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4: Seneca's Defence First Movements as Answering Posidonius

PART I: Emotions as Judgements versus Irrational Forces
4: Seneca's Defence First Movements as Answering Posidonius
I believe that not only Seneca's third movements but also his first movements were offered in defence of Chrysippus. But first we must try to work out what Seneca's first movements are. Let us start with the mental ones.
First movements in Seneca

Seneca speaks seven times in the passage on three movements (On Anger 2.2.1–2.4.2) of a movement of the mind which he calls a first shock (ictus) a first agitation (agitatio) and a first movement (primus motus).1 It has been thought that this last expression was an invention of the twelfth century2 but here it is in the first century AD. Seneca insists four times that this first shock of the mind is not yet the emotion:

These are not anger any more than what contracts the brow at the sight of a mimic shipwreck is sorrow.… But all those things are movements of minds that do not want to be moved and not emotions (adfectus) but preliminary preludes (principia proludentia) to emotions.
None of these things which move the mind by chance ought to be called an emotion (adfectus).
I do not call this ‘anger’ this movement of the mind obedient to reason. So that first agitation of the mind which the appearance of injustice inflicts (incussit) is no more anger than is the appearance of injustice itself.3
What are Seneca's first movements of the mind? The necessary hint comes from Cicero. We know from a number of sources and are reminded by Cicero that the contractions studied in Chapter 2 can follow from the value judgements in distress.4 I have argued that this was already the view of Zeno. But Cicero adds that bites and little contractions of the mind (morsus et contractiunculae animi) can also have a certain independence from the judgements (iudicium opinio decreverimus) and distress (aegritudo). What is still left is bites and little contractions. It is not quite clear whether Cicero is thinking of initial shocks. But the independence of the bites and little contractions gives Seneca exactly what he needs for his first movements of the mind. Seneca's new point is that his mental movements are not merely independent of judgement and emotion but can actually occur before it. Surely his first movements of the mind are the little contractions and expansions of the mind which Cicero has described as independent. Cicero says:
But we must turn back to the same source that all distress is far removed from the wise man because it is empty and is engaged in to no purpose because it does not arise by nature but through judgement (iudicium) through belief (opinio) through a sort of invitation to grieve when we have decided (decreverimus) that that is what ought to happen. If this [judgement] which is wholly voluntary is removed (hoc detracto) that grieving distress will be removed though bites and certain little contractions of the mind (animus) will remain.5
We saw in Chapter 2 that bites are often associated with contractions6 and like contractions with distress7 while expansion is associated with pleasure sinking with fear and outward rushes with anger. Seneca's first movements of the mind will be felt movements of this sort.
It is agreed by Plutarch that the Stoics mean the preliminary bites and sinkings of the mind to be distinct from the actual emotion. He reveals this even though he goes on to ridicule the intended distinction:
But when they are refuted by their tears and tremblings and changes of colour instead of distress and fear they speak of some kind of bites and clusterings [I have suggested sunathroiseis not sunthroēseis or sunorouseis as the necessary emendation] and they euphemize appetites as instinct (prothumia). They seem to be devising by means of names sophistical not philosophical procrastinations and evasions of real things.8
It is not implied that bites are emotions when Plutarch elsewhere says that the Stoic Posidonius treats bites (dēgmoi) as psycho-physical pathē in the soul. For ‘pathē’ in this passage does not mean emotions but is being used to cover all sorts of mental and physical effects.9 Nor is it any different when the Stoic Epictetus associates suffering a bite (daknomenos) with being disturbed (tarassomenos)10 for disturbance too is not yet emotion.
