Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The Satisfaction of Natural Urges - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.02
Meditation X.02 - The Satisfaction of Natural Urges - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Observe what your nature requires, so far as you are governed by nature only: then do it and accept it, if your nature, so far as you are a living being, shall not be made worse by it. And next you must observe what your nature requires so far as you are a living being. And all this you may allow yourself, if your nature, so far as you are a rational animal, shall not be made worse by it.1 But the rational animal is consequently also a political (social) animal. Use these rules, then, and trouble yourself about nothing else.2
(1) In both parts of this meditation we are asked to observe what our "nature" requires or urges. The first instance is a direct appeal to our animal nature. For example, if we are hungry we should eat - unless the food we eat is bad for us - in that case eating bad food would make us worse. The second instance implies that as human beings endowed with reason we will always have some moral choice regarding the satisfaction of our natural requirements or urges. In this second case if eating required that we steal food from a child, we would be made morally worse by that act. This second distinction might be lost on animals because they do not have the power of reason.
(2) The political or social principle is paramount in Stoic philosophy. We are responsible for the welfare of others. In fact, the welfare of the community trumps the welfare of the individual. From a strict Stoic perspective, if eating food would cause the demise of anyone in the community, we ought to first ensure (within reason) that the needs of others were met before our own.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.