Friday, August 14, 2009

See Sharp - Look and Judge Wisely - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.38

Meditation VIII.38 - See Sharp - Look and Judge Wisely - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

If you can see sharp1, look and judge wisely, says the philosopher.2


(1) This meditation has morphed in popular culture into "look sharp," a widely used advertising slogan targeted toward male grooming products. It survives currently in the UK-Ghanian Hip-Hop rap artist and philosopher Dizzee Rascal's tune "Fix up, Look Sharp."

I've heard the gossip from the street to the slammer,
They're trying to see if Dizzee stays true to his grammer [sic],
Being a celebrity don't mean shit to me ...

Are these Stoic lyrics? They are at least from the point of view of the irrelevance and indifference the Stoic has toward name and reputation. Being an emperor meant nothing to Marcus Aurelius - getting out the word was all that mattered to him.

During the 2008 US Presidential elections Dizzee Rascal described Barack Obama (who I have argued on CBC Radio's Tapestry program, possesses the characteristics of a modern philosopher-king and Stoic) as "an immediate symbol of unity" and explained that hip-hop played an important part in encouraging young voters. Marcus repeatedly reminds us that philosophy is a duty we must all assume. Wisdom is not the preserve of the academic elite.

(2) The philosopher is Socrates. Marcus is likely paraphrasing a maxim widely attributed to Socrates who is generally regarded as the quintessential Stoic: Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially. This quotation is not found in any of Plato's dialogs - the usual source of Socratic wisdom. From a meditation perspective Marcus is reminding us that looking and judging (right inquiry followed by right action) are not really optional life paths. We must all "look and judge wisely." This is our only duty in life. We look at nature. We see her Law. We infer from her Law the rules of engagement in life. We then judge or act rightly in all that we do for the benefit of the universal community. This is virtue. This brings joy and peace. There is no more. This is Stoicism.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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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