Monday, May 23, 2011

Do the Right Thing - for the Right Reason - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.13

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Meditation VII.13 - Do the Right Thing - for the Right Reason - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

Just as it is with the members in those bodies which are united in one,(1) so it is with rational beings which exist separate, for they have been constituted for one co-operation.(2) And the perception of this will be more apparent to you, if you often say to yourself that you are a member (melos(3)(4)) of the system of rational beings.(5) But if (using the letter r(6)) you say that you are a part (meros(7)(8)) you do not yet love others from your heart;(9) beneficence does not yet delight you for its own sake;(10) you still do it – but just barely - as a thing of propriety,(11) and not yet as doing good to yourself.(12)


(1) Marcus is simply referring to the various combinations of constituent bodies that define organizations, political assemblies, churches, clubs, etc.

(2) The social demand is central to all Stoic teaching and one of the five fundamental so-called "commandments of Stoicism." The inference that human beings are inherently social (and altruistic) is based on the observations of various biological and physical affinities in nature. These affinities are therefore regarded as part of the Law of Nature. To be happy we must of necessity align ourselves with this (and other) laws - all of which are inferred from a close and intelligent study and interpretation of nature.

(3) The Greek word melos or μέλος means a member or essential component - such as a limb - of the human body.

(4) The word melos is also used in parenthesis in the original text.

(5) The locus of reason in human beings is in the mind or active aspect of nature. All human beings are connected through their genesis in Logos, the source of all reason.

(6) This is a playful exercise in etymology. The words melos and meros differ in one letter only. The letter l is exchanged with the letter r. In the original Greek (although he naturally spoke Latin Marcus wrote his Meditations in Greek) the letter λ (lamda) becomes the Greek letter ρ (rho).

(7) The Greek word meros or μέρος means one of the constituent parts of a whole. The nuance intended here is that the part meros is regarded as discreet or in some way not bound to the whole. The distinction between melos and meros also reflects on ongoing philosophical dispute around the nature of physical matter. The Stoics argued that matter was infinitely divisible - a distinction disputed by the earlier Greek atomists who argued that matter consisted of discrete particles or atoms. Modern physics established that the Stoics were wrong in this regard. The distinction was considered important to the Stoics because if matter was indeed atomic, so too it might be inferred that human beings were not also inherently connected to one another - as Stoic philosophy requires. Although the Stoics were mistaken about the atomic nature of matter, it can effectively be argued that the connections between atoms are mediated (as we now know) by fundamental forces or fields - the so called five forces of nature. These forces or fields are identified in the New Stoicism with the active principle of Nature or Logos which is also identified in Stoicism with intelligence or reason.

(8) The word meros is also used in parenthesis in the original text.

(9) You do not "love others from your heart" because you regard yourself as disconnected from the whole - as an atom can be disconnected from the whole.

(10) To love others from your heart would require "beneficence," a virtue. A Stoic would do this naturally because he understands that we are all bound through reason or Logos. To do otherwise would be to live in opposition to what our nature commands. Acting virtuously comes naturally and effortlessly to a Stoic. To live selfishly would be to live in isolation from human community and an evil and a source of intellectual and emotional dis-ease.

(11) Those who go through the motions of living for the community do so because they do not understand the Law of Nature. These people are obeying the instinctive call of their animal or lower nature. They may behave as if they were acting in the best interests of the community, but are doing so only for the sake of propriety, or appearances.

(12) Actions designed for self aggrandizement may confer temporary pleasure but ultimately will be self-defeating and a source of unhappiness.

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.

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