Smart Thinking

A Stoic view of creativity

A stoic perspective on writing, inspired by Seneca’s 7th epistle to Lucilius.

Among the writings of stoic philosopher Seneca, his moral epistles to Lucilius (1) are particularly notable. It is disputed if Seneca actually corresponded with Lucilius, or if the letters are ‘purely’ fictional writings. Of the 124 that have been handed down though two millennia, none were replies.

In Letter VII, Seneca cautions Lucilius that “there is no reason why any pride in advertising your talents abroad should lure you forward into the public eye, inducing you to give readings of your works or deliver lectures.” A non-stoic counterpoint might be offered by example of a Kim Kardashian, a ‘social commentator’ I find greatly improved when interlaced with Soren Kierkegaard. Stoicism a poor cure for pathological introversion (from which Seneca may hint at affliction), sufferers may find remedy and cheer in thinking such as Susan Cain’s Quiet revolution (2).

Seneca goes on to provide three quotes, guidance to Lucilius about being understood and appreciated by ‘the crowd.’ Firstly, “To me, says Democritus, ‘a single man is a crowd, and a crowd is a single man.’” Secondly, “in taking trouble over a piece of craftsmanship, when it would never reach more than a very few people…: ‘a few is enough for me; so is one; and so is none.’” Thirdly (and interestingly given Seneca here quotes Epicurus): “I am writing this, he says ‘not for the eyes of the many, but for yours alone, for each of us is audience enough for the other.’” [quote attributed to Epicurus]

Seneca closes Letter VII, proclaiming, “your merits should not be outward facing.”

The stoic may (perhaps must) therefore eschew the accolades of approval. To write for none, is to the one, is to the many. What place then for ‘shares’, ‘likes’, the virality of content and other analytical terrors (fit only for the Epicurean mind!)?

1.          Seneca, L. A. & Campbell, R. Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae morales ad Lucilium. (Penguin, 2014).

2.          Cain, S. Quiet : the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. (Viking, 2012).

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.