Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Physics and Morality - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.02
Meditation XII.02 – Physics and Morality - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Universal intelligence perceives the minds (ruling principles) of all human beings bared of the material vesture and rind and impurities.1 For with the intellectual part alone nature touches the intelligence only which has flowed and been derived from nature and infused into these bodies.2 And if you also use yourself to do this, you will rid yourself of much trouble.3 For you who regard not the poor flesh which envelops, surely you will not trouble yourself by looking after raiment and dwelling and fame and such like externals and show.4
(1) The universal intelligence or law of nature, Logos, is the controlling principle in the universe. Religions identify this idea with divinity or God. Stoics also refer to this intelligence as divine, but see it not as above nature, but the first principle of nature. In Stoicism (or the new Stoicism to be more precise) Logos is the domain of modern physics, or natural philosophy (the term I prefer). This incidentally would subsume morality as the domain of physics, because the primary objective of physics (in the Stoic context) is to uncover the rules of engagement in life, for which the law of nature is the template.
(2) Your intelligence comes to you from the universal. It is the active principle that governs your life. It manifests itself in its highest expression as reason. There's nothing supernatural involved in this idea. Your reason is how the laws of nature express within you. But those laws are universal (in the same sense that the law of gravity is universal). Your intelligence, or reason, extends beyond you and back into the universal from which it is derived.
(3) This is the central motif of Stoicism. We are not islands of existence. Self-regarding attitudes emerge from the perception that life is about you. But this cannot be so; the empirical facts that underlie the laws of physics preclude any so-called me generation attitudes. Life simply cannot be about the individual if the source of intelligence and reason is universal, and remains forever tethered to the universal (and of course physics shows us that this is so). For the Stoic, our "troubles" really stem from our ignorance of the basic laws of physics.
(4) The self-serving attitude (a fundamental error of logic to the Stoic) gives rise to our dedication to the needs of the flesh. This of course stimulates our attraction toward body focussed pleasures, our compulsive need of money and property, and our impulse toward power and fame. These attractions are, to the Stoic, the major source of "trouble" in life. The alternate attitude, that life is about the community, gives rise to a different set of altruistic values.
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.