Liar, Liar, Rome on Fire! Seneca’s Philosophy of Deception


1§1 In our surviving accounts of the Neronian period (AD 54-AD 68), we find a Rome brimming with deception in the highest political offices.  The Roman historian Suetonius, among his many accounts of the Emperor Nero’s deceptions, describes Nero’s pastime of dressing up as a commoner and secretly creating mischief throughout the city of Rome.[1]  Another historian, Tacitus, similarly recounts Nero’s plan to covertly assassinate his mother, Agrippina,[2] and, if rumors of his culpability for the Great Fire of Rome are true, he would have deceived the public by shifting the blame to the Christians.[3]  But deceptions of these sort are not unique to the emperor.  Suetonius mentions that the centurion tasked to assassinate Nero was “pretending he had come to [Nero] to provide aid,”[4] and Tacitus describes Caius Calpurnius Piso’s conspiracy to assassinate Nero as “in silence.”[5]  It would be only natural for modern philosophers of deception to study the reign of Nero—both its thinkers and history—in order to understand not just the history of the philosophy of deception, but also whether modern theories can effectively map onto other intuitions about the moral significance of deception.

1§2 Perhaps the most influential modern theorist in the philosophy of deception is Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), whose work on ethics and metaphysics fundamentally reshaped the disciplines.  In particular, he conceives of ethics as a set of rules, the most central of which is the “Categorical Imperative,” a rule which should be followed by everyone, regardless of the circumstances.  While Kant provides three formulations of the Categorical Imperative (each of which, Kant argues, are mere rewordings of the same principle) I will focus on the second, that the “nature [of rational beings] points them out as ends in themselves.”[6]  That is, we cannot use other people’s rational capacity as a mere means to achieve some end; their rational capacity is an end in itself.  To Kant, if we lie to someone, we are using their rational capacity to achieve some other end, which is forbidden by the Categorical Imperative.  So, Kant makes it extremely clear: lying is wrong.[7]

1§3 Yet, Neronian conceptions of deception are rarely (if ever) discussed by philosophers post-Kant.[8]  Deception is often understood within Kant’s deontological framework, since Kant spends so much time and effort criticizing deception, especially lying.[9]  Indeed, Kant’s emphasis on rational nature as the ultimate end mirrors Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca’s[10] characterization of right action as action in accordance with reason.[11]  And considering Seneca is the most prominent philosopher of the Neronian period, analyzing his position on deception would both shed light on Neronian and Stoic philosophies of deception and provide another alternative to Kant’s approach.  While Seneca claims that God and the Stoic sage does not deceive, Seneca states that it is permissible for mortal men to deceive when deceiving the listener would improve the listener’s well-being, and there may be evidence that Seneca believes speakers can deceive non-friends.  And, rather uncommonly, he claims that deceived people are responsible for being deceived in the first place.

1§4 But before we discuss his philosophy, perhaps an introduction to Seneca is in order.  Lucius Annaeus Seneca “the Younger” was born in Corduba in Spain around 6 BC.  His father, also named Seneca, was an orator and historian who moved to Rome[12] and may have had legal experience there.[13]  Seneca’s brother, Lucius Iunius Gallio Annaeanus,[14] became proconsul of Achaia and pardoned the apostle Paul during his stay in Corinth.[15]  His nephew was the famous poet and member of Nero’s court Lucan.[16]  Clearly, Seneca was born into an up-and-coming family in Roman politics, with close connections within the city of Rome and throughout the Empire.  Seneca was trained by “the most celebrated stoics of that age,”[17] most notably Attalus, who very strongly influenced the young Seneca.[18]  After a brief stint as a Pythagorean,[19] Seneca mostly adopted Stoic principles in his writing.

1§5 After leaving the study of rhetoric due to pressure from Caligula, he was elected quaestor, only for Claudius to exile him to Corsica due to rumors of him sleeping with the emperor’s niece, Iulia Livia.  But upon the marriage of Agrippina to Claudius 8 years later, Seneca was returned to Rome to tutor the young Nero.[20]  He and Sextus Africanus Burrus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, were the most powerful men in Nero’s court and ended up running the empire for Nero.  During their four-year “reign,”[21] even their critics admit that they were incredibly successful with their new policies. [22]  Thus, we can expect Seneca’s eclectic stoicism to be heavily influenced by not only the competing philosophical schools of his time, but also the intense political turmoil which defined the Neronian age.

