Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Overcoming Temptation - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.41
Meditation VIII.41 - Overcoming Temptation - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Hindrance to the perceptions of sense is an evil to the animal nature.1 Hindrance to the movements (desires) is equally an evil to the animal nature.2 And something else also is equally an impediment and an evil to the constitution of plants.3 So then that which is a hindrance to the intelligence is an evil to the intelligent nature.4 Apply all these things then to yourself. Does pain or sensuous pleasure affect you?5 The senses will look to that.6 - Has any obstacle opposed you in your efforts towards an object? if indeed you were making this effort absolutely (unconditionally, or without any reservation), certainly this obstacle is an evil to you considered as a rational animal.7 But if you take into consideration the usual course of things, you have not yet been injured nor even impeded.8 The things however which are proper to the understanding no other person is used to impede, for neither fire, nor iron, nor tyrant, nor abuse, touches it in any way.9 When it has been made a sphere, it continues a sphere.10
(1) The senses interact with the environment and enable the body to survive.
(2) We desire food and water. We move toward those to satisfy these necessary cravings. Any barrier toward such movement threatens survival and as such is an evil.
(3) Marcus mentions plants because he would be observing nature in all its forms. It is in the nature of a plant to survive and to thrive if possible. Lacking proper water, light or nutrients, a plant will die. As with a plant, we too must live according to nature.
(4) In Stoicism the biggest hindrance to the intelligence is ignorance. Ignorance must be overcome if we are to live according to nature. In ignorance we are destined to loneliness and despair.
(5) The Stoic is indifferent to pain and pleasure. Pleasure or pain ought never affect our capacity for virtue or our happiness.
(6) The senses will inform the physical body and generate the emotional responses required for physical survival.
(7) The obstacle Marcus refers to is ignorance. The object is virtue. If we are unaware of what is required of us in life we are unable to move toward any substantive goals. We are unable to live according to nature because we are unaware of nature's law.
(8) Human beings are immune from injury and cannot be impeded because our true nature is perfect.
(9) These things are physical and the physical can never impede the active laws that govern the soul.
(10) The soul is regarded as spherical (see Meditation XI.12). The allusion to a sphere is metaphorical. The shape was seen as the form of perfection in antiquity.
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.