Sunday, October 25, 2009
What is this Thing? - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.11
Meditation VIII.11 - What is this Thing? - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature (or form)? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?1
(1) Scientific inquiry is central to the method of Stoic philosophy. The goal of Stoicism is to uncover the nature of "thing[s]" with respect to their particular constitution (or material composition), their temporal properties (that is how long they will exist and how they will decay). Ultimately however Stoicism focuses on studying nature for its moral implications (we are, after all, expected to live "according to nature"). Modern science - influenced by the salesmanship of Rene Descartes from his highly influential 17th century Discourse on Method - has abandoned these higher aspirations of inquiry for the so-called "betterment of man's estate" and has since restricted its activity to material and efficient causality or the harnessing of science for its technological possibilities. Stoics are fundamentally and primarily interested in the so-called teleological nature of things. What purpose does this "thing" have in nature? The essential Stoic method was formulated first by Aristotle (see also Meditation XII.18 and XII.29) - and is a far more comprehensive task than modern science generally attempts in its approach to nature.
ussell 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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.