SENECA: On Providence

If an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God exists, why does evil and suffering befall good men? This question has perplexed theologians and philosophers for centuries. Many have tried to solve this problem. Of the numerous proposed solutions, the Latin philosopher, Seneca, provides one of the best. He simply asserts that no evil ever befalls good men. In this video, we will discuss Seneca’s short essay titled, On Providence, in which he explains his unique solution to the problem of evil.

To solve the problem of evil, it is helpful to first define ‘evil’. According to Seneca, evil is “the commission of crime, scandalous wickedness, daring thoughts, grasping schemes, blind lusts, coveting the good of one’s neighbor, and avarice.” All men, therefore, are capable of avoiding evil because the acts enumerated by Seneca are within one’s control. Because the commission of crime is evil, choose to be virtuous. Because avarice is evil, choose to banish the desire for money and fame.

But some argue against Seneca’s definition of evil. They assert that evil consists of misfortunes – such as strenuous physical labor, bodily injury, loss of loved ones, and death. Seneca responds to these critics by proving that misfortunes are really advantages to those who experience them. Like muscles, a man must exercise his virtues to preserve and strengthen them. Misfortunes are the means by which men exercise their virtues. “God bears a fatherly mind towards good men, and loves them in a manly spirit. “Let them,” says He, “be exercised by labours, sufferings, and losses, so that they may gather true strength.” He who has waged an unceasing strife with his misfortunes has gained a thicker skin by his sufferings, yields to no disaster, and even though he falls, he continues to fight upon his knees.”

Besides preserving and strengthening virtue, misfortune also provides men with the means by which to demonstrate their virtue to the world and, most importantly, to themselves. “I think you unhappy because you have never been unhappy: you have passed through your life without meeting an antagonist: no one will know your powers, not even you yourself. For a man cannot know himself without a trial; no one ever learnt what he could do without putting himself to the test; for which reason many have of their own free will exposed themselves to misfortunes which no longer came in their way, and have sought for an opportunity of making their virtue, which otherwise would have been lost in darkness, shine before the world.” Indeed, we often admire those who bravely endure hardships. Socrates’ stoic acceptance of death and Jesus Christ’s crucifixion have inspired multitudes to nobly endure their own sufferings.

Having established the advantages of enduring misfortune, Seneca next discusses the disadvantages of never enduring misfortune. “Those who are surfeited with ease break down not only with labour, but with mere motion and by their own weight. Unbroken prosperity cannot bear a single blow. Misfortunes press hardest on those who are unacquainted with them: the yoke feels heavy to the tender neck.” In modern America, one often sees a child wail and moan in a grocery store because its parents refuse to buy a particular box of cereal. The child’s parents have cultivated this response by coddling the child while it was younger; and therefore, they have rendered the child unable to endure the slightest inconvenience.

Thus, Seneca’s sentiments still ring true today. So, the next time you encounter suffering in your life, remember that it is a blessing; it is an opportunity to strengthen your virtues; and it is a chance to inspire others to live noble lives.

56 thoughts on “SENECA: On Providence

    • Yes, if one holds Socrates’ opinion about life, death, and rebirth – as outlined in the final book of Plato’s Republic. Recall that Socrates relates a story about a man who visits the underworld and returns to life. Essentially, he argues that the soul inhabits several bodies until it is finally perfected. In the case of children with cancer, Socrates would argue that their soul is being purged and prepared for another life. Seneca states that he does not know what happens after death, but he is undoubtedly familiar with Plato’s Republic.

      Of course, Socrates’ story offends modern sensibilities. Many of us do not believe in reincarnation. Nevertheless, under such a state of conditions, the suffering of a child with cancer would have a purpose.

      • In this scenario, their suffering would only make sense if they lived after they died. This answer I think is also unsatisfactory in the sense that if a god allows such suffering for an end that you the sufferer cannot readily understand, then such a being is definitely malicious

      • Yes, their suffering would only make sense if they lived after they died.

        I don’t entirely agree that exacting pain on a sufferer who cannot readily understand the purpose of the suffering is malicious. For example, doctors give small babies shots to boost their immunity to certain diseases. The babies do not understand why the doctor is hurting them, but the doctor certainly isn’t malicious.

      • I agree. I think my statement needs to be qualified to read where a reasonable person would be in a position to understand it or something close

      • Yes, I see.

        In the previous scenario, a doctor would want the baby to understand why he is giving him a shot. Unfortunately, the doctor does not have the power to bestow this understanding on the child.

        In the case of humanity, an omnipotent god ought to have the power to bestow this understanding of suffering on humanity. Either he chooses not to – in which case, he is malicious – or he cannot – in which case, he is not omnipotent – or he does not exist.