The first movement in anger according to Seneca is caused by (incussit) appearance the appearance of injustice (species iniuriae).11 Seneca does not introduce the idea of appearance right away. At first speaking more loosely he suggests that the first blow or movement of the mind comes after belief (opinio) has been formed and after someone has thought (putavit) themselves hurt and willed (voluit) revenge.12 But then on the most natural interpretation it is explained that these are mere appearances.13 Epictetus seems to agree that the relation is causal: the appearances are not jolts but that by which the mind is jolted (quibus pellitur).14
There are not only mental initial shocks. Seneca carefully distinguishes physical ones.15 He includes as examples pallor tears flashing eyes and sexual irritation all of which are going to be relevant to us below.16 He insists equally for the physical initial shock that it is not yet the emotion:
For if anyone thinks that pallor and falling tears and irritation by fluid in the private parts or deep sighs or a sudden flashing of the eyes or anything like that is an indication of emotion (adfectus) and a sign of the mind he is mistaken and does not understand that these are jolts (pulsus) to the body.17
The physical shock like the mental is not under our control (not in nostra potestate) and cannot be avoided by use of reason.18
First movements involuntary
The first shock and movement of the mind is called by Seneca involuntary (non voluntarius). It cannot be avoided by reason but at best only weakened19 and it happens even to the wise.20 We can never be unshaken (inconcussi) despite our hopes but we can be unconquered.21 Similarly with bodily first movements: even the wise may blush.22 Epictetus agrees. In the fragment preserved by Aulus Gellius which I shall discuss in Chapter 24 he says that the mind even of the wise person has to be moved and to contract because of unsolicited movements. And similarly his body changes colour.23
The point has been misunderstood I believe because there are many passages in which Epictetus thinks it a sign of progress if in various circumstances you can avoid first movements and he cites occasions on which Socrates did.24 But Epictetus warns that you may find it not in your power (not epi soi)25 and he never contradicts himself or says that the sage can get rid of first movements altogether.
First movements as important to therapy
Seneca's purpose in analysing emotion he says is to see whether it can be controlled by reason or is involuntary.26 It is therefore important for him to distinguish the involuntary accompaniments for which we are not to blame from the voluntary. This is part of the case for saying that control is possible. Moreover it actually facilitates control because it is very steadying when you have a sinking feeling or your teeth are chattering your knees knocking or you have gone white or red in the face to be able to say to yourself ‘This is not yet emotion it is only a shock.’ But in order to be effective the technique needs at the same time to cast doubt on the appearance that you are confronted with good or bad. Only then can you discount the shocks as mere symptoms of the appearance.
It can also now be seen how vital it is to control of the emotions to understand that the contractions and expansions which constitute the mental first movements are no more than sensed inner movements in the chest. This was argued for contractions and expansions quite generally in Chapter 2 and it shows how it may be possible to discount the mental first movements in a programme of keeping control.
It was essential for exercising control that it should be possible to create a time-gap between the first movement and the beginning of the emotion. Plutarch is not a Stoic and so talks in terms not of prepassion but of anger smoking (kapniōn) at the beginning (en arkhē) of its catching alight (diakaiomenos) or gathering (sullegomenos) and moving through us (diakinoumenos). But he too insists that anger can be stemmed at this stage because its genesis and growth (genesis auxēsis) are more evident (emphanē) than that of any other emotion. He rejects the view of the early Peripatetic Hieronymus of Rhodes that the genesis of anger is too quick to be detected.27
When did the Stoics distinguish first movements?
When were first movements distinguished by the Stoics? I have maintained in this chapter that Seneca's first movements may be alluded to by Cicero28 and that could be the earliest reference though Cicero does not yet present his ‘bites’ as prior to merely as independent of judgements. Some scholars have attributed the idea of first movements to earlier Stoics Zeno or Chrysippus. But I doubt if we can rely on Gellius’ reference to the ‘founders’ (conditores) of Stoicism.29 What Zeno did say is that even the sage's mind will carry a scar (cicatrix) and Seneca uses this to explain why even the sage will still feel ‘suspicions and shadows of emotions’. But it is only the scar that is clearly attributed to Zeno and this makes it unlikely that Zeno was discussing first movements since scars are not in general a necessary prerequisite for experiencing first movements.30
It is not clear either that Chrysippus discussed first movements or even the prothumiai which I argued in Chapter 2 may include certain first movements. Prothumiai are prominent later in Epictetus but do not seem to be explicitly associated with Chrysippus. The best case I can make for first movements in Chrysippus turns on his treatment of weeping against your will.31 He says that this is due to unlike appearances and the appearance he has just been talking about is one directed towards contraction. Presumably then he is appealing to conflicting appearances as to whether contraction is appropriate. The tears are against your will because you assent to the appearance that contraction is not appropriate. But Chrysippus does not say whether your assent oscillates between both appearances or whether the rival appearance that contraction is appropriate remains without assent. It is only in the latter case that Chrysippus will have postulated a physical first movement that is tears produced by mere appearance independently of assent. Even if he did postulate this he will only have stumbled into the matter as a side issue. First movements did not have the centrality they acquired later.
