Monday, August 3, 2009
The Virtue of Tolerance - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.43
Meditation VIII.43 - The Virtue of Tolerance - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Different things delight different people.1 But it is my delight to keep the ruling faculty sound without turning away either from any man or woman or from any of the things which happen to men and women, but looking at and receiving all with welcome eyes and using everything according to its value.2
(1) A more contemporary expression might be "different strokes for different folks." This meditation is unusual in this Stoic celebration of tolerance as a virtue (see also Meditation IX.42 on intolerance). With the exception of the Muslim tradition, the listings of the virtues in other philosophical and religious systems rarely include tolerance. The Christian tradition describes the seven virtues (derived from Plato but excluding piety) as: prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and charity. The Muslim virtues are: prayer, repentance, honesty, loyalty, sincerity, frugality, prudence, moderation, self-restraint, discipline, perseverance, patience, hope, dignity, courage, justice, tolerance, wisdom, good speech, respect, purity, courtesy, kindness, gratitude, generosity, contentment, and others. The Hindu tradition includes the virtues of altruism, moderation, honesty, cleanliness, protection (of the Earth), universality, peace, non-violence, and reverence (of elders and teachers). In Buddhism the Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes regarded as a progressive list of virtues: right view, right speech, right intention, right action, right livelihood, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
(2) The Stoic stance on virtue is derived predominantly from the Aristotelian tradition which offers a more flexible approach toward what sorts of actions can be regarded as virtuous. Aristotle defined a virtue as a mean between two extremes - each extreme being a vice. Courage, for example, would be the mean between cowardice at one extreme and rashness at the other. The virtue of tolerance in this formulation would be regarded as the mean between the vices of "narrow-mindedness" (at one extreme) and being "soft-headed" (at the other extreme). This approach allows a less rigid or dogmatic approach toward virtue. Those actions that can be considered virtuous may differ in differing times or cultural contexts. This does not mean virtue is culturally relative but the conditions within a culture can determine what situations will allow virtue to be displayed. Understanding these cultural forces is what tolerance requires. In other words we need to be aware of the "hot button" issues that can give rise to perceptions of intolerance in a given cultural milieu. For example in some cultures the wearing (or not wearing) of a certain color or garment may be considered extremely provocative. Therefore to deliberately dishonor that cultural tradition would be considered rash and provocative and intolerant (although wearing that garment or color in our own cultural traditions would be a matter of indifference). The Stoic has a universal and cosmopolitan duty to embrace these sensitivities to the best of his ability.
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.