Seneca to Lucilius: the effective teaching of virtue

How to Be a Stoic

Scipio Africanus, Stoic role model

Is it possible to teach virtue? Opinions differed among the Greco-Roman philosophers, as I have discussed in an earlier post. The Stoics, of course, answered in the positive, but they were not blind to the difficulties inherent in the task, as is clear from letter XXV from Seneca to Lucilius, which in the wonderful Chicago Press edition carries the title “Effective teaching.”

Seneca recounts the situation of two mutual friends, who, he says, need to be treated differently because of where they are in their life stages. With one of them, Seneca thinks harsh measures ought to be put in place, adding that if he doesn’t offend his friend, then he doesnt’ love him. I suspect this sort of attitude is difficult to implement nowadays, given our culture’s current penchant for easy offense. Then again, Seneca was talking about a friend who he genuinely…

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