Mind Your Words: The Power of Clear and Straightforward Communication – Letter 40

In this publication I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In letter 40 he discusses the importance of being mindful in one’s speech, advocating for clear and straightforward communication rather than fast and confusing language.



Today, the way in which a philosopher communicates their ideas is just as important as the ideas themselves. When writing to someone, it is important to reveal one’s true self through clear and straightforward communication, rather than fast and confusing language. A letter, unlike a picture, can provide tangible evidence of a friend’s presence through their writing. The way in which a philosopher speaks should be composed and mindful, much like their life, and nothing that is rushed and hurried is well-ordered.

Appropriate Style of Speech for Philosophers

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Philosophers engage in discussions of serious and important subjects and therefore, their manner of speaking should reflect the gravity of the matter at hand. A style of speech that is forceful, rapid, and copious is deemed inappropriate for effective communication as it detracts from the serious and contemplative nature of philosophical discussions. This type of speaking is more suited to a street performer who aims to entertain and grab attention, whereas a philosopher’s goal is to enlighten and encourage critical thinking through clear and straightforward communication.

On the other hand, a style that is slow, stammering, and thin spun is also not appropriate for clear communication as it makes the audience less attentive. It is important for the audience to be able to listen and understand the philosopher’s message without having to strain to hear what is being said. A philosopher’s speech should be clear, concise, and comprehensible to the audience through intentional communication.

The speech of a philosopher should be straightforward and unadorned, not aimed at impressing the common people. Philosophers are not seeking to show off their rhetorical skills or to entertain their audience, but to convey their ideas in a clear and simple manner through effective communication. The focus should be on the ideas and concepts being discussed, not on the style of speech used to present them. This underscores the importance of substance over style in philosophical discussions and highlights the need for philosophers to remain grounded in their ideas and not be swayed by external influences.

The Power of Philosopher’s Speech

The philosopher’s speech should have the power to heal the mind, and this cannot be achieved through fast and confusing language. This type of speech is full of emptiness and has more sound than substance. A philosopher’s speech should bring peace, calm irritations, challenge illusions, curb indulgences, and rebuke greed, but all these things cannot be achieved through ineffective communication. A physician cannot heal their patient on a flying visit, and the same is true for a philosopher’s speech.

Word-Gymnasts and Their Disordered Speech

It is not necessary to listen to these word-gymnasts more than once as they offer nothing to learn or imitate through their disordered speech. Their speech reflects their inner selves and should not be followed by inexperienced or untrained individuals. A philosopher should sometimes take a loftier tone, but this should not be done at the cost of losing their dignity and control in their communication. Philosophy should possess great forces, but they should always be kept under control and never become a torrent.

The Importance of Dignity and Control in Philosopher’s Speech

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Fast and confusing language that cannot be called back is not suitable for philosophy or even for an orator. This type of speaking goes lawlessly ahead and cannot be followed by those who are inexperienced or untrained. Even when an orator is carried away by their desire to show off their powers or uncontrollable emotions, they should still not quicken their pace to the point where the ear cannot endure it and compromise clear communication.

The Benefits of Gradual and Controlled Speech

The way in which a person speaks can have a significant impact on their audience and their ability to convey their message effectively. The example of Publius Vinicius the stammerer illustrates that speaking gradually, rather than in a hurry, can still be considered eloquent and effective.

This can be seen as a philosophical point about the importance of mindfulness and intentional communication. The idea that it is not just about what is said, but also how it is said, suggests that the tone and pace of a person’s speech should be carefully considered to ensure that their message is received in the way that it was intended. This can be seen as a reflection of the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus’ belief that people have control over their thoughts and actions, and that they must exercise this control to live a virtuous life.

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In the context of philosophy, this point highlights the importance of being mindful and intentional in the way that one communicates their ideas. Philosophers are tasked with discussing serious and important subjects and their speech should reflect this.

By choosing to speak in a way that is straightforward, unadorned, and gradual, philosophers can help their audience to understand their ideas more effectively and avoid distracting them with unnecessary elaboration or speed. This type of communication can help to create a deeper connection between the speaker and the audience and can foster a greater understanding of the philosophical ideas being discussed.


In conclusion, the style of speech used by a philosopher is just as important as the ideas they are conveying. Their speech should be straightforward, unadorned, and composed, never rushing or stammering. It should have the power to heal the mind and bring peace to those who hear it. The audience should be able to follow the speaker’s words and understand their message. The philosopher should always maintain their dignity and control, never letting their words become a torrent. It is always better to choose to speak in a way that is well thought out, not just about how much is said, but also how it is said.

Take care.

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

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