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Chapter 3 - The Treatise On Benefits

Real Kindness and Real Agency

from Part I - Recreating the Stoic Past

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2023

Margaret Graver
Affiliation:
Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
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Summary

Seneca’s treatise On Benefits is the sole surviving representative of a long tradition of Stoic thought on the act of kindness (euergēsia), that is, gift-giving or the supererogatory favor. The work is rich in philosophical content. Favors (beneficia or benefits) are defined strictly in terms of intent, in such a way that the will of the giver becomes interdependent with the receiver’s willingness to reciprocate. In unpacking this definition, the Stoic author finds it necessary to speak not only about the theory of action but also about the observable effects of action, since enacted benefits impose different obligations on the recipient. Moreover, the assessment of motives and the expectation of gratitude create an intersubjectivity of giver and receiver that is revealing for Stoic ideas of friendship. Finally, Seneca takes a strong position on the autonomy even of benefactors who are unable to act otherwise, such as divine givers and entirely virtuous human agents, with implications for questions of volition and freedom.

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Seneca
The Literary Philosopher
, pp. 57 - 84
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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