Philo Can’t Trust His Mind: On Senses and Self

Philo, On the Cherubim, 116 (33)

“Is my mind my own private possession? It is a creator of lies, a founder of wandering, of paranoia, of foolishness, a thing revealed to be the opposite of a mind in its mania and depression and eventual old age.

Is what I say my own private possession or the organs of speech? Isn’t a minor sickness enough to weaken the tongue or to sew up the mouth of even the most articulate? Doesn’t the expectation of terror strike and render most people mute?

And I am not revealed to be master even of my perception—instead, I think I am even its servant following wherever it leads to colors, shapes, sounds, smells, tastes and other corporeal things.”

ὁ δὲ νοῦς ἐμόν ἐστιν ἴδιον κτῆμα; ὁ ψευδῶν εἰκαστικός, ὁ πλάνης οἰστικός, ὁ παρανοῶν, ὁ μωραίνων, ὁ εὑρισκόμενος ἄνους ἐν ἐκστάσει καὶ μελαγχολίᾳ καὶ μακρῷ γήρᾳ; ἀλλ᾿ ὁ λόγος κτῆμα ἐμόν; ἢ τὰ φωνῆς ὄργανα; μικρὰ νόσου πρόφασις οὐ τὴν γλῶτταν ἐπήρωσεν, οὐ τὸ στόμα καὶ τῶν πάνυ λογίων ἀπέρραψεν; οὐχὶ δεινοῦ προσδοκία καταπλήξασα μυρίους ἀχανεῖς ἐποίησε; καὶ μὴν οὐδὲ τῆς αἰσθήσεως ἡγεμὼν εὑρίσκομαι, τάχα δέ που καὶ δοῦλος ἀκολουθῶν ᾗ ἂν ἄγῃ, πρὸς χρώματα, πρὸς σχήματα, πρὸς φωνάς, πρὸς ὀσμάς, πρὸς χυλούς, πρὸς τὰ ἄλλα σώματα.


This image has nothing to do with this passage. I just think it is amazing.

University Library Heidelberg

Why Doesn’t Remembering Sadness Make Me Sad?

Augustine, Confessions X. 21-22

“The same memory holds my mind’s affections too—not in that manner in which the mind has them when it is experiencing them, but in a very different manner, just as the power of memory conducts itself. For I remember that I was once happy even when I am not happy; and I may recall that I was previously said without being said; I can recollect that I once feared something without fear and also remember ancient desire without feeling desire. But sometimes it is the opposite: I remember previous sadness when I am happy and happiness when I am sad.

This fact is not remarkable for the body: the soul is a different thing from the body. So if I take pleasure in remembering prior pain, this is not surprising. Here, honestly, the mind may also be like memory itself. For when we command that something be recalled, we say “look, keep that in mind.” And when we forget, we said “it’s not in my mind” and “it slipped from my mind”, calling memory itself our mind—although were this the case, why is it that when I recall my past sadness while I am happy, my soul keeps its happiness and my memory its sadness and my mind is happy because of the happiness within it even though the memory which is within it is sad?

Perhaps this is because the memory isn’t integral to the mind? Who could say this? It is not unlikely that the memory is something like the mind’s stomach and happiness and sadness are like its sweet or bitter food. When they are contained within memory, they are unable to be tasted like food taken into the stomach. It is absurd to think that this things are comparable—but still, they are not completely different.”


  1. (21) Affectiones quoque animi mei eadem memoria continet, non illo modo quo eas habet ipse animus cum patitur eas, sed alio multum diverso, sicut sese habet vis memoriae. nam et laetatum me fuisse reminiscor non laetus, et tristitiam meam praeteritam recordor non tristis, et me aliquando timuisse recolo sine timore et pristinae cupiditatis sine cupiditate sum memor. aliquando et e contrario tristitiam meam transactam laetus reminiscor et tristis laetitiam. quod mirandum non est de corpore: aliud enim animus, aliud corpus. itaque si praeteritum dolorem corporis gaudens memini, non ita mirum est. hic vero, cum animus sit etiam ipsa memoria—nam et cum mandamus aliquid ut memoriter habeatur, dicimus, “vide ut illud in animo habeas,” et cum obliviscimur, dicimus, “non fuit in animo” et “elapsum est animo,” ipsam memoriam vocantes animum—cum ergo ita sit, quid est hoc, quod cum tristitiam meam praeteritam laetus memini, animus habet laetitiam et memoria tristitiam laetusque est animus ex eo quod inest ei laetitia, memoria vero ex eo quod inest ei tristitia tristis non est? num forte non pertinet ad animum? quis hoc dixerit? nimirum ergo memoria quasi venter est animi, laetitia vero atque tristitia quasi cibus dulcis et amarus: cum memoriae commendantur, quasi traiecta in ventrem recondi illic possunt, sapere non possunt. ridiculum est haec illis similia putare, nec tamen sunt omni modo dissimilia.
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Sallust, War with Catiline 1.1: Feats of Mind Beat Feats of Strength


“All men who desire to be better than the rest of the animals should try with all their strength not to move through life in silence like cattle, creatures nature has made low and slaves to their stomachs. But all our ability resides in either mind or body: we use the mind to rule and the body as its servant; one is our common ground with the gods, the other with the beasts. For this reason, it seems better to me to seek glory through feats of intelligence instead of strength. And, since the life we experience is brief, to fashion for it a remembrance that is as robust as possible. For, while the fame of riches and beauty is fickle and weak, excellence is bright and eternal.”



Omnis homines, qui sese student praestare ceteris animalibus, summa ope niti decet, ne vitam silentio transeant veluti pecora, quae natura prona atque ventri oboedientia finxit. 2 Sed nostra omnis vis in animo et corpore sita est: animi imperio, corporis servitio magis utimur; alterum nobis cum dis, alterum cum beluis commune est. 3 Quo mihi rectius videtur ingeni quam virium opibus gloriam quaerere et, quoniam vita ipsa, qua fruimur, brevis est, memoriam nostri quam maxume longam efficere. 4 Nam divitiarum et formae gloria fluxa atque fragilis est, virtus clara aeternaque habetur.

Plutarch, Perikles 1.2



“Since our mind possesses a natural love of knowledge and curiosity, shouldn’t we rebuke people who use it for unworthy things instead of noble and useful pursuits?”


ἆρ’ οὖν, ἐπεὶ φιλομαθές τι κέκτηται καὶ φιλοθέαμον ἡμῶν ἡ ψυχὴ φύσει,λόγον ἔχει ψέγειν τοὺς καταχρωμένους τούτῳ πρὸς τὰ μηδεμιᾶς ἄξια σπουδῆς ἀκούσματα καὶ θεάματα, τῶν δὲ καλῶν καὶ ὠφελίμων παραμελοῦντας;