Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Universal Kinship - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.30
Meditation XII.30 - Universal Kinship - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
There is one light of the sun, though it is interrupted by walls, mountains, and other things infinite.1 There is one common substance, though it is distributed among countless bodies which have their several qualities.2 There is one soul, though it is distributed among infinite natures and individuals.3 There is one intelligent soul, though it seems to be divided.4 Now in the things which have been mentioned all the other parts, such as those which are air and matter, are without sensation and have no fellowship:5 and yet even these parts the intelligent principle holds together, and the gravitation towards the same.6 But intellect in a peculiar manner tends to that which is of the same kin, and combines with it, and the feeling for communion is not interrupted.7
(1) Marcus is drawing upon the sun metaphor from Plato's Republic. The sun represents the source of the good (or truth) but is obscured by physical (or intellectual) barriers artificial or self-erected.
(2) Stoic physics divided matter into two forms, active and passive. This is a referance to the passive material.
(3) The active principle of nature is that which animates the passive. Modern readers might read this as a reference to the active interactions of the various laws of physics upon the passive principle in all its forms, both living and non-living, sentient and non-sentient.
(4) This is Logos or universal intelligence. It seems divided because humans, endowed with free will, can choose to act in accord with the universal intelligence or in opposition to it.
(5) Fellowship is a special kinship that unites all sentient life. Every being in the universe capable of reason is aware of, or has the capacity to discover this kinship.
(6) Inanimate matter or non-sentient life also benefits from the binding nature of the universal soul even though that binding is not willed. These conclusions are based upon the observations of natural affinities or the "gravitation" of like natures: earth, air, water, fire, bees, birds, flowers and stars.
(7) The "peculiar manner" referred to here is the reason that all human beings share. The kinship of shared intellect or reason is unique amongst the various natures which possess soul. Animals and rocks do not possess this. The rational trait in every human being is distilled from the universal soul and tethered to it. Human beings have the capacity to understand this origin and connection, and through it have the capacity (and desire) to act rightly (or intelligently) once this awareness occurs. This is a truth, but like the sun metaphor, this truth may be occluded. Human beings need to seek this truth (through active meditation and study) and must then embrace it. The right action that this awareness allows (acting virtuously) is both our duty and purpose in life and is the source of our happiness - our reason for being.
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.