In letter #33, Seneca defines the balance between derivative reasoning, and novel thinking. According to Seneca, erudition functions only as a means to an end – rather than an end itself.
“All those men who never create but lurk as interpreters under the shadow of another are lacking, I believe, in independence of spirit. They never venture to do the thing they have long rehearsed. They exercise their memories on what is not their own. But to remember is one thing, to know another.
“You may recognize unevenness in a work when attention is attracted by what rises above the level. One tree is not noteworthy if the whole forest rises to the same height.
“Don’t expect, then, that you can sample the masterpieces of great minds by way of summaries; you must examine the whole, work over the whole. Their structure is a totality fitted together according to the outlines of their special genius, and if any member is removed the whole may collapse…An admired ankle or arm does not make a woman beautiful; a beautiful woman is one whose total appearance silences praise of her parts.
“If we rest content with solutions offered, the real solution will never be found. Moreover, a man who follows another not only finds nothing, he is not even looking.
*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.
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