Thursday, April 1, 2010
Think Before you Act - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.37
Meditation VII.37 - Think Before you Act - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
It is a base thing for the countenance to be obedient and to regulate and compose itself as the mind commands,(1) and for the mind not to be regulated and composed by itself.(2)
(1) Marcus draws sharp distinctions between the mind and the body. Insofar as we are human beings the Stoic will always regard bodily demands with relative indifference. Our divine essence resides in the mind and the mind ought never be under the control of the body which is implicit here as being something "base." In this meditation Marcus alludes to an emotional sensation originating in the body. The mind processes the emotion and commands the body to respond to an emotional trigger with immediate and unmediated obedience. This will be the case for those whose lives are driven exclusively by the pursuit of pleasure or power and the avoidance of pain. This of course is how our animal nature works - but human beings are endowed with reason. And while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with our animal nature, our full nature requires mediation from the mind, the seat of reason.
(2) The meditation does not suggest that the mind should not command the body - of course it should. But for the Stoic those commands will be issued only if it is right to do so. But it is never right to react to a physical demand instinctively. We need to process every emotional demand in order to insure that our actions are never dishonest, or overtly driven by passion, or thoughtless, or done from anger, or cause harm to others. If any action - which is mirrored in the countenance - falls into any of these five categories, we are not responding as a human being should. To be fully human we need to act in a measured manner, that is by following the dictates of reason and the guidance of conscience. To react otherwise is to live contrary to our human nature. But to be Stoic we must always live according to nature - whatever the cost to our animal nature.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.