1§6 In order to fully flesh out Seneca’s philosophy, we must first define the key terms he uses throughout his writing.  If we examine Seneca’s On Benefits, On Clemency, On Anger, and On Peace of Mind, we find Seneca spending the bulk of the essays defining what he means by beneficium, clementia, ira, and tranquillitas animi.  Thus, we would expect Seneca to have an explicit definition of “deception,” and that definition would help us identify his subject matter.  Unfortunately, Seneca does not provide a thorough definition of “deception,” and he tends to equivocate between Latin words for “deception.”  One word he uses is “mentire,”[23] which Lewis and Short define as “to lie or speak falsely about.”[24]  “Mentire” is translated as “lie” by Stewart in On Benefits[25] and Gummere in two of Seneca’s Epistles to Lucilius,[26] though Gummere also calls it “deceit” in another letter in the volume.[27]  One other deception-word Seneca uses is “mendacium,”[28] which Lewis and Short define as “a lie, untruth, or falsehood,”[29] and Gummere translates as “deceit”[30] and “lie.”[31]  Yet another word Seneca uses is “decipere,”[32] which Lewis and Short define as “to beguile, elude, deceive, or cheat.”[33]  Gummere translates it as “deceive,”[34] alongside Stewart.[35]  The final word I will mention—though there are certainly more deception-words Seneca uses in his works—is “fallere,”[36] which Lewis and Short define as “to deceive in swearing; to swear falsely,”[37] and both Gummere and Stewart translate it as “deceive.”[38]

1§7 Seneca’s deception-words may at first imply that Seneca uses a rich vocabulary, with each word specifically indicating the kind of deception he discusses in each passage.  Yet, Seneca never explicitly defines any of these deception-words.  Lewis and Short’s definitions barely differentiate these terms, and neither Gummere nor Stewart appear to have a convention of translating these deception-words into English.  And for good reason; in Epistle 79, Seneca equivocates between “decipere” and “mendacium.”  He writes, Quae decipiunt nihil habent solidi. Tenue est mendacium,[39] thus referring to the same deceptions as [q]uae decipiunt and mendaci[a].  Additionally, Seneca uses both “decipere” and “mendacium” when referring to self-deception,[40] perhaps indicating he does not distinguish between the two words, at least insofar as they apply to self-deception.  Seneca similarly use different words for saying that God does not deceive ([Deus] neminem fallit)[41] and that the Stoic sage does not deceive (nec summis ambulat digitis eorum more qui mendacio staturam adiuvant).[42]  And if the sage imitates God and is His true progeny,[43] then both “fallere” and “mendacium” can be used to describe kinds of deception which both God and the sage do not put forth.  And finally, when Seneca states that one should deceive others if it benefits their well-being, and he uses both “decipere[44] and “fallere,”[45] further blurring the distinctions between these different words for deception in his writing.  It seems that, unless the context specifies a more specific translation, “deception” is an appropriate translation for all of these deception-words, if only to indicate the multitude of possible meanings Seneca may intend.

1§8 Of course, proving that Seneca never intended there to be distinctions between the different words he employs for “deception” is difficult.  But we can conclude that the evidence of their distinction in Seneca’s philosophical works is slight at best.  So, I will proceed by largely equivocating between all these deception-words, though certainly a more in-depth study of the distinctions between Seneca’s and his contemporaries’ uses of deception words would be fruitful in fleshing out his distinctions.  I will thus supply this definition for “deception”: “to cause to believe what is false.”[46]

Deception Improving Well-Being

2§1 Seneca explicitly permits speakers to cause listeners to believe what is false, if that deception would increase the listener’s well-being.  I will point out three examples in his writings where Seneca approves the use of deception to improve others’ well-being.  The first is that doctors are justified in deceiving patients in order to better cure them.  Second, deception is justified when soothing the wrath of others.  Third, princes are justified in deceiving their subjects when punishing criminals.  And fourth, benefitters are justified in deceiving receivers in order to make the benefit more effective.

