Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The Cozy Hearth - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.74
Meditation VII.74 - The Cozy Hearth - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
No person is tired of receiving what is useful.1 But it is useful to act according to nature. Do not then be tired of receiving what is useful by doing it to others.2
(1) In strict philosophical terms the sorts of things we generally describe as "useful" will not be so designated by a Stoic. In Stoicism something is useful only if it is according to nature. This would rule out any actions by others that might increase our personal wealth, pleasure, power or fame. Curiously it would also rule out actions that were designed to alleviate pain. This does not mean that those actions are wrong or inconsiderate or should not be performed. A Stoic would disallow such actions only if they hindered our capacity to act with virtue. The specific circumstances of each situation needs to be examined to make that call. For example, it might be useful for me to expend more energy during the winter in order to feel more comfortable. But if doing so increases carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to global warming, the world is not a better place. More specifically however living more comfortably could also be a disincentive to leaving my cozy hearth to do difficult things for others. On the other hand if living more comfortably does no harm nor prevents me from doing the right things, the Stoic attitude would be one of indifference, because the choice to have more creature comfort neither encourages nor discourages right behavior.
(2) To receive something that is truly useful is equivalent to remaining open to the kindnesses and good intentions of others who themselves may be trying to act rightly toward you. These would include any of those sorts of things that we might normally call "loving." They will also include corrective actions - given or received - that are intended to direct people away from behaviors that are not according to nature. Using the environmental example above, we should not be insulted if a friend were to inform us that our methods for keeping ourselves warmer were environmentally unfriendly. Alternatively, a Stoic should not be shy about tactfully and diplomatically pointing these sorts of things out to others.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.