      • I like the direction of your logic but I’d like to propose something slightly different regarding your closing thought. Using the same example of the doctor and the baby, assuming that the omnipotent God is the doctor and mankind the baby, do we not find that babies eventually grow up and reach the point where they can understand the doctor’s reason for giving them a shot? In the same way, could it not be that mankind will eventually get to the point where they will understand the purposes of that omnipotent God?

        The baby, as he is, is patently incapable of understanding things of a certain, shall we say, “advanced”, nature. It is not knowledge that can be forced upon him. Indeed, forcing such knowledge upon him would do him no good at all, even if he could grasp it, once he has not gotten to the place where he can properly accept and appreciate such knowledge. We find this to be true not just with babies but with people in general, including ourselves. There are certain things that are in effect useless to us or even that we refuse to grasp until we have gotten to a certain point where our perspectives undergo a “sudden” shift that causes us to be able to make sense of that thing we had previously found so vexing or repulsive. Like children and “cooties”, for example. No doubt many of them know what sex is and have heard of love. But that knowledge is useless to them and they even reject it until that “moment of truth” comes. Much of this is also bound up in that peculiar reality called choice.

        I’d like to propose, then, that it does not have to be that the omnipotent God in this scenario need not be either malicious or powerless, or fictional. In the end, He does actually bring the baby to the point of understanding. Even if the baby himself cannot explain or account for all the steps now, he will.

      • Excellent thoughts!

        “Forcing such knowledge upon him would do him no good at all…” I disagree with this. Understanding why we are experiencing suffering does us a lot of good. Knowing that we will only experience momentary pain in exchange for a future benefit lessens the severity of the pain, and helps us cope with it. It is not suffering that men find so offensive, but rather meaningless suffering.

        In regards to your assertion that God/Gods might eventually lead us to a point of understanding, the question – why wait? – naturally arises. Waiting only prolongs man’s ignorance; and therefore, prolongs his heightened state of suffering.

        To reiterate, if a doctor could make the baby understand, then he would. In the case of humanity, an omnipotent god ought to have the power to bestow this understanding of suffering on humanity. Either he chooses not to – in which case, he is malicious – or he cannot – in which case, he is not omnipotent – or he does not exist.

      • Nice objections. Good points. I’m liking the trend of this conversation. Dealing with them one by one:

        I think you are failing to account for the context of my argument. I fully agree with you that understanding the why behind suffering can never hurt, only help. Also that meaningless suffering is reprehensible to the human mind. And I think this is all with good reason. However, remember we are dealing with the relationship between a lesser intellect and a greater one. And this is not to be seen in any disparaging light. Do we not often find that even having explained the necessity of a certain reality to a child or a student or a friend or a family member or anybody, that person, while understanding the individual words we say, cannot or refuses to identify with the greater meaning behind those words, that is the concept conveyed by those words?

        To use a lesser example, students in school often complain about homework or having to go to classes or having to wear uniforms or the point behind systems of merit n demerit or the rules and all that. Often they get a practical explanation and refuse to abide by the rules either way. They disrupt classes or abscond or alter their uniforms etc., still complaining in spite of the fact that to a reasonable person the reasons make sense. The reality I’m trying to get at is that humans have a tendency to focus so much on the discomfort caused by real or perceived suffering that, even having gotten a valid explanation, we often refuse to really identify with and make peace with that explanation even if we understand what was explained. We go ahead and complain and cry foul even when we have something in the back of our minds admitting that “this makes sense”. Often it’s not that we have not been granted an explanation. Often it’s simply that we go ahead and make the CHOICE to not see the connection. Or we see it and are content for a while but then more discomfort comes and suddenly it’s as if we had never seen anything at all.

        And then we often find that this cycle is cured ONLY after we have gotten to a certain point in time where we are WILLING to accept the connection, often because we are forced to by reality or it’s in our direct interest to. To continue from my earlier example, some of those same rogue students I’d mentioned grow up to become teachers themselves and woefully only then do they see what THEIR teachers had been trying to get them to understand — when they are faced with students who are the spitting images of themselves not so long ago. The same could be said of parents. Often children don’t see the point of whatever mom and dad had been trying to teach them until they themselves become parents. Then all that nagging about cleaning the room suddenly becomes vindicated.

        This is what I meant by it being useless to force knowledge unto someone who isn’t ready for it. And this is why I said I wasn’t being cynical when I said that. Humans are very precocious babies, if you will. The trouble, very often, is not that we CANNOT understand — it’s that we WILL NOT, don’t want to, understand. It’s very often, though I’m not saying always, a case of desire rather than ability. The proof is that, again from my earlier example, some students DO get the point instantly or else quickly. Some children DO get the point and live accordingly. And often what happens then? They are ridiculed. “Goody-two-shoes” and whatnot. Then later in life the same “bad apples” have to turn around and admit they’d been right the whole time.

