Intention and Not Knowing the Self

Seneca, De Beneficiis 4.6

“What did I want? What have I gained from my good intention?” I gain even in torture; I gain the fire. Even if the fire consumes my limbs bit by bit and overcomes my whole body, even as my heart is filled up with good conscience yet still drips blood, it will be delighted by the flame whose light proves its pure intention.”

‘Quid mihi volui? Quid nunc mihi prodest bona voluntas?’” Prodest et in eculeo, prodest et in igne; qui si singulis membris admoveatur et paulatim vivum corpus circumeat, licet ipsum cor plenum bona conscientia stillet: placebit illi ignis, per quem bona fides conlucebit.


Seneca, De tranquilitate animi 15-16

“Although I should not give too much information, I am stalked by the weakness of good intention in all things. This worry, that I am slowly slipping behind or–what I fear more–that I am wavering like someone who is always just about to fall and may actually be much worse off than I can sense. We tend to look favorably upon our own affairs and this inclination impedes our judgment.

I imagine many people would have made it up that hill to wisdom if they had not already imagined they had already arrived, if they had not told themselves lies about their own character, as if they passed by everyone with eyes firmly shut. There’s no good reason to think that other people’s praise is more harmful to us than our own. Who is so daring as to tell themselves the truth?”

Ne singula diutius persequar, in omnibus rebus haec me sequitur bonae mentis infirmitas. Quin ne paulatim defluam vereor, aut quod est sollicitius, ne semper casuro similis pendeam et plus fortasse sit quam quod ipse pervideo; familiariter enim domestica aspicimus et semper iudicio favor officit.

Puto multos potuisse ad sapientiam pervenire, nisi putassent se pervenisse, nisi quaedam in se dissimulassent, quaedam opertis oculis transiluissent. Non est enim, quod magis aliena iudices adulatione nos perire quam nostra. Quis sibi verum dicere ausus est?

Know yourself – Youth between Vice and Vertu, attributed to Jacob Jordaens

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