Thursday, August 13, 2009

Anticipating Cartesian Dualism - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.40

Meditation VIII.40 - Anticipating Cartesian Dualism - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

If you take away your opinion about that which appears to give you pain, you yourself stand in perfect security.1 - Who is this self?2 - The reason. - But I am not reason.- Be it so.3 Let then the reason itself not trouble itself. But if any other part of you suffers, let it have its own opinion about itself.4


(1) This fascinating meditation appears to anticipate Cartesian dualism. The dualism attributed to RenĂ© Descartes (1596–1650) held the mind as a nonphysical substance. Descartes identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness as distinguished from the brain, the seat of intelligence. Stoicism is somewhat similar, but the mind in Stoicism is certainly material and physical (but without mass or shape) and is identified with the forces and fields of physics. The brain in Stoicism would be the stage on which the activity of the mind plays out the drama of our existence. In his Meditation VI from the Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes famously says: "I have a clear and distinct idea of myself as a thinking, non-extended thing, and a clear and distinct idea of body as an extended and non-thinking thing. Whatever I can conceive clearly and distinctly, God can so create." Cartesian dualism is criticized because of what has been called the "problem of interactionism" - how can an immaterial mind cause anything in a material body, and vice-versa? Stoicism would respond that the mind is material. Stoic dualism allows rational beings to "stand in perfect security" because it is the mind that defines us. The body (including the brain) is the theater - of the mind. But this mind is impervious to destruction. We can certainly destroy the theater, but the play will live on - just as our thoughts, memes, and good works will live on in those who we have influenced in our lives.

(2) Marcus stages an imaginary conversation here between the reader and himself. The question here about the self is reminiscent of the classic doubting methodology of Descartes.

(3) Marcus identifies the self with reason, or mind - just as Descartes did fifteen hundred years later with his "Cogito ergo sum" (I am thinking, therefore I exist). But Marcus, in his version of this question, strangely allows you - the reader - to conclude otherwise: "Be it so." In other words he allows you to identify the self with the body.

(4) In his concluding comment Marcus leaves reason separate from the body and even if you do not identify yourself with reason, he allows the reason to remain tranquil by commanding us to allow suffering - in whatever form it presents itself - to remain seated in the part that suffers.

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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