Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Reign of Reason - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. IX.39

Meditation IX.39 - The Reign of Reason - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

Either all things proceed from one intelligent source and come together as in one body, and the part ought not to find fault with what is done for the benefit of the whole;1 or there are only atoms, and nothing else than mixture and dispersion.2 Why, then, are you disturbed? Say to the ruling faculty, Are you dead, are you corrupted, are you playing the hypocrite, are you become a beast, do you herd and feed with the rest?3


(1) This first of two possible configurations of the system of the World - the one that Stoics adhere to - maintains the cosmos as an integrated manifold of many parts. As a unified and interconnected system, no part of the manifold is dispensable, or without purpose, and each part, no matter how seemingly trivial, is essential for the success of the whole. The system proceeded from divine natural intelligence, otherwise designated the Law of nature, or simply Logos.

(2) The alternate hypothesis extant in the ancient world suggested a type of atomism. Not only was all substance atomic, the distinct atoms were autonomous and disconnected from the whole. Modern physical atomism is a blend of these two ideas. The physical universe does consist of discrete particles, but all particles have a long range influence on every other particle in the system.

(3) The philosophical implications of these two hypotheses are divergent. Atomism lends strength to self-centeredness - that we are responsible only to ourselves. The interests of the community are important only insofar as community interests serve my individual needs. Whatever position one holds, the ruling faculty - the mind - will take precedence over the body. Reason, if only at the level of the individual - must reign over simple instinct or emotion. If it did not, I would be "dead". I would be "corrupted" by the body. I would be "playing the hypocrite" if I was rational only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I would be a "beast, herd[ing] and feed[ing] with the rest" on alternate days. Marcus is placing his trust here on the primacy of reason irrespective of philosophical orientation. Of course there is a hidden and cagey agenda here. In maintaining adherence to the primacy of reason, it is not possible to dismiss the importance of community, because it is virtually impossible to rationally justify philosophical atomism. Even within an atomic world view, human beings are dependent on each other for survival - to deny this would be to deny 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.

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