2§2 We begin with doctors and patients.  Seneca tells us in On Anger[47] about a physician who had to perform surgery on the prince’s daughter.  The young girl would have squirmed if she had seen the knife, and one wrong cut could mean death.  Thus, the doctor hid the knife behind a sponge, so she did not squirm, and she behaved much better than she otherwise would have.  Here, Seneca points out that sometimes “the cure will be better—and better administered—should [the physician] deceive [the patient] with a soft cure and with deceptive remedies.”[48]  Seneca’s tone is far from critical; he appears to encourage and support such deceptions in the medical field.  In fact, he uses these narratives as examples of clearly morally appropriate deceptions to justify the next two examples of deceptions which Seneca approves.

2§3 The story of the prince’s daughter is used in the On Anger to justify deceiving others in order to stop them from being angry.  Seneca heavily implies that anger is like a disease,[49] drawing a strong connection between the curing of medical patients through deception and the curing of angry people through deception.  By saying that “quiet cures the beginning of disease,”[50] Seneca indicates that we deceive by acting stoically in response to others’ wrath.  Anger tends to remain after it has taken ahold of us, because as we get more and more angry, we want more and more to remain angry.[51]  By being quiet, we convince them that we do not intend to soothe them of their anger, because it appears as though we are doing nothing to soothe them.  In fact, however, we replace angry feelings with feelings of shame or fear, or we just make the angry person forget about his anger. [52]  Seneca thus encourages the deception of an angry person in order to soothe him from his anger.

2§4 We also see Seneca parallel the princes’ obligations to doctors’ obligations in On Clemency, where Seneca encourages the emperor Nero to be more merciful in his punishments by deceiving his subjects in Rome.  Here, Seneca compares Nero to a physician, who must cure his subjects’ tendencies toward wrongdoing in the same way as a physician must cure his patients.[53]  And just as a physician sometimes gives soothing treatments which deceive the patient, so, too, do good princes sometimes dole out soothing punishments which deceive the wrongdoer.[54]  For instance, consider a criminal who committed a minor crime that deserves punishment, but if his peers learned about his crime, his dishonor would be a greater punishment than the crime demanded.  And if this particular criminal’s honor is damaged, the chances of him spreading discontent among the people would be enormous.  Seneca might think in that circumstance that deceiving the criminal’s peers would be justified, for the ruler would thus have an appropriate punishment for the crime, and the prince would secure peace in his city.  In this way, Seneca claims that rulers are justified in deceiving wrongdoers, if deception will cure the wrongdoer’s bad nature.

2§5 The final example I will draw upon is found in the On Benefits, where Seneca claims that benefitters are justified in deceiving the recipients of their benefits, if deception would increase the effectiveness of these benefits.  He tells a story about the famous academic skeptic Arcesilaus,[55] whose sick friend could not afford proper treatment, but who was too ashamed to accept Arcesilaus’ money.  So, Arcesilaus left money under his friend’s pillow as his friend slept, so that his friend might “happen upon” the money, instead of being given money and making him feel ashamed.  This shame would have made the gift less sweet, and by acting in secret, Arcesilaus greatly increased the value of the benefit.  Thus, as Seneca says, “Occasionally, the same one who is helped must even be deceived, so that he might have it and not know who he accepted it from.”[56]  Thus, if deception makes the benefit more pleasant, Seneca argues that the recipient of a benefit must be deceived.

2§6 Reflecting on the four examples I have discussed: doctors helping sick patients, one’s fellow man curing one’s anger, a prince rehabilitating criminals, and a benefitter helping the recipient of his benefit, a common thread among each of these examples Seneca discusses is that each allows—or even requires—people to deceive others when the others’ well-being would be increased via deception.  Thus, Seneca firmly cements himself with Plato[57] and against Kant,[58] claiming that some deception is justified, so long as it increases the well-being of the deceived person.