        But if we were to follow the data, this is precisely what happens between God and us. We’re told, for instance, that tribulation causes one to develop patience and discipline, compassion. Also we are told that suffering will happen simply because there are people who have no interest in learning patience or discipline or compassion. We are given other explanations as well. Even if not for every individual case, we are given a direct answer for some and a general answer for it all. The biggest statement about it all is that experience will teach wisdom and there are some things that make will make better sense to us with time, simply because that is the kind of creature humans are. Experience breeds understanding. Theory isn’t always enough. In fact, somethings we cannot or even refuse to relate to until we’re put in the situation itself. But like in my example, there are some among us who will decide to trust that the Teacher or Parent knows what He’s talking about, there are others who will see it for a time but then decide to refocus on all the present discomfort and thus lash out, causing even more pain suffering to both themselves and those around them, and there are those who won’t even try to see or admit to having seen.

        I think my answer to your “why” question has been stated above also. Humans aren’t robots. God didn’t make them that way. Otherwise He would simply download whatever information into them. Then again, if we were robots, suffering would never have been. But here we are, creatures given the gift and the burden of being rational AND self-aware. This also gives us choice. And here, for me at least, is the answer to “why wait”. We’re not creatures who can or want to live our lives in theory. We’re practical by nature. Some things simply don’t make sense or at least FULL sense until we’ve experienced it. For example, listen to the difference between a virgin and a non-virgin discussing sex, or try getting a man who’s wielded weapons of war and taken lives for self or country to sound the same as a man who knows all the theory but hasn’t ever wielded a weapon offensively a day in his life. The difference is palpable. So why would an omnipotent God have to “wait”/”bring a species to a point of understanding gradually” like I’d said originally? Because that species can choose and thus their understanding is very much linked to that power of choice. There are some things we simply WILL not understand unless and until we have been there. Isn’t this why we are often told “put yourself in his/her shoes”? We can easily often judge others from afar PRECISELY because we stand afar off, we haven’t been there, because we haven’t experienced. When this applies to negative things it often makes us proud and haughty and we can point the finger and turn up our noses and go “that could never be me!” Or “he’s such an idiot!” We choose to only see from our limited perspectives and thus find it easy to ridicule others. But suddenly when we’re caught in the same trap and face the same judgment from afar, we silently repent of our own ignorance and rash unkindness.

        With all this in mind, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to come to the same conclusion I’d previously reached: that an omnipotent God need not be malicious or non-existent. If His creatures are given the ability to choose, and if He intends to let them remain that way, then it can be that they must be brought to a point, simply because at least some will not be equipped to understand, having lacked a certain experience, and some in either group will choose not to admit or understand. Even omnipotence can simultaneously give choice yet make choosing impossible. That’s a self-contradiction, isn’t it?

      • “We are dealing with the relationship between a lesser intellect and a greater one.” I agree with you. That is why the God-man relationship is analogous to the doctor-baby relationship. The doctor understands that the shot is beneficial, the baby does not.

        I am not debating whether we might one day understand why God/Gods permit suffering. We might, we might not. I am simply asserting that allowing man to be ignorant of that knowledge only increases his suffering.

        Some types of suffering are beneficial – exercise, immunization shots, surgery, etc. The question becomes – is the suffering from man’s ignorance of God’s/the Gods’ plan beneficial or harmful?

        In my opinion, such suffering seems gratuitous, so too does the suffering of innocent children. I am willing to admit that I am making a judgment based on my own experiences, observations, and natural faculties – all of which are subject to inadequacies and error – but that is all I and man can do.

        I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. I am interested to hear your thoughts on the topic of the existence of free will. I have a post about free will scheduled for next Monday. My thoughts on the topic are not very clear. It is perhaps the most difficult question that I have struggled with, and, at the moment, I do not lean one way or the other.

        In any event, I would like to know your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to continue writing under this post, or wait until Monday.

      • I feel I must say your blog is aptly named. “The Great Conversation” indeed! This is actually the main reason I became a part of WordPress: I had hoped it could facilitate my desire to have enlightening discussions on the less clear issues of life. We don’t have all the answers but that’s precisely why we need others and to have conversations like this. Thanks for your help in that regard. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reasoning with you. And I’m looking forward to that post on Monday, God sparing life! I actually have plans for a similar post of my own though unlike yourself I don’t yet have any idea as to when. Perhaps I can gain some new insights from yours in preparation for that day.

