Friday, May 1, 2009
One Morality for All - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.21
Meditation XI.21 - One Morality for All - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Whoever has not one and always the same object in life, cannot be one and the same all through their life.1 But what I have said is not enough, unless this also is added, what this object ought to be.2 For as there is not the same opinion about all the things which in some way or other are considered by the majority to be good, but only about some certain things, that is, things which concern the common interest;3 so also ought we to propose to ourselves an object which shall be of a common kind (social) and political.4 For whoever directs all their efforts to this object, will make all their acts alike, and thus will always be the same.5
(1) According to this sentiment the Stoic might maintain that "we are what we think," as opposed to the more popular claim that "we are what we eat."
(2) The "object" Marcus refers to is what the Greek philosophers, Plato in particular, would identify as the Good.
(3) This is of course consistent with Stoic philosophy. Those who hold that self-actualization is the goal in life will differ in their goals from those who hold that community-actualization is the goal. Stoics hold the latter position because an examination and close interpretation of the laws of nature reveals this as the goal.
(4) Social and political goals harmonize with the law of nature.
(5) The acts Marcus refers to are the basis of right living. Any action that benefits the global social and political community is considered a virtue, and acting virtuously is the beginning and end of life, as well as the only mode of existence that brings enlightenment and happiness to the actor. This meditation demonstrates also that there is absolutely no room for moral relativism within the Stoic perspective. There is only one good, and one morality; as a consequence, "all [our moral] acts [are and must be] alike."
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.