2§7 One criticism of my position that Seneca allows—and even sometimes encourages—deception comes from Seneca’s claim that God and the sage do not deceive.[59]  If God and the sage, who act in accordance with the highest of virtues, do not deceive, deception must not be in accordance with the virtues, according to this criticism.  Thus, it is claimed, Seneca must not believe that deception is virtuous.  And in a sense, this criticism is right; the sage and God would never deceive, indicating deception itself is not a virtue to be cultivated.  However, recall earlier when I mentioned Seneca’s advice to find a mean between tradition and perfect virtue.[60]  Here, Seneca recognizes he cannot hold ordinary men to the ethical standard of the sage or God, partly due to the social backlash a perfectly virtuous person would be subject to.[61]  Thus, Seneca distinguishes between the standard of virtue for God and the sage and the standard of virtue for ordinary men, concluding that ordinary men can be justified in deceiving, even though God and the sage could not.

Withholding Information from Non-Friends

3§1 But not all positions on deception are so clearly articulated in Seneca’s writings.  In particular, in Seneca’s third letter in his Epistles, Seneca may imply that we are permitted to deceive others, so long as they aren’t our friends.  In a lost letter, Lucilius had mentioned that his “friend” was going to meet Seneca, and Lucilius warned Seneca “lest [Seneca] speak of everything pertaining to [Lucilius]” with Lucilius’ “friend.”[62]  Perhaps his friend is a gossip around town.  Or perhaps his friend is one of those benevolent klutzes who try to fix issues, but necessarily end up making them worse.  Or perhaps his friend worries too much, and Lucilius does not want him to feel stress about Lucilius’ personal problems.

3§2 Regardless of the reason for Lucilius’ deception, Seneca scolds Lucilius not for attempting to deceive, but attempting to deceive someone Lucilius calls an amicus.[63]  Seneca writes,

Thus if you call that one with this particular word [that is, amicus] just as you use it with the rest of the public—how we call all candidates for elected office ‘good men,’ or how we greet those we meet ‘sir’ if we don’t remember their names—go ahead.  But if you think anyone to be a real friend who you do not trust as much as him, you are greatly mistaken and don’t know enough about the strength of true friendship.[64]

Seneca contends that true friends should be completely truthful with one another.  This means not withholding information as Lucilius asked Seneca to do in his previous letter.[65]  Thus, Seneca strongly admonishes against deceiving one’s friends so much that even the thought of withholding information from Lucilius’ “friend” caused Seneca to question whether this “friend” was a friend at all.

3§3 But Seneca also claims that there are certain things which we should not share with others.  While it appears he says at first that we deceive simply out of a tradition (consuetudo)[66] independent of what we morally ought to do, I argue he also makes an ethical claim about deceiving non-friends.  And we can begin by pointing out that in Letter Five, Seneca argues that “life should be a mean between bonos mores et publicos.”[67]  The word “mores” can mean both “tradition” and “character,”[68] and I think here that Seneca uses a play on words.  “Publicos mores” implies the “tradition” meaning of the mores, since these publicos mores are the same precepts he calls “consuetudo” earlier,[69] which Seneca does not appear to harbor a strong moral attitude toward one way or the other.  However, “bonos mores” uses the term “bonus,” which elsewhere Seneca uses to refer to the ethical good.[70]  Thus, Seneca claims, we should find the happy medium between our culture’s traditions and our moral obligations, so we might be virtuous but not obnoxious.  Thus, he makes the case that we ought to follow the mean between tradition and sagacious action.

3§4 This mean parallels the mean Seneca sets up in Letter Three.  There, Seneca says,

Some people, who speak so much to friends, speak to anyone they meet—right into their ears—and unload whatever burdens them.  Others dread sharing knowledge of their greatest cares, and they will [avoid doing so] if they are able, lest certain people entrusted [with this knowledge] press for all their closer secrets.  Neither should be done.  To trust everyone and to trust no one are both vices.  I say the one is more honest, the other more cautious. [71]

Here, he calls for us to take a mean between the “more cautious” tradition of restraining from sharing freely with others and the “more honest” practice of sharing everything.  Thus, Seneca advises Lucilius to keep certain things private from the public.