        To respond to your comments:

        Most definitely I can agree that the fact that man is ignorant of the rationale behind his suffering only increases said suffering. My take on the matter, though, as I hope has been made clear before, that sometimes the problem is that we are given such a reason (like a child being denied his beloved candy by his parents on pain of “toothaches” or the “spoiling of his appetite”) but cannot grasp that reason either because we are not yet equipped to make proper sense of the reason, or else because we simply refuse to accept the fact that this reason had to exist at all. When all is said and done, there’s something poignantly real about the fact that we can be given a reason yet not fully be able to relate to it. This is in itself a great mystery. We almost have a NEED to experience before we understand — ALMOST, mark you. The child is told that too much sweets will spoil his teeth and cause terrible toothaches. In his lack of experience the words themselves mean something, but the real idea behind it, not so much so. But mommy or daddy, possibly having learned the horrors of a toothache from bitter experience, know it all too well and are adamant. Now the child may simply accept their warning with a kind of ignorant wonder mixed with trust in their ability to tell the truth or he may decide they’re being unfair by expecting him to forego such good stuff when the concept of a toothache means nothing to him in the real sense and when, for all he knows, they could simply be trying to control him or reform him with empty threats! Maybe they just want to spoil his fun. I think all children at one point or other have been guilty of such thoughts against the “authorities”. I think therein lies the danger of a lack of experience. Mistrust and pride are so easy to come by. For me, the real tragedy is the fact that it must be that some of us operate within the scope of our lack and choose to automatically mistrust or suspect, etc. And therein lies regret in its truest form: I’m sure Adam and Eve — particularly Eve, since she first abandoned innocence and chose to doubt and suspect — forever regretted the decision to eat that forbidden fruit and wished with all their hearts they could take it back!

        For me, humility is of the essence. It’s so hard to simply admit the fact that WE DO NOT KNOW. Hence my statements on “judging from afar”. I respect your having the ability to admit ignorance. I sincerely believe humanity needs more of that particular virtue. Not only do we habitually judge others from afar, we go as far as to judge God from afar. Inasmuch as we often have to swallow our words against fellow humans and admit we were wrong and unfair, what if one day each person finds him or herself in the EXACT, SAME position with God? I fully endorse asking questions, even of God. I think He endorses it too. Otherwise humans would not have been given self-awareness and minds able to question any and everything. I only think that we should question, not with pride and judgment in mind, but humility. Like Socrates who realized the one greatest truth for any questioner: we do not know. Indeed, I agree, that is all we can do, but precisely because of that we should be careful not to be too stubborn or haughty in our judgments.

        The suffering of innocent children is another great mystery I’ve grappled with. For fear of having rambled on too long here I’ll say only this for the time being: suffering is gratuitous in many senses, especially with regard to innocent children. Whether we believe in or accept the notion of God/the gods or not, I think this much is something abundantly clear. But for me, that’s precisely the point. We do not inhabit a just or fair world in any sense of the term. Theists, atheists or agnostics, we’re all in precisely the same reality. Suffering, especially that of innocent little ones, has its own reasons, and these reasons do not by definition have their base in justice. I think, tho, that as far as divine providence is concerned, God foresees all this and the only reason why such rampant injustice is allowed to go on is only because there’s a conclusion to be worked that is far greater than the injustices around us and actually USES this unfairness and absolves it into something supremely different and just IN SPITE OF its intrusion into a heretofore perfect and just order. Don’t ask me how just yet, but I think it would be God’s version to something akin to taking lemons and making lemonade. That’s where I think the hope for there being some sense to the whole issue of suffering in our world comes from. I have no idea how it would work from the atheistic/agnostic standpoint, which I have to admit seeing as this is not a purely theistic argument/conversation.

        My thoughts on the subject are neither here complete not conclusive. There remains much to be said but, as I said, I think it would require a whole other conversation, especially seeing as I’ve been going on for a good while now. But in essence, I’m saying I agree that suffering ultimately has no basis in justice. On the contrary I think it is ultimately an INTRUSION on justice and fairness. In that sense I do believe it is gratuitous. But I do not believe it was God’s intent. I think, rather, that since it was introduced against His will, He is somehow working to absolve it into something greater in spite of itself and its harbinger. Like a master painter would find a way to convert malevolent splashes on his canvas caused by a jealous rival into something beautiful, if you will. I have my reasons for proffering all this but again I fear I must stop here and save it for another conversation.

        Thanks for listening! Looking forward to your post on free will and you may have my thoughts on the subject anytime.

      • I have read a bit of your conversation with walkabwoy and I have a few objections.
        First, the example of the baby and doctor is not analogous to man and god. The parent of the baby knows why they are having this injection and can if the child were to be in a position of understanding, explain to the child. So far as I can tell, we have no such intermediary. Further, an omnipotent and omniscient god would not be short of ways to make things plain to human beings, especially because many people of more than average intelligence have asked the same question. I would like to add, the doctor would just tell the child that it will protect or cure him/ her from a disease. We have no scenario where a god has done as above so that we could be blamed for not understanding.

        I think it was Augustine who argued good can exist without evil, while evil needs good to exist. I ask what would hinder an all powerful god from creating a world devoid of suffering? Or make a world with beings capable of contemplating suffering without necessarily having to suffer?

