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Seneca’s Fall of Man: Causes and Consequences

The phenomenon of the ‘fall of man’ in the Roman philosophy and political thought is related to the ideas declared by Seneca (4 BC – AD 65). Seneca was one of the most prominent Roman stoics whose political vision was opposite to other philosophers belonging to this group (Klosko 174). The ‘fall of man’ concept was discussed by Seneca as the notion to represent the contrast between the harmony of the Golden Age and the existing society dependent on immorality and seeking for more wealth (Mitsis 233). Following Seneca’s ideas, it is possible to state that the causes of the ‘fall of man’ after the Golden Age were the extreme desire of people to possess and the focus on the private property that led to tyrannies, development of the corrupted society, and creating laws to protect the people’s property.

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In his comparison of the previous and current political eras, Seneca referred to the changes in the people’s morality and their desire to possess more to become more influential and successful. Focusing on the idea of possession that affected the man’s actions during the period observed by the philosopher, Seneca stated, “For a time this fellowship remained uncorrupted, until greed fragmented its unity and made even those it enriched poor, for when men came to wish to possess all things for their own, they forfeited their possession of all things” (qtd. in Klosko 174). Thus, the main cause to destroy the social and political order of the Golden Age was the man’s focus on the property that was the first step to the ‘fall’ because the idea to possess things was not common for people who used to share the natural resources and gifts.

Seneca also noted in his works that the desire to possess was not as adverse as the people’s focus on the ways to make the property private. Referring to Seneca’s claims, Klosko stated that the Golden Age was primarily “destroyed by the advent of property” (Klosko 174). When people understood that they could possess things, they started to find ways how to protect them and make private. Seneca viewed the private property of a person as the key to the “irreversible change” observed in the society contemporary to the philosopher, and that change “reflects the degenerate state of ‘fallen’ men” (Pierson 54). The ways selected by people to gain more property were mostly immoral in their nature, and there was one more sign of falling ideals of the Golden Age.

While determining causes of the ‘fall of man’ after the Golden Age, Seneca also identified political consequences of the people’s orientation to the property and the process of its advent. The first main political consequence of the process was the change of the period of wise persons’ rule to the period of tyrants’ rule (Dressler 508). If in the Golden Age, “the rule was in the hands of the wise”, and the governments addressed the needs of the people, the new rulers were tyrants because they needed to maintain the order and law in their states (Klosko 174). The reason for these rulers’ actions was to preserve the principles of the natural law in the context of the populations’ increased immorality. Therefore, politics and the state rule could be viewed as “a remedy for human evil” (Klosko 174). Following Seneca, the main cause of this evil was the property, but this situation seemed to lay the foundation for the further political development of states.

In spite of the fact that the rule of tyrants was directed to maintain the political stability in the state, the society based on the principles of the property possession was corrupted in its nature. According to Seneca, “the age of political innocence had given way to one of corruption” (Klosko 174). The reason is that the property became the factor that divided people into poor and rich, and such inequality caused the further hatred and the people’s focus on gaining more without making much effort. In this context, the development of punitive institutions was necessary to address the problem.

From this perspective, one of the main consequences of the ‘fall of man’ was the development of the political and legal thought in states. The focus was on creating the laws and norms that could protect the private property. Previously, people had no needs to refer to the principles of justice because they could share all the resources equally (Pierson 54). Now, they needed to develop new order and laws based on the political principles in order to protect the stability of their states.

Seneca’s logical discussions of the causes and consequences of ‘fall of man’ make people think of the role of politics in this process. The idealistic vision of the Golden Age typical for Seneca is rather provocative. It is possible to ask the questions that are the matter of many political and social debates: whether the shared or collective property could protect populations from ‘falling’ or corruption and whether it could lead them to the development of the harmonized political and social system where there is not division into poor and rich persons. These ideas are similar to the socialists’ views, but they are rather controversial in the context of the natural law concept discussed by Seneca.

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Works Cited

Dressler, Alex. “Oedipus on Oedipus: Sophocles, Seneca, Politics, and Therapy.” A Companion to Sophocles 171.1 (2012): 507-522. Print.

Klosko, George. History of Political Theory: An Introduction, Volume I: Ancient and Medieval. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

Mitsis, Phillip. “The Stoics on Property and Politics.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 43.S1 (2005): 230-249. Print.

Pierson, Christopher. Just Property: A History in the Latin West, Volume One: Wealth, Virtue, and the Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.

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