What we do find is that the physiological phenomena which later Stoics were to call first movements were already recognized by Aristotle.
Physiological first movements in Aristotle and Galen
Aristotle had spoken of how the heart or penis can be moved at a mere appearance (phanentos tinos) without the intellect (nous) giving a command.32 This can also happen when the intellect itself thinks of something frightening or pleasant without commanding fear.33
Galen gives a physiological reinterpretation of Chrysippus’ felt contractions of the soul. It is not the soul that one is feeling; rather the sensation is due to yellow bile flowing down into the stomach.34 Aristotle too would have rejected the Stoic view that the soul is physical and substituted a physiological interpretation of the phenomena. He would allow that there are physical movements and even that they can precede emotion.35 Anger itself involves the boiling of the blood or warm stuff around the heart.36 Chrysippus’ concern with the soul's poor state of tension as making it liable to emotion37 would also be converted into physiological terms by Aristotle. In his view bulls and boars are particularly liable to anger because the fibres in their blood act like embers to heat it up.38
First movements as answering Posidonius and Aristotle
I want to suggest that the distinction of first movements was used not only therapeutically for controlling emotion but also polemically. One reason for introducing them may have been precisely to defend Chrysippus from some of Posidonius’ objections. For these objections as I shall argue in Chapter 8 presuppose that genuine emotion not mere shock can be found in the absence of the relevant judgements contrary to Chrysippus’ whole position. The three examples offered by Posidonius of emotion without the relevant judgements are emotions induced in animals emotions induced in humans by wordless music and thirdly tears when we acknowledge them to be unjustified. It is extraordinary that Seneca picks up all three of these examples (without mentioning Posidonius) and dismisses all three as involving not emotion but only appearance or first movements. Seneca is quite explicit. Animals experience only initial appearances not emotion.39 Music induces only appearance and first movements.40 Tears are also examples of first movements.41 There has been an issue on the topic of first movements whether Seneca is following Posidonius or defending Chrysippus against him.42 On both first and third movements I take Seneca to be defending Chrysippus. A further use of the idea of first movements may have been in reply to Aristotle's rival therapy of catharsis. I shall discuss this possibility in the next chapter.
My interpretation goes against the view that first movements are not central to Stoic theory.43 They are central to later Stoicism if they can be used to answer Aristotle to defend Chrysippus from Posidonius’ objections and if they are important to the understanding of therapy. In Chapter 14 I shall trace the Neoplatonists’ use of first movements and in the last four chapters of this book we shall see how influential first movements were on Christianity.
I shall now quote in full Seneca's description (in On Anger) of first second and third movements: the initial mental and physical shock produced by the appearance of good or bad; secondly the assent to that appearance and to the appearance that it is appropriate to react; thirdly the movement of being carried away and judging that one must react come what may. It will be seen that Seneca is almost always careful to avoid (or to qualify with a ‘seems’) genuine emotion words for his first movements.
2.2.1. To what you ask is this inquiry relevant? It is so that we can know what anger is. For if it comes to birth against our will (invitis) it will never succumb to reason. For all movements which are not brought about by our will (voluntas) are beyond control and inevitable like shivering when sprinkled with cold water and the recoil from certain contacts. At bad news our hair stands on end at improper words a blush suffuses us and vertigo follows when we look at a steep drop.