        Does walkabwoy imply that even other sentient animals will understand why they suffer in that future date? And what will have changed in humans that god couldn’t have created them with in the first go?

        And finally, so that my comment isn’t too long, he writes

        Don’t ask me how just yet, but I think it would be God’s version to something akin to taking lemons and making lemonade. That’s where I think the hope for there being some sense to the whole issue of suffering in our world comes from. I have no idea how it would work from the atheistic/agnostic standpoint, which I have to admit seeing as this is not a purely theistic argument/conversation.

        to which I would response that in my view, the universe is amoral and indifferent to what goes on in our lives. There is no justice in the suffering and there is no grand explanation at the end of life.

      • “I would like to add, the doctor would just tell the child that it will protect or cure him/ her from a disease. We have no scenario where a god has done as above so that we could be blamed for not understanding.” I’m sure walkabwoy will claim that God has done a similar thing in the Bible. This is why I did not raise that point, even though I believe that the Bible is not the word of God.

        “I ask what would hinder an all powerful god from creating a world devoid of suffering? Or make a world with beings capable of contemplating suffering without necessarily having to suffer?” Excellent rhetorical questions. I agree with their implications.

        I appreciate your comments. You and I share many of the same thoughts, with very subtle differences. These differences help me adjust and refine my own thoughts.

        With this in mind, I would greatly appreciate it if you were to comment on my and walkabwoy’s discussion under my recent post about Ludovici and the Will to Power. I realize that it is a long dialogue, but I would like to know your thoughts concerning the origins of Christianity, and whether you believe my argument is tenable.

  1. I like Seneca’s initial answer (no evil befalls a good man) but after that, not so much. If something ‘bad’ happens to the good man, consider the possibility that it is not evil, but a signal that something in his life needs attention. Sound’s harsh, but the child who gets cancer may be set on a path far better than if they lived a ‘normal’ life.

    I think we too often ignore the ‘cosmic 2×4 to the head’ as just bad luck or evil.
    Or, you can just take the ‘enlightened’ position that life is meaningless.

  2. It seems like great conversation is turning into a great conversation indeed. So let me join this conversation by asking one question that I have been asking myself almost all of my adult life, Is humanity degrading or upgrading? Or even worse, are we circling our knowledge? I ask this question because it seems to me that we refer to our ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle of 2500 years ago, and not so ancient philosophers but still of centuries ago, and yet we have not come to an agreement as what they were trying to convey. We still trying to figure them out. Does that mean, they knew more than humans know today? Then if so, why??? Why is wisdom lost?

    In regards to the great question makagutu asked earlier whether suffering of a young child from cancer is considered good or not, I would say: If we consider God to be a being like us then God must be punishing the soul of the child to purify it and so on and so on. However, is the soul of a child really suffering or is it parent’s soul that is suffering when seeing the child in such pain? A young child may have undergone physical pain but I do not think a child has yet that notion of justice and injustice in the world. A young child accepts the world as it is, just like a child accepts the abuser and abuse as normal, because the child does not know better. And if we accept reincarnation then could it be that the child’s soul may have accepted a deal of a physical pain in exchange of a better life after the reincarnation? Could this painful sacrifice of this young soul be the inspiration for adults to find a cure for cancer? In that case the child is a hero; and we can say that the pain we feel when we see injustice or illness that hurts our loved ones, that must not serve as a motivation of finding who’s fault that was, but as a motivation to find solutions, to find out what needs to be done to make things right.

    • That’s a very interesting thought – whether the soul of a child, who does not have a sense of justice, suffers.

      Homer wrote that “among all creatures that breathe on earth and crawl on it there is not anywhere a thing more dismal than man is.” Man is wretched because he has knowledge of his condition; he has a sense of justice, and the world offends that sense of justice at every moment. Animals do not possess the same knowledge that man possesses. Thus, while animals experience pain, the pain is not comparable to the pain experienced by man because man suffers both physically and spiritually/mentally.

      Of course, the topic of the soul is very contentious. Does the soul possess innate knowledge at birth? If so, does it have a sense of justice? Does the body hinder the soul’s recollection of acquired knowledge? Does the soul even exist?

      I believe that makagutu (and please correct me if I misinterpret you) desired to express that the suffering of a child cannot be justified. In the words of Ivan from The Brothers Karamazov, “Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?”

