“As things are, there is about wisdom a nobility and magnificence in the fact that she doesn’t just fall to a person’s lot, that each man owes her to his own efforts, that one doesn’t go to anyone other than oneself to find her. What would you have worth looking up to in philosophy if she were handed out free? Philosophy has the single task of discovering the truth about the divine and the human worlds. The religious conscience, the sense of duty, justice and all the rest of the close-knit, interdependent ‘company of virtues’, never leave her side. Philosophy has taught man to worship what is divine, to love what is human, telling us that with the gods belong authority, and among human beings fellowship.
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She shows us what are real and what are only apparent evils. She strips men’s minds of empty thinking, bestows a greatness that is solid and administers a check to greatness where it is puffed up and all an empty show… ”
– Seneca, in a letter to the boy who would become Emperor Nero
“I have no wish of weakening in the least degree our laws and institutions. All Roman citizens must be equal to the law. I ask my country then, to make the most of what I have done for her, but without me. If she owes it to me, that she is today a free country, let me also prove that she is free. If my stature has grown too great for her best interests, then out I go.”
-General and consul Scipio Africanus
“A fundamental thing we need to understand about the people who do truly evil things is that a great many of them sincerely believe they are doing good, or at least something that is necessary in order to create good. This can make them very hard to distinguish as they will often have the appearance of good and moral men and women. The crucial difference lies in a craving for control over others, mind and body, instead of just their own lives, habitually passing moral judgements, aiming to restrict the lives of others and especially those different to themselves. We need to be very alert for such people, as giving them power and control is the first step towards an authoritarian society which turns its people into victims of itself. As has happened so many times before, especially as we move away from such a state of things.”
“We can’t live outside of our existance, outside of the world and ourselves. Therefore there can never be any true neutrality and standing outside of events in it. Neutrality is no more than an invented concept and an often misused and misunderstood idea, used to avoid guilt and blame, and to protect conscience, believing neutrality equals blamelessness. It does not. And often quite the contrary.
Being alive and conscious means awareness and an unavoidable relation to everything, and to the activitity and inactivity of others. Action and inaction are both choices always made with intent and purpose, and both always have direct effects, either making, or affecting, things to happen in a certain way, or allowing things to run their course. There is no path inbetween, no middle-road.
This said, the desire to sometimes, even often, stay neutral and outside of things is very human, and understandable. It is just not truly possible.
This should not be confused with the notion of ‘with us or against us’ which is a social, not a consequential concept.”
“Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. What matters the most is what weighs the heaviest on the very last day, and even then the good done, for ever more, still remains good, and the bad done still remains bad. Nothing ever disappears and nothing is ever wholly pure, but believing anything is so often leads to great evil and brutality, with idealism blinding us to the reality of things.”