2.2.2. Anger is put to flight by precepts. For it is a voluntary vice of the mind not something that comes out of some circumstance of the human lot and so befalls even the wisest. Under that heading we must put that first shock (ictus) of the mind which moves us after we believe there is an injustice.
2.2.3. This creeps in even amidst the theatrical sights of the stage or the recital of ancient deeds. Often we seem (videmur) to be angry with Clodius for exiling Cicero and with Antony for killing him. Who is not roused (concitari) against the weapons of Marius or the proscription of Sulla? Who is not disturbed (infestus) at Theodotus and Achillas and that child who dared an unchildlike crime?
2.2.4. Singing and quick rhythms and the martial sound of trumpets incite (instigare) us. A grim painting or the sad spectacle of punishment however just moves (movere) the mind.
2.2.5. This is why we laugh with people who are laughing while a crowd of mourners saddens (contristare) us too and we seethe with excitement (effervescere) at contests between other people. This is not anger any more than what furrows the brow at the sight of a simulated shipwreck is sadness or what runs through the minds of readers at Hannibal besieging the walls after [the battle of] Cannae is fear. All those things are movements of minds unwilling to be moved and not emotions (adfectus) but preliminary (principia) preludes to emotions.
2.2.6. It is in this way that the trumpet excites (suscitare) the ears of a military man who is now wearing his toga in the middle of peacetime and the clatter of weapons alerts (erigere) the camp horses. They say that Alexander put his hand to his weapons when Xenophantus sang.
2.3.1. None of these things which jolt the mind by chance ought to be called emotions (adfectus) but are things to which the mind is subject so to speak rather than being active. So emotion is not being moved at the appearances presented by things but is giving oneself up to them and following up this chance movement.
2.3.2. For with pallor and falling tears and irritation from fluid in the private parts or a deep sigh and eyes suddenly flashing or anything like these if anyone thinks that they are a sign of emotion and a manifestation of the mind he is mistaken and does not understand that these are jolts to the body.
2.3.3. So very often even the bravest man grows pale as he puts on his armour and when the signal for battle is given the knees of the fiercest soldier tremble a little and before the battle lines ram each other the heart of the great commander jumps and the extremities of the most eloquent speaker stiffen as he gets ready to speak.
2.3.4. Anger must not merely be moved; it must rush out. For it is an impulse (impetus) but there is never impulse without assent of the mind (adsensus mentis). For it is impossible that revenge and punishment should be at stake without the mind's knowledge. Someone thinks himself injured he wills revenge but he settles down at once when some consideration dissuades him. I do not call this anger this movement of the mind obedient to reason. That is anger which leap-frogs reason and drags reason with it.
2.3.5. So that first agitation of the mind which the appearance of injustice (species iniuriae) inflicts (incussit) is no more anger than is the appearance of injustice itself. It is the subsequent impulse (impetus) which not only receives but approves the appearance of injustice that is anger: the rousing of a mind that prosecutes vengeance with will and judgement (voluntas iudicium). There is never any doubt that fear involves flight and anger impulse (impetus). See if you think anything can be chosen or avoided without the assent of the mind (adsensus mentis).
2.4.1. In order that you may know how emotions (adfectus) (1) begin or (2) grow or (3) are carried away (efferri) (1) the first movement is involuntary (non voluntarius) like a preparation for emotion and a kind of threat. (2) The second movement is accompanied by will (voluntas) not an obstinate one to the effect that it is appropriate (oporteat) for me to be avenged since I am injured or it is appropriate for him to be punished since he has committed a crime. (3) The third movement is by now uncontrolled (impotens) and wills (vult) to be avenged not if it is appropriate (si oportet) but come what may (utique) and it has overthrown (evicit) reason.
2.4.2. We cannot escape that first shock (ictus) of the mind by reason just as we cannot escape those things we mentioned which befall the body either so as to avoid another's yawn infecting us or avoid our eyes blinking when fingers are suddenly poked towards us. Reason cannot control those things though perhaps familiarity and constant attention may weaken them. The second movement which is born of judgement is removed by judgement.