      • Hi Orwell, not to correct anyone here, but just to open a new point of view: First, Dostoyevsky and Homer were two great writers not philosophers. However, they brought great ideas into focus. Nevertheless, you cannot refer to one school of philosophy or another, as they all seem to be right on their own rights. As Newton said, standing on the shoulders of giantS can grant you a better view. So one view is never the whole picture.
        Second, I would not go as far as to judge the moral of God, whether God should inflict suffering to make things better at the end, because we are not God. Also whether God is inflicting suffering on us or we inflict it on each other that is to be questioned. So what Ivan said, a character of a book, is not to be taken in consideration so literally as to give ourselves the right to think, “but, I inflicted this suffering with a greater good in mind…” If we give ourselves the permission to be in God’s position and make decisions whether we have to cause some suffering on some people as to stop the suffering for all humanity at the end, then we are permitting ourselves to be like Hitler. And it already started with people thinking they are entitled to kill in the name of justice. Like that police in the Southern California, or like religious groups killing one another.
        Third, I am surprised of a great coincidence when you mentioned in one of your earlier comments the case of the doctor giving babies needles. I have used the same one in one of the books I wrote years ago, “Secret Beyond the Secret.” But, I have used it as an example to inspire people to be patient when they feel pain and struggle in life, not to justify people’s actions on trying to put order in the name of greater good or justice. I hope you understand my points.

      • Excellent comments.

        In regards to the Ivan Karamazov quote, his question is rhetorical. He presumes that no ‘good’ person would consent to construct a world of eternal happiness if it must be founded on the suffering of even one child. He believes that such a creator must necessarily be evil. In other words, there is no justification for the suffering of a child.

        I like your application of the doctor-example. Creating meaning and beauty out of suffering is the fundamental project of man. Those who fail in this endeavor incur the greatest danger to man – disgust with existence.

      • First, Orwell, I like The Grand Inquisitor. In it Dostevsky asked very difficult questions. If you allow me to quote it at length, Ivan says

        All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer. But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? It’s beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony.

        Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension.

        I would love to hear him answered.

        You didn’t misrepresent me.

        But even if we grant that souls, whatever they are were real and survived death, would we be able to recognize one from the other?

      • Makagutu,

        Feel free to quote Dostoevsky to your heart’s content. I read the Brothers Karamazov when I was an early teen. It was instrumental in my deconversion and subsequent interest in philosophy and literature. I highly value that novel.

        I hesitate to declare my position on philosophical topics because I am open-minded. If new evidence or persuasive arguments come to my attention, I will change my mind, as evidenced by my loss of faith in the Christian religion.

        Nevertheless, as of now (and for the past 15 years) I do not believe god/s or souls exist. Even if a creator god exists, I hold the same opinion that Ivan holds – God is evil, from a human perspective.

        I like to evaluate a belief based on its practical results. Many argue that, without god/s, life is meaningless. The Universe will eventually come to nought, and all human achievements will have meant nothing. On the contrary, Death/Annihilation bestows meaning and value on life; without death, life would be meaningless. I am always reminded of a brilliant scene in Troy (an otherwise below average movie), in which Achilles states, “The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”

        I have found that a lack of belief in god/s and an afterlife leads to a higher appreciation of life. Oftentimes, the rarer something is, the more valuable it is. Immortal life, then, necessarily devalues life itself.

        Furthermore, I admire the Sisyphean man who acknowledges death, yet defiantly continues to pursue his own meaning, beauty, and truth. There is something noble in his defiance. I cannot explain why it’s noble or why it’s appealing to me. It’s simply an intuitive feeling.

        On the other hand, I despise the man of faith who is motivated by hopes of eternal bliss and by fears of eternal punishment. Such a man does not act, he reacts. He is similar to a beast that reacts to external stimuli. A man ought to act according to his own meaning, his own beauty, and his own truth.

      • ” On the contrary, Death/Annihilation bestows meaning and value on life; without death, life would be meaningless. I am always reminded of a brilliant scene in Troy (an otherwise below average movie), in which Achilles states, “The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed.”

        If death/annihilation is good, why not pain and suffering? Nietzsche recommended them highly. I don’t actually agree with his reasons they’re good but life IS largely pain and suffering of one sort or another, an endless (until death) pushing of our rock up the hill. Without a valid reason for this struggle, life for me would indeed be meaningless, moments of joy notwithstanding.

        I agree the picture of God presented by religion(s) is an abhorrent God and were it not for a better picture, I’d have to make it my life’s struggle to find him and then kill him. Fortunately, my struggles lead to that better picture, hence my sympathy for suffering. It’s all too easy to give up before finding it though.

      • Albert Camus’ myth of sisyphus was very instrumental in my journey.
        I think I agree with most if not all you say about life without gods and afterlife beliefs.

    • Ardiana you ask very interesting questions. First on the question of whether wisdom is lost or not, I would hazard to say that human knowledge is cumulative and as such there is no problem with referring to the dead thinkers. A parallel would be mathematics where we keep talking about Fermat’s theorem and such like.

      On the question of suffering and your response, I find it inadequate. Why would an all knowing and loving god need to purify a child? And why punish the parents then? Why extract love in such a way? Was it impossible for an all powerful god to make it such that happy children would draw parents closer to it?

