Thursday, March 26, 2009

Living Rightly - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.29

Meditation XII.29 - Living Rightly - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

The safety of life is this,1 to examine everything all through, what it is itself, what is its material, what the formal part;2 with all your soul to do justice and to say the truth.3 What remains except to enjoy life by joining one good thing to another so as not to leave even the smallest intervals between?4


(1) Safety in a Stoic context means being faithful to reason. A Stoic is never unduly concerned with physical or even emotional safety because issues relating to these concerns are regarded with indifference. Intellectual safety is infinitely more important because happiness depends solely on our state of mind, especially in its capacity to act rationally and rightly.

(2) Stoics are mandated to examine everything in nature in exacting detail and to pay close attention to the place of everything with regard to the whole of nature. Marcus is drawing on Aristotle's four causes (material, efficient, formal and final) as a guide. The material cause asks what something is made of; the efficient cause examines its origin or source; the formal cause places it within a category of things with similar form or essence; the final cause examines purpose.

(3) From a causal perspective humans as rational beings are expected to do justice and to speak the truth (the formal cause). But justice and truth require the understanding and wisdom that flows from the examination of everything noted first.

(4) To the Stoic good things are the virtuous actions that come from justice, truth and wisdom. In the Stoic scheme there is no room allowed for a lack of intellectual diligence. Our rational faculty is guided by perfect law, and is able to act rightly in all situations if it is so directed. In this passage Marcus directs each of us to do this consistently in all of our actions. This is a tough and seemingly impossible demand from a non-Stoic perspective. But Marcus would counter that because the mind is guided by divine law, that every human being has the capacity for infallible action. However, it is important to note that the Stoic concept of divinity (Logos) is in nature, not above nature.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.

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