Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Free Speech -The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.30
Meditation XI.30 – Free Speech - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
A slave you are: free speech is not for you.1
(1) Marcus Aurelius was a staunch advocate of free and unrestricted speech. Stoic philosophy is not dogmatic. The central method of Stoicism is inquiry into the nature of reality. This inquiry involves a critical examination of nature - on many levels - using whatever analytic tools are necessary. The analysis of these observations requires systematic interpretative and critical discourse - in other words, free speech. The study of nature is critical to Stoics, because Stoics are directed to live "according to nature." It is therefore important to understand, not only the laws governing nature, but how to draw from these laws the moral guidance needed to live a life of virtue. All this notwithstanding, those who live a life in opposition to nature, and in disregard of her laws (because they are ignorant of those laws), are, in the Stoic view, living in slavery, because their modus operandi in all matters involving choice (or opinion) is directed toward satisfying the demands of the body, both physical and emotional - in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. In other words, such a life is a life directed exclusively to the service of the self, and therefore severed from reason. Such a life is considered irrational. Irrational people certainly can speak, but the speech they utter is not coupled to a rational process, and is therefore not free. We become slaves exclusively to our physical and emotional needs. Marcus does not advocate the silencing of those who speak thus. He is only reminding us that this speech is effectively divorced from reason.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.