Monday, July 26, 2010
Death is No Evil - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.35
Meditation VII.35 - Death is No Evil - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
From Plato:(1) The man or woman who has an elevated mind and takes a view of all time and of all substance, do you suppose it possible for them to think that human life is anything great?(2) It is certainly not possible, he said.(3) Such a person then will think that death also is no evil.(4)
(1) The Stoic tradition is not so much an alternate way of seeing the world, as it is a practical interpretation of the philosophical tradition initiated by Socrates and developed by Plato. Stoicism brings these ideas into the world of the living by demonstrating what it is we ought to do to live a fulfilling life. And what we ought to do to be happy, is to follow the natural moral guidelines that devolve from a close examination of the natural world. These are in a nutshell: 1) we are social animals with a highly developed rational capacity; 2) this rational capacity connects all rational beings in the universe because it is a manifestation of the operation of physical Laws operating upon the neural network encapsulated within our physical bodies; 3) these physical laws are real and measurable yet immutable and impossible to change - thus perfect; 4) humans at the level of reason are thus perfect and invincible.
(2) This is a typically Stoic perspective. In the grand scheme of Stoic cosmology - something the "elevated mind" will apprehend - human life is brief and insignificant (see also Meditation X.31 - The Blazing Fire of Stoicism). This is not meant to imply that human life is unimportant. The core nature of a human being is in fact invincible, because our nature is linked to, and derived from the universal nature Logos. We are in Logos in life, and we return to Logos at death. In this sense we do live forever; but, the distinction between the Christian and Stoic schemes is important - in Stoicism we do not retain a sense of self after death. Our appreciation of the universality of this truth requires profound humility (see also Meditation X.34 - Invincibility through Humility).
(3), (4) The "he" Marcus refers to is Socrates, and this is likely a paraphrase of a reference to Socrates' own impending death in Plato's Apology: "No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death."
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.