Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Stoic Teleology - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.05
Meditation X.05 - Stoic Teleology - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Whatever may happen to you, it was prepared for you from all eternity; and the implication of causes was from eternity spinning the thread of your being, and of that which is incident to it.1
(1) Stoicism is a teleological philosophy modeled on nature and perfect natural Law. This Law guides the development of the universe with all it contains and all of its changes. There was in the old Stoicism a fatalism with regard to what human beings are, what talents we possess, and what we eventually become. These facts of existence are predetermined by nature. What was never predetermined by nature was our attitude toward these realities. As human beings we are free to accept or reject our status in nature. We have free will (please also see Meditation XI.36). We can choose to be guided by our animal sensibilities, or guided by the sensibility of nature, or more specifically the world-soul (macrocosm) from which the soul of each human being (microcosm) is an emanation. What is not predetermined in Stoicism is our reaction, attitude, or opinion about the spun thread of our being. We are free to embrace our destiny, by living in accord with the Law, or we may reject our destiny by living in opposition to the Law. But living in opposition to the Law has no material effect upon nature, other than to alter our state of being. In the first case we are happy; in the second we are alienated from nature and unhappy. The model advanced by the early Stoics was based upon the strict material causality that nature appeared to follow in the ancient world (and right on down to the 20th century). It is important to appreciate however that there has always been a degree of tentativeness in Stoicism. Our moral guidelines are modeled on the Law of nature. But our understanding of this Law was never perfect - although the Law itself is perfect. Modern understanding of natural Law has shifted fundamentally since ancient times. The strict determinism of the early Stoics was based on the perceived determinism of nature. We live today in a universe regulated by probability and indeterminism. The New Stoicism is not strictly new, insofar as Stoicism has always been flexible. While the indeterminacy of nature as understood today has removed the strict fatalism of the early Stoics, it has not removed from Stoicism its moral basis. The strict material details of the evolution of our physical lives may be less predictable than the early Stoics presumed, but the important details of our existence remain unchanged. We are born. We come from nature. We die, and we return to nature. Our duty remains - as always - to conform to Law, or to reject the Law.
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.