Self-knowledge leads to self-improvement – Letter 6

In these series of blog posts I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In Letter 6, he discussed why practicing Stoic philosophy generates self-knowledge. And this in turn allows you to notice faults in yourself, and help others.

There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with. — Seneca.

Being able to identify and work on areas of personal improvement is important. I call this self-knowledge. Of course, there will always be something to enhance, it’s an ongoing lifelong project. Share the areas that you’re working on with friends. Especially those who experience similar worldviews and shared problems. This will benefit not only them but you, as having wisdom is of little use unless you are willing to share and teach. It helps them as it they learn from your self-knowledge efforts. Plus in turn you can learn from their wisdom and struggles. This, in some ways, is more important that trying to improve alone.

And remember that if a friend asks for advice based on your self-knowledge, then you should give it. But take care that you don’t force your advice onto people who aren’t asking for it.

Self-knowledge and reason

You can get self-knowledge through the use of reason. In other words, use reason to distinguish truth from fallacy. Even if, in practice, you can only make an approximation. The senses constantly receive sensations. These are pulses that pass from objects through the senses to the mind. Here they leave an impression in the imagination.

The mind has the ability to judge. It can approve or reject an impression. By doing this it distinguishes a true representation of reality from one that is false. You can choose to assent to some impressions immediately. But others can only achieve varying degrees of hesitant approval. The mind labels these a belief or opinion (doxa). It is only through reason that we gain clear comprehension and conviction (katalepsis). Certain and true knowledge (episteme), achievable by the Stoic sage, can be attained only by verifying the conviction with the expertise of one’s peers and the collective judgment of humankind.

Finally, remember that even though you may have deficiencies that you want to correct, you should accept who you are, acknowledge your efforts and avoid excessive self-criticism. If you do this then you’ll feel happier about yourself. This in turn means that you’ll be more forgiving of others too.

Take care.

What do you think? Why not leave a comment below?

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

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