Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Death is Annihilation or Change - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.32
Meditation VII.32 - Death is Annihilation or Change - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
About death: Whether it is a dispersion, or a resolution into atoms, or annihilation, it is either extinction or change.(1)
(1) In contrast with the ancient atomic school, Stoic physics allied itself generally with the Aristotelian non-atomic view in which matter was considered infinitely divisible. Nevertheless Marcus recognizes here that the question was unsettled (indeed it remained so until modern times). Stoics do not presume an afterlife. Human self-consciousness ceases to be at death. Nonetheless the active and invulnerable aspect of human nature - the Logos in us - does survive death because it in effect returns to the universal nature from which it was derived. This is really a statement of the law of conservation of energy since that active aspect of our aware existence is a material substance pneuma - a substance which a modern Stoic would identify with the forces and fields of modern physics. There is no question that the physical body ceases to exist at death. "Extinction or change" refers to the unknown destiny at death of the active conscious Logos in us - the "soul". At death the soul either ceases to be and merges with the universal, or the soul changes - that is it somehow retains a conscious awareness as it transforms into another self. Marcus does not know, and really does not care since the self is no longer extant: our life is over and the purpose of our existence complete. What happens to the "soul" after that is really a religious question and not in the domain of the philosophy of Stoicism because it cannot be resolved observationally or through rational argument.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.