3§5 This position, if put into practice, complicates Seneca’s position on deception.  If, in a certain circumstance, we can only keep private matters private by causing others to believe what is false, then are we justified in deceiving to avoid being excessively honest?  What if doing so harms the other person’s well-being?  Would we be justified in deceiving a friend, if deceiving that friend would increase his well-being?  Seneca’s position on withholding information from non-friends has unclear implications for a variety of realistic circumstances many of us face regularly, and ultimately, I do not know if we can definitively resolve this issue.  Perhaps Seneca would argue that friends are always benefitted by our telling them the whole truth and never deceiving them.  Perhaps Seneca would argue that we ought to ultimately defer to our moral obligation to deceive only when it increases others’ well-being instead of our traditional obligation to withhold information about private matters.   Or perhaps Seneca would make any number of other arguments.  The evidence is too unclear to make a strong claim one way or the other, but Seneca’s third letter is a stumbling block for any thorough Senecan theory of deception.

Obligations to Not Be Deceived

4§1 So, we have determined Seneca’s ethical attitude toward the deceiver, but Seneca also claims that receivers of deception should not be deceived in the first place.  He advises benefitters to “choose who you give to; if you are deceived, blame yourself.”[72]  At first, this claim appears to victim-blame.  Why should we blame the deceived person?  Shouldn’t we blame the deceiver instead?  Certainly, if someone has been deceived, Seneca admits that one should show mercy if the deceived person does something wrong.[73]  To explain this apparent contradiction, I will address one of Seneca’s epistles, where he says that “deception is thin; it is transparent, if you would inspect it carefully.”[74]  Yet few people train their minds enough to detect deception as effectively as they ought, despite how easy that training is.[75]  When these people are deceived, their very rationality is compromised.  Our ability to use formal logic may be top-notch, but if the premises we reason with become distorted, our conclusions become unsound.  And since reason is the only way to determine and achieve the good,[76] Seneca would regard any mental state which seriously hampers our ability to effectively reach a reasonable conclusion to be a great harm.  So, if deception so drastically harms the only means to attain Seneca’s conception of virtue, and if the ability to not be deceived is so easy to develop, moral agents should develop the ability to not be deceived.  If one is deceived, one did not develop that ability to not be deceived.  Seneca thus does not blame the subsequent actions deceived people perform; he places his blame instead on their lack of effort in developing the abilities necessary to fortify their reason against deception.  Unlike the previous positions Seneca had taken on deception to increase well-being, this vein of thought seems largely untrodden.  We certainly see Kant[77] and Aristotle[78] heavily valuing reason as a valuable end, but neither discuss whether one ought not to be deceived in order to preserve one’s reason.

4§2 Thus Seneca verifies our initial sense that the Neronian period would be fruitful for investigation into its philosophy of deception.  Seneca contends that deception is justified for ordinary men like us, particularly when we deceive others in order to increase their well-being, and perhaps even to deceive non-friends in order to maintain a proper level of privacy.  Seneca also, particularly uniquely, places a burden on recipients of deception to not be deceived and cultivate the talents necessary to see past the smoke and mirrors their deceivers place in their way.  Further investigation into these principles—especially Seneca’s burden on recipients of deception—may open up new channels of discussion in the philosophy of deception.  In particular, it prompts us to ask whether our rational nature require us to ensure not just our arguments’ validity, but also their soundness.   That is, if we reason without true premises, does that harm our rational agency in the way Seneca implies?  Do we lose the virtue of rationality and gain the vice of irrationality?  Do we merely lose part of our virtue of rationality, and if so, how significant is that loss?  Or does our rational nature merely demand we reason validly and not be affected by false premises?

[1] Suetonius, On the Life of the Caesars, Bk. XII 26.

[2] Tacitus, Annals, Bk. XIV 3-5.

[3] Ibid., Bk. XV 44.

[4] Suetonius, On the Life of the Caesars, Bk. XII 49.4. centurioni…in auxilium se venisse simulanti

[5] Tacitus, Annals, Bk. XV, s. 54. taciturnitate omnia cohibita sint

[6] Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, s. 2.

[7] Kant discusses deception and lying in many of his philosophical works (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, The Metaphysics of Morals, and On a supposed right to lie from philanthropy, just to name a few).  For a condensed version of Kant’s position, see Mahon, The Truth About Kant On Lies.

[8] Immanuel Kant, AD 1724-AD 1804.  Central figure in deontological ethics.  His “Categorical Imperative”—Kant’s meta-rule which determines whether an ethical rule ought to be adopted–has influenced countless philosophers’ stances on ethical quandaries.  For more information on Kant’s philosophy, see Rohlf’s entry on Kant in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[9] Kant discusses deception and lying in many of his philosophical works (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, The Metaphysics of Morals, and On a supposed right to lie from philanthropy, just to name a few).  For a condensed version of Kant’s position, see Mahon, The Truth About Kant On Lies.