      • Hi Makagutu, I think my comment was misunderstood. I do not think or support the idea that God would want to purify the child’s soul but I do not dismiss it either, I said, because I am not in a position to judge God. If I were equal I would, but I am not. So having said that, no other human should give himself/herself the right to think or judge whether suffering is good if it is for a good purpose using the excuse that “Oh God did it too.” I am totally against suffering and violence. Even if I have to discipline my own children with a good end result in mind, I do this by communicating and total understanding on their sides of what the consequences will be but I never inflicted physical pain or mental terror on my children, because I do not see the point of any of these. People who know me tell me I have raised angels, but anyone’s children could be like mines. It is all about communication and not judging or punishing but clarifying, understanding and forgiving. My children are always motivated to tell the truth and do their best because they are not afraid of punishment, they are afraid of losing privileges like playing on electronics on the weekend, going to a special park or eating their favorite ice cream,or having the play date I had promised them about, etc etc..There are many things children are interested in and any parent can use them as motivation. I write about this on my book “The twelve laws that define a human,” as why communication works better than punishment, but motivation is also needed. Thank you for reading my comments.

      • You and I agree we should not judge others but for different reasons. I however find your comment that we shouldn’t judge god because we are not its equal unwarranted. I, too, abhor violence.

      • Hi Makagutu, as long as you abhor violence we are on the same page. I like that. About God subject, I want to let you know that I detest any idea of religion as they speak of God as if they know God. So we are on the same page on this topic as well. However, I admit that I do not know what God is, and so, I rather ask questions to understand more than to judge God. But if it interests you, I am going to share something with you. I have worked on a theory for a while now, and my conclusion about God is that God is pure knowledge, but not a physical being, I call it antimatter (opposite of matter). With this new definition of antimatter I go against the definition of antimatter as dark matter which has been used a lot in the scientific circles. Now, this knowledge, antimatter, as Plato insinuated, gets divided into forms, and is therefore interpreted by each subject, based on his/her previous knowledge and experiences. You can visit my blog or my website or email me directly, because this theory is a bit too long to discuss here. But I thought I tell you about this because you may like it, as it goes along with your idea of pointlessness of religion as an organized institution.

      • I am afraid, Ardiana, that your theory of god might not impress me. It is not just religion that I find meaningless, talk about/ on behalf of gods is in the same category.

      • Hahaha Makagutu, I do not live to impress anyone, I thought you may be interested in some logical explanations or arguments in the matter. No problem, believe whatever you want to believe but do not express your opinions as if you are an expert, if you do not accept at least widening your horizon and looking into other people’s points of views. Good day my friend.

      • Ardiana, good friend, you don’t have to impress me or anyone else. Spinoza thought of god as encompassing everything. What you may have done is just change a bit of terminology here and there. And if there were any experts on god, we would have a working definition. I am an expert on my opinions.

      • “It is not just religion that I find meaningless, talk about/ on behalf of gods is in the same category.”

        And yet, you find it necessary to do it. As William S. wrote – ‘Me thinks thou doust protest too much’.

      • I think you didn’t understand my statement. I will type this again slowly. Religion is in my view meaningless. The word god is meaningless. Clear now?

      • There you go again. Just to illustrate my point, I find spectator sports to be meaningless. Because of that, I have never bothered to comment about them (unless for explaining this very point). That is why I find your need to comment on the meaninglessness of ‘God’ – Meaningful :-).

  3. Ardiana, I have a few issues I with your comment.
    You write

    First, Dostoyevsky and Homer were two great writers not philosophers.

    And I ask myself, do you only mean those trained in philosophy should be called philosophers? Or to put it differently, what is philosophy?
    Next you write

    Second, I would not go as far as to judge the moral of God, whether God should inflict suffering to make things better at the end, because we are not God.

    and I ask, why should we not? I will quote Marcion who asked

    If the God of the Old Testament be good, prescient of the future, and able to avert evil, why did he allow man, made in his own image, to be deceived by the devil, and to fall from obedience of the Law into sin and death? How came the devil, the origin of lying and deceit, to be made at all? After the fall, God became a judge both severe and cruel; woman is at once condemned to bring forth in sorrow and to serve her husband, changed from a help into a slave; the earth is cursed which before was blessed, and man is doomed to labour and to death.

    Tell me why we can’t question a god who does this and question every human being who even attempts to just go against one of these?

    I don’t find the doctor situation persuasive at all.

    • Dear Makagutu, even 2500 years ago a philosopher was someone who had qualifications and was honored to deal with philosophical topics, a writer was someone who expresses his/her opinion but not necessarily qualified to do so. Hence their ideas can bring lots of trouble for masses. Writers, singers, entertainers are very popular and have a great impact on masses, while philosophers are not and do not. This is the reason why Socrates banded them in the first place.

