Thursday, May 21, 2009
True Opinion is Never Relative - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.23
Meditation X.23 - True Opinion is Never Relative - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Let this always be plain to you, that this piece of land is like any other; and that all things here are the same with things on top of a mountain, or on the sea-shore, or wherever you choose to be.1 For you will find just what Plato says,2 Dwelling within the walls of a city as in a shepherd's fold on a mountain3
(1) This prefatory remark refers to those "things" that guide our actions in life. We are of course guided by our moral wisdom which in Stoicism is modeled on our study of, and understanding of nature. Such moral guidelines are referred to as true opinions. What is particularly important here is that these opinions, or our moral and ethical standards, are independent of time and place and person. There is no allowance in Stoicism for moral relativism.
(2) The meditation makes reference to a discussion about the nature of knowledge in Plato's Theaetetus. The dialog is unable to resolve the question, except to develop several conclusions about what knowledge is not. In his meditations Marcus makes frequent reference to "opinion." Opinion may be true or false in Stoicism depending on whether the opinion is in accord or discord with nature.
(3) We develop our true moral understandings on our own and by ourselves through meditation, or as Marcus often says, by retiring into ourselves, "as in a shepherd's fold on a mountain." This sets Stoicism very much apart from belief systems that provide moral guidance from some authority - scriptural or otherwise. Moral actions in Stoicism are guided by opinions that we need to develop through meditative work. But, as Marcus maintains earlier, those true opinions will be the same opinions that are developed in any place, by anyone, and at any time.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.