Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Three Stoic Pillars - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.13
Meditation VIII.13 - The Three Stoic Pillars - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Constantly and, if it be possible, on the occasion of every impression on the soul, apply to it the principles of Physics, of Ethics, and of Dialectic.1
(1) The philosophy of Stoicism is founded upon these three pillars: Physics, Ethics and Dialectic or Logic. Stoic Physics taught that the mind takes precedence over the body because the mind or soul is an expression of the perfect and indestructible active principle of matter and is distilled from universal divine Reason or Logos. No other human philosophy was or is so grounded in nature and the properties of the natural world. The New Stoicism discussed in this blog follows this ancient formula and discusses its consequences and relevance when developed and advanced within the framework of modern science.
This startling claim - that the rules of engagement for living can be deduced from the natural world - has never lost its relevance or uniqueness. Modern physics has never undone the intriguing basis for this ancient claim. We no longer refer to the active principle of nature in our era as Logos or endow it with a divine aspect. However, the fields of nature, the gravitational, electromagnetic, and nuclear forces that determine the evolution of matter would not surprise the ancient Stoics. This active agency behaves as if it was an indestructible life force with universal reach and - insofar as these forces are eternal and perfect - they can still be regarded as "divine" within the Stoic understanding of this term.
Dialectic or Logic is the Stoic discipline that shows us how to apply reason in an orderly way. The discipline of Ethics shows us how to apply these principles in moral settings. Marcus is reminding us that Stoic philosophy can never lose sight of its founding principles and is fundamental to the Stoic directive that we "live according to nature" (please also see Meditation VIII.52).
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.