Sunday, December 20, 2009
Work - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.53
Meditation VII.53 - Work - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Where any work can be done conformably to the reason which is common to gods and human beings,(1) there we have nothing to fear: for where we are able to get profit by means of the activity which is successful and proceeds according to our constitution, there no harm is to be suspected.(2)
(1) Several meditations reflect on the work or labor that human beings do. In each of these (see Meditation VI.33 on p. 177 in the book), Marcus reminds us that work is natural and fitting, and is according to nature if the work conforms with reason. Work conforms with reason if it does not oppose the human project - which is to contribute to the well being of the community. Work that exploits human beings (including the worker) would naturally be excluded. Work that causes environmental degradation would also be excluded because it opposes natural law. So too would work that involved the provision of services or the manufacture of products that damage physical or emotional health.
(2) Stoicism does not expect human beings to flee the world. Living in the world requires that we work in societies, and that we engage in productive enterprise. The caveat here it that the work we do should proceed "according to our constitution." We are constituted as human beings. Human beings are not horses, or meant to be slaves, or designed to do work that degrades or diminishes or disenfranchises our human status. Such is the case in any work in which we are unable (or forbidden) to use our primary faculty of reason. This is no way meant to imply elitism. For example simple manual labor can be very productive and satisfying, if the worker's talent can be honed through experience, and if the manner of work is open to improvement and refinement. The Stoic would oppose any work that is purely mechanical, offers no opportunity for improvement, and might readily be better done by a machine.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.