[10] L. Annaeus Seneca, c. BC 4-AD 65.  Tutor to Emperor Nero and earliest surviving Latin Stoic philosopher.  For more information about Seneca’s philosophy, see Vogt’s entry on Seneca in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[11] Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 42, s. 11.

[12] Suetonius, Vita Neronis, s. 386

[13] Cf. Seneca the Elder, Controversiae.  While this may merely be evidence of his strong understanding of courtroom procedures and not evidence of his experience as a lawyer per se, such understanding would only be known by someone who has extensive experience at least listening in on courtroom procedures.  While it may be possible that the Elder Seneca idled his days away in Roman peanut galleries, I find that claim unlikely.

[14] Cassius Dio, Historiae Romanae, bk. LX, s. 35.2.

[15] Acts 18:1-17.  Cf. Veyne, Seneca, pg. 3.

[16] Suetonius, Vita Lucani, pg. 501.

[17] Ibid., Vita Neronis, s. 386.

[18] Seneca, Epistula, 108.  “[M]y teacher was sublime and mightier than kings.  If he praised poverty, when I left the class I would want to be poor or to forbid myself gluttony and sensuality.”

[19] Ibid., “Likewise, enthusiastic about Pythagoras and reincarnation, I had become a vegetarian…[But my father] despised philosophy, so he dissuaded me from vegetarianism.”

[20] Suetonius, Vita Neronis, s. 386.

[21] Ibid., s. 387.

[22] Cassius Dio, Historiae Romanae, bk. LXI, s. 4.1.

[23] See Seneca, On Benefits, Bk. IV 7; Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 78.14; Ep. 42.2; Ep. 111.3.

[24] Latin Dictionary, “mentior, itus,” II.

[25] Bk. IV 7.

[26] Ep. 78.14; Ep. 107.2.

[27] Ep. 111.3.

[28] Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 79.18; Ep. 111.3; Ep. 115.9.

[29] Latin Dictionary, “mendacium, ii,” I.

[30] Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 111.3.

[31] Ibid., Ep. 79.18; Ep. 115.9.

[32] Seneca, On Benefits, Bk. I 1.9; Bk. III 11.1; Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 4.9; Ep. 33.3; Ep. 50.4; Ep. 79.18; On Anger Bk. II 29.2; Bk. III 39.4; On Clemency Bk. I 17.2; Bk. II 7.2.

[33] Latin Dictionary, “decipio, cepi, ceptum,” I.

[34] Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 4.9; Ep. 33.3; Ep. 50.4; Ep. 79.18.

[35] On Benefits, Bk. I 1.9; Bk. III 11.1; Of Anger, Bk. II 29.2; Bk. III 39.4; On Clemency, Bk. I 17.2; Bk. II 7.2.

[36] Seneca, On Benefits, Bk. II 10.1; Moral Letters to Lucilius Ep. 3.3; Ep. 82 1, 4.

[37] Latin Dictionary, “fallo, fefilli, falsum,” II.A.

[38] Stewart, On Benefits, Bk. II, s. 10; Gummere, Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 3.3; Ep. 82.1, 4.

[39] s. 18.

[40] “Decipere” can be found in Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius Ep. 4.9 and Ep. 50.4; “mendacium” can be found in ibid., Ep. 115.9.

[41] Ibid., Ep. 82.1.

[42] Ibid., Ep. 111.3.

[43] Ibid., On Providence, bk I 5. Trans. “Indeed, a good man differs from God insofar as man is subject to time. He is God’s disciple, emulator, and true progeny, who is educated by that magnificent parent, a difficult and far from lenient demander of virtue, like many strict fathers.” Lat. quidem bonus tempore tantum a deo differt, discipulus eius aemulatorque et uera progenies, quam parens ille magnificus, uirtutum non lenis exactor, sicut seueri patres, durius educat.

[44] Ibid., On Anger, Bk. III 39.4; On Clemency, Bk. I 17.2.

[45] Ibid., On Benefits, Bk. II 10.1.

