Ideas, the only reality – with Seneca & Plato

Current travails have seen the world fretting about the economy. Losses are moaned daily, with gloomy predictions of the future. All these, are based on analysis of things that don’t really matter if we are to believe Plato and Seneca. If we are to believe them, that ideas are all that matter and the only reality, and if we realize that only the living can have ideas, then we must do all within our power to preserve life, that ideas may flourish. With the right ideas, all things lost can always be regained. With the right ideas, progress towards even things that are yet to manifest is sure. With the right ideas, there can be no loss, only change which is constant, progressive change. Let us preserve life and ideas.

“…. 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.“

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 men, cattle, and things. For they are in a state of flux, constantly diminishing or increasing. None of us is the same man in old age that he was in youth; nor the same on the morrow as on the day preceding. Our bodies are burned 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, but the water has already flowed past.

River Nile

“And how can I be made a better man 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; nonetheless, we crave them as if they were always to exist, or as if we were always to possess them.” Seneca

While all these may sound like philosophical ramblings, a careful consideration of the matter will reveal their truths, and calm the soul. In case you are tempted like Lucilius, to ask about the usefulness of all this, I will, like Seneca, implore you to consider it as useful entertainment at least.

“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 his 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. But 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.”

I hope you have been entertained at least, or better still, been moved to the appreciation that ideas are all that really matter, and that we must preserve human lives, in order that ideas, and consequently our world may flourish.

Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher

Excerpts from Letters from a Stoic, Lucius Annaeus Seneca