Seneca’s God (Vis-à-vis Plato)


Thus far, I have written quite a bit about how we can be happy by understanding the nature of reality around us.  Understanding is very important for our happiness, but isn’t it only the beginning?  To understand is to survive, but what makes us thrive?  What inspires us and leads us to our greatest happiness?  What is the meaning of all this?

I struggle with this question often.  Some days (or even moments), I find myself duty-bound to all of humanity.  Other times (yes, it could even be in the next moment), it seems that the greatest good is to “first, do no harm.”  In other words, if I mind my own business, and take care of myself while burdening the fewest number, then I am living the virtuous life.  Often, the good seems to be in being present for and helpful to those closest to us; to really be present and aware is what brings true happiness.

This meaning of life, this purpose seems to transcend from some universal order, some predetermined destiny of how existence should be, and whether or not we are living according to this plan.  At this point, it seems, is where the question of God comes in.  Seneca proposed that God is, in essence, the first cause.  That which drives all creativity, including our own.

Why am I here?

Why am I here?

However, this “first cause” description requires a little background.  You may already know that much of Seneca’s thought has been gleaned from his letters to his friend Lucilius.  In what is referred to as his 65th letter, he expounds upon the meaning of life to his friend.  According to Seneca’s recall of Plato, there are five causes:  matter (wood, bronze, rocks..the stuff), the agent (God), the form (the ways in which matter is combined to make up our reality), the model (the pattern upon which something is created), and the end view or purpose.  So, God uses a model to put the matter together to form it toward the end goal.  For all that we do, we follow this same series of causes.  When we start a project, build a life, or endeavor on a journey, we do so using these five.  Not a bad way to look at things in my opinion.  It’s a good way to organize a complex reality.  There certainly can be others, but let’s stick with this one.

As I mentioned earlier, the first cause is the agent. According to Seneca, this is God.  It is also our own reason, which is derived from God.  In fact, reason and God are one and the same.  In this 65th letter to his friend Lucilius, Seneca proposes that the first cause is “surely Creative Reason- in other words, God.  For those elements to which you referred are not a great series of independent causes; they all hinge on one alone, and that will be the creative cause. ”

So, it seems that Seneca places the highest importance on our creative reason as if it were godly.  However, he admits that he is unsure of this to his friend.  After coming to this conclusion he asks his friend Lucilius for help in the matter:  “Either give your opinion, or, as is easier in cases of this kind, declare that the matter is not clear and call for another hearing.”

What is clear is that Seneca thought these existential questions to be extremely important to our happiness:  “And that which creates, in other words, God, is more powerful and precious than matter, which is acted upon by God.  God’s place in the universe corresponds to the soul’s relation to man.  World-matter corresponds to our mortal body; therefore let the lower serve the higher.”

I tend to think that our ability to reason, and more precisely our ability to conceive our purpose in the universe is a divine gift.  The fundamental question that remains is what are we to do with our life?  This question has, in my opinion, already been answered:  we must pursue virtue.  But now, as Pandora’s box has been opened, some trickier questions remain:

  • What is virtuous?
  • How do we pursue it?
Pandora's Box.  Much worse than a can of worms.

Pandora’s Box. Much worse than a can of worms.

Fortunately for my blogging career, all of our human reason hasn’t quite answered these questions, yet.  Looks like I’ll have enough material to keep me busy.  Of course, I haven’t really solved much for myself or anyone else today, have I?

One thought on “Seneca’s God (Vis-à-vis Plato)

  1. Remind me ,Not to eat dinner and rad your blog—jk but you are a deep thinker ,I’ll give you that .If all of the universe had one of these thoughts ,we might all get along better like “doing do harm to another”

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