[46] Mahon points out that this definition is too broad philosophically, and I agree.  However, I chose this definition for its breadth, so that if Seneca had a definition of deception, I would not crowd it out from my definition.  I also wanted to ensure that my definition would encompass the readers’ definitions of deception, so that I would not leave out a part of deception which might factor significantly into the reader’s definition.  For an in-depth discussion of the definition of deception, see Mahon, “The Definition of Lying and Deception,” s. 3.

[47] Bk. III 39.

[48] Bk. I 17. Lat. quosdam molli curatione decipiat citius meliusque sanaturus remediis fallentibus

[49] Bk. III 39. Eng. “We will not risk the beginning of anger with oration.  He is deaf and insane; we will give him space.  The remedy will be in the rest.  Just as we do not feel the pulse of swollen eyes to cause the rigid eye to move, nor with the rest of the vices, while they boil.  Quiet cures the beginning of disease.” Lat. Primam iram non audebimus oratione mulcere. Surda est et amens ; dabimus illi spatium. Remedia in remissionibus prosunt. Nec oculos tumentis temptamus vim rigentem movendo incitaturi, nec cetera vitia, dum fervent. Initia morborum quies curat.

[50] See Footnote 41.

[51] Ibid., Bk. I 8.1.

[52] Ibid., Bk. III 39.4.

[53] Bk. I 17.1-2.

[54] See Footnote 40.

[55] Ibid., On Benefits, Bk. II 10.1.

[56] Ibid. Lat. Interdum etiam ipse, qui iuvatur, vel1 fallendus est, ut habeat nec, a quo acceperit, sciat.

[57] Republic, Bk. III 414e-15c.  Here, Plato discusses his “noble lie,” where he claims that the philosopher-king should lie to his people for the greater good.

[58] Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, s. 1.  Here, Kant discusses how lying, if universalized, defeats the very purpose of lying, making it an inconceivable universal law and thus a violation of his Categorical Imperative.

[59] See Footnotes 26 and 27.

[60] See Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 5.

[61] Ibid., Moral Letters to Lucilius Ep. 5.2; Ep. 14.7-8.

[62] Ibid., Moral Letters to Lucilius, Ep. 3.1.

[63] Ibid.

[64]  Ibid., 1-2. Itaque si proprio illo verbo quasi publico usus es et sic illum amicum vocasti, quomodo omnes candidatos bonos viros dicimus, quomodo obvios, si nomen non succurrit, dominos salutamus, hac abierit. Sed si aliquem amicum existimas, cui non tantundem credis quantum tibi, vehementer erras et non satis nosti vim verae amicitiae.

[65] Ibid., 3.

[66] Ibid., Eng. “tradition makes [your cares and thoughts] secret.” Lat. consuetudo fecit arcana [curas cogitationesque tuas].

[67] s. 5. temperetur vita inter bonos mores et publicos

[68] Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary, “mos, moris,” II.B.

[69] See footnote 30.

[70] That is, an ethical good.  As opposed to its use in a less technical sense.  For its philosophical use, see Seneca, On the Blessed Life, bk. IV.  For its non-philosophical use, see Lucan, Civil War, Bk. II, line 513.

[71] s. 4.  Lat. Quidam quae tantum amicis committenda sunt, obviis narrant et in quaslibet aures, quicquid illos urserit, exonerant. Quidam rursus etiam carissimorum conscientiam reformidant, et si possent, ne sibi quidem credituri interius premunt omne secretum. Neutrum faciendum est. Utrumque enim vitium est, et omnibus credere et nulli. Sed alterum honestius dixerim vitium, alterum tutius

[72] Ibid., On Benefits, Bk. III 11.1 Lat. Cui des, elige ; ipse tecum, si deceptus es, querere.

[73] Ibid., On Clemency, Bk. II 7.2.

[74] Ep. 79.18 Lat. Tenue est mendacium; perlucet, si diligenter inspexeris.

[75] Ibid., Ep. 80.2-3.

[76] Ibid., Ep. 124.4.

[77] See the Categorical Imperative’s Formula for Humanity in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, s. 2.

[78] Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. I 7.  Here, Aristotle argues that the function of a man is to reason, and since a thing is good if it performs its function, Aristotle claims that human reason is an important human good.


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