      In regard to your question as why we should not judge God….??? That depends on what God is to you. To me, like Plato’s idea of God, God is a superior, universal form, thought, or energy; to you, god may be like a person so you feel right to judge your god. To understand what I mean by God as a universal form you need to read some of Plato’s work, like Parmenides and Republic.
      So to your question, why can’t we judge God but we can judge humans? I am afraid you skipping lots of my words, because I never said we should judge one another either. I am against any sort of judging, because if we do so we will permit ourselves to be like another Hitler. (and I already said all this in my earlier comment).

      About the doctor’s example, I don’t understand what you do not understand. So, to help you with that, you have to be a bit more specific. Perhaps by reading my comment again, without rushing, you will see my point, if that interests you.
      Hope that helped.

      • Do you have evidence for this? Isn’t philosophy a matter of opinion or interpretation? Albert Camus in his myth of sisyphus writes on the question of suicide. I don’t think he trained as a philosopher but that book is philosophical in every sense of the word. Socrates derided the sophists not all philosophers.
        To me god is a meaningless word. I only ask because gods presented in religious books is described as being a person.

  4. Great piece! Something undeniably true, Schopenhauer often quoted Seneca on suffering in his passages. People tend to give up easily in the face of a beat down and it’s when one must find meaning in themselves. And life without few failures is meaningless and people who fail through those failures to endure implode on themselves. Cheers 🙂

  5. How can evil befall (a word with strict implications towards something happening to an individual as a result of circumstance generally outside one’s control, rather than something which is deliberately actioned by the individual himself) if evil itself as defined only as actions which that man himself undertakes, notwithstanding any and all evils which may or may not be done upon him? It is sophistry for Seneca to say “no evil befalls good men”, when he defines evil within a strict personal frame of reference which deliberately leaves no room for any evil to actually “befall” a man.

    Brilliant circular reasoning on Seneca’s part: no evil can befall a good man, because my definition of evil doesn’t include any concept of befalling.

    • I fail to see how Seneca’s argument is circular reasoning.

      Circular reasoning = A is true because B is true; therefore, B is true because A is true.

      Seneca argues that no evil can befall good men because evil is within one’s control. He does not further conclude that evil is within one’s control because no evil can befall good men. “No evil can befall good men” is the conclusion. “Evil is within one’s control” is the explicit premise. “Something within one’s control does not befall one” is the implicit premise.

      • Right, but evil as a concept is not defined as only something which someone outwardly does. It also encompasses things which are done upon a person without their consent and outside their control. Seneca redefines evil as only things which are within the control of the individual, in order to suit his conclusion. His conclusion being “no evil can befall a good man”. In fact, evil befalls good people every day.

      • I must have missed where Seneca redefined evil as only that which is under the control of the individual. So assuming he didn’t do that for the moment and that evil is a thing done outside their consent, that does not preclude the possibility that it is a third party that prevents evil befalling the good man.

        Maybe it is something else befalling him which is being erroneously interpreted as evil.

      • According to Seneca, evil is “the commission of crime, scandalous wickedness, daring thoughts, grasping schemes, blind lusts, coveting the good of one’s neighbor, and avarice.” All men, therefore, are capable of avoiding evil because the acts enumerated by Seneca are within one’s control. Because the commission of crime is evil, choose to be virtuous. Because avarice is evil, choose to banish the desire for money and fame.

      • Well that does put the question in a completely different light and would not seem to fulfill the promise of avoiding all evil. What about having the evil of others befall you? That is obviously not under your control.

  6. In my humble opinion…..
    There is no reason for evil…but there is not an apparent reason for good or indeed for existence at all.
    The only reasonable answer i have found is that the Universe has asked a question…what is the best way to exist and we are a grand experiment to see how it turns out (indeed we are possibly one of many parallel experiments).
    In this scenario there is no super intelligent being who knows the outcome…nobody knows.
    We are all in the dark, our lives are all we have and there is nothing afterwards. We are stardust and to stardust shall we return. We must burn bright because of the oncoming night.

  7. I really struggle with this essay in some parts.
    Yes, Suffering builds character, but it is a non-preferred indifferent.
    I would yes to his essay, to some degree.
    This essay is in fact a good medicine, for those who have gone, through tumultuous trials.
    I agree with the part that: “The recruit pales at the thought of a wound, while the veteran has often only won the victory after returning with a flowing gash”
    This essay is in fact a good “Answer to the Book of Job”.
    No matter how much of a Pep talk he gives; no one really willingly wants any pain.
    On the other hand; “The courageous man is contemptuous of Danger, and can look difficulties in the face cheerfully”

    This is a Great Epistle……..

  8. All of you have made great arguments for and against this Suffering and Pain.
    Might I add Blaise Pascal : Condition of man inconstancy, boredom, and anxiety

    “If our condition were truly Happy, we would not need Diversions to keep us from thinking about it ” Pascal
    I do not think any one is completely right or wrong on this issue.

    Just talk about it gives some angst but a measure of comfort as well

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