it, but prior to it.
The fifth class is made up of the things which exist in the usual sense of the term; These things are the first that have to do with us; here we have all such things as humans, cattle, and things.
In the sixth class goes all that which has a fictitious existence, like void, or time; Whatever is concrete to the sight or touch, Plato does not include among the things which he believes to be existent in the strict sense of the term.
These things are the first that have to do with us: here we have all such things as humans, cattle, and things; For they are in a state of flux, constantly diminishing or increasing.
None of us is the same person in old age that one was in youth; nor the same on the morrow as on the day preceding; Our bodies are hurried along like flowing waters; every visible object accompanies time in its flight; of the things which we see, nothing is fixed.
Even I myself, as I comment on this change, am changed myself; This is just what Heraclitus says: “We go down twice into the same river, and yet into a different river.”
For the stream still keeps the same name, however the water has already flowed past; Of course this is much more evident in rivers than in human beings, Still, we mortals are also carried past in no less speedy a course; and this prompts me to marvel at our madness in cleaving with great affection to such a fleeting thing as the body, and in fearing lest some day we may die, when every instant means the death of our previous condition.
Will you not stop fearing lest that may happen once which really happens every day?
So much for people, – a substance that flows away and falls, exposed to every influence; however the universe, too, immortal and enduring as it is, changes and never remains the same.
For though it has within itself all that it has had, it has it in a different way from that in which it has had it; it keeps changing its arrangement.
Very well, say you, what good shall I get from all this fine reasoning?, None, if you wish me to answer your question, Nevertheless, just as an engraver rests their eyes when they have long been under a strain and are weary, and calls them from their work, and feasts them, as the saying is; so we at times should slacken our minds and refresh them with some sort of entertainment, though let even your entertainment be work; and even from these various forms of entertainment you will select, if you have been watchful, something that may prove wholesome.
That is my habit, Lucilius: I try to extract and render useful some element from every field of thought, no matter how far removed it may be from philosophy.
Now what could be less likely to reform character than the subjects which we have been discussing?, And how can I be made a better person by the “ideas” of Plato?, What can I draw from them that will put a check on my appetites?, Perhaps the very thought, that all these things which minister to our senses, which arouse and excite us, are by Plato denied a place among the things that really exist.
Such things are therefore imaginary, and though they for the moment present a certain external appearance, yet they are in no case permanent or substantial; none the less, we crave them as if they were always to exist, or as if we were always to possess them.
We are weak, watery beings standing in the midst of unrealities; therefore, let us turn our minds to the things that are everlasting; Let us look up to the ideal outlines of all things, that flit about on high, and to the Divine who moves among them and plans how it may defend from death that which it could not make imperishable because its substance forbade, and so by reason may overcome the defects of the body.
For all things abide, not because they are everlasting, it is because they are protected by the care of them who governs all things; but that which was imperishable would need no guardian, The Master Builder keeps them safe, overcoming the weakness of their fabric by their own power.
Let us despise everything that is so little an object of value that it makes us doubt whether it exists at all, Let us at the same time reflect, seeing that Providence rescues from its perils the world itself, which is no less mortal than we ourselves, that to some extent our petty bodies can be made to tarry longer upon earth by our own providence, if only we acquire the ability to control and check those pleasures whereby the greater portion of humankind perishes.
Plato himself, by taking pains, advanced to old age; To be sure, he was the fortunate possessor of a strong and sound body (his very name was given him because of his broad chest); however his strength was much impaired by sea voyages and desperate adventures.
Nevertheless, by frugal living, by setting a limit upon all that rouses the appetites, and by painstaking attention to himself, he reached that advanced age in spite of many hindrances.
You know, I am sure, that Plato had the good fortune, thanks to his careful living, to die on his birthday, after exactly completing his eighty-first year; For this reason wise people of the East, who happened to be in Athens at that time, sacrificed to him after his death, believing that his length of days was too full for a mortal man, since he had rounded out the perfect number of nine times nine; I do not doubt that he would have been quite willing to forgo a few days from this total, as well as the sacrifice.
Frugal living can bring one to old age; and to my mind old age is not to be refused any more than it is to be craved; There is a pleasure in being in one’s own company as long as possible, when a person has made themselves worth enjoying.
The question, therefore on which we have to record our judgment is, whether one should shrink from extreme old age and should hasten the end artificially, instead of waiting for it to come.
A person who sluggishly awaits their fate is almost a coward, just as one is immoderately given to wine who drains the jar dry and sucks up even the dregs.
We shall ask this question also: Is the extremity of life the dregs, or is it the clearest and purest part of all, provided only that the mind is unimpaired, and the senses, still sound, give their support to the spirit, and the body is not worn out and dead before its time?, For it makes a great deal of difference whether a person is lengthening their life or death.
However if the body is useless for service, why should one not free the struggling soul?, Perhaps one ought to do this a little before the debt is due, lest, when it falls due, one may be unable to perform the act; And since the danger of living in wretchedness is greater than the danger of dying soon, one is a fool who refuses to stake a little time and win a hazard of great gain.
Few have lasted through extreme old age to death without impairment, and many have lain inert, making no use of themselves; How much more cruel, then do you suppose it really is to have lost a portion of your life, than to have lost your right to end that life?
Do not hear me with reluctance, as if my statement applied directly to you, but weigh what I have to say, It is this: that I shall not abandon old age, if old age preserves me intact for myself, and intact as regards the better part of myself; however if old age begins to shatter my mind, and to pull its various faculties to pieces, if it leaves me, not life, but only the breath of life, I shall rush out of a house that is crumbling and tottering.
I shall not avoid illness by seeking death, as long as the illness is curable and does not impede my soul, I shall not lay violent hands upon myself just because I am in pain; for death under such circumstances is defeat, However if I find out that the pain must always be endured, I shall depart, not because of the pain but because it will be a hindrance to me as regards all my reasons for living.
One who dies just because one is in pain is a weakling, a coward; but one who lives merely to brave out this pain, is a fool.
I am running on too long; and, besides, there is matter here to fill a day, And how can a person end their life, if they cannot end a letter?, So farewell, This last word you will read with greater pleasure than all my deadly talk about death.
Farewell, Seneca, StoicTaoist