Thursday, May 21, 2009

Living, Dying, Euthanasia, and Suicide - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.22

Meditation X.22 - Living, Dying, Euthanasia, and Suicide - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

Either you live here and have already accustomed yourself to it, or you are going away, and this was your own will; or you are dying and have discharged your duty.1 But besides these things there is nothing.2 Be of good cheer, then.3


(1) The "here" is the world. "Going away" is to leave this world. To choose to leave the world by "your own will" points to having made a rational decision to end your life. This is a willed death as opposed to a death from other causes.

(2) This stark triad of possibilities contains three rational elements: living, willed dying, and unwilled dying. In other words, we either exist, or we do not exist and the route to non-existence has two roads, one willed (self-euthanasia or rational suicide), one unwilled (from accident, warfare or from natural causes). Most suicides would be - from a Stoic perspective - irrational, and as such would not be considered as a fourth option.

(3) The three rational possibilities are accompanied by a state of happiness, or "good cheer." If you live according to nature, there is no more that you can do with life than this - furthermore you will be happy. If you are dying willfully (self-euthanasia), you must have chosen to do so rationally, and must have done so after having completed your mission in life. Stoics would view most cases of suicide as irrational because they generally involve emotional responses to a dissatisfaction with life, which can only occur in those who live contrary to nature. This also implies that suicide requires an abandonment of reason. In contrast, an unwilled death following the discharge of your duty in life, awaits all who live a virtuous life. Anyone who would die in this way would die in spiritual peace even though that death might occur in great physical suffering.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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