Wednesday, February 8, 2012
What is badness? - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.01
Meditation VII.01 - What is badness? - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
What is badness?(1) It is that which you have often seen. And on the occasion of everything which happens keep this in mind, that it is that which you have often seen. Everywhere up and down you will find the same things, with which the old histories are filled, those of the middle ages(2) and those of our own day; with which cities and houses are filled now. There is nothing new: all things are both familiar and short-lived.(3)
(1) Marcus uses the words "badness," "evil," and "vice" interchangeably.
(2) In Marcus' time the Greek "Middle Ages" (a term that has since gone out of use) refers to the period from around 1200 BCE to around 800 BCE. It's useful to recall that Marcus is writing these meditations c. 175 CE which is nearly a thousand years after the close of those middle ages. This interval of time is comparable to our own remoteness from the middle ages we refer to in modern times (c. 1000-1300 CE).
(3) The problem of good and evil has always been central to philosophy. The Stoic resolution derives from the Platonic assertion that evil is nothing more than the absence of good. The good is in us from birth, because in the Stoic scheme our inherent human nature is derived from the ultimate source of all that is good, which is the Universal Intelligence or Law of Nature. Since this good is perfect in all respects, it is therefore divine - as is our active nature - our soul. The soul compels and draws us to all else that is good in the universe because we seek union with the perfection, beauty, and knowledge encapsulated by the Universal Intelligence, or Logos. Those who fail to move toward the unity of Nature - or, alternatively, remain transfixed on the animal side of our dual nature - do so because they do not see what is before them. Their judgement is occluded by the self-serving impulses of animal survival. those impulses are not bad in and of themselves. They are necessary for survival. What is bad in Stoic terms is to prioritize the animal over the divine. In other words, that which requires a fundamental attitude of indifference becomes the overriding reason for existence. To a Stoic these behaviours are easy to recognize. They manifest in the actions of those who place pleasure, power, and reputation before the first requirement of any Stoic: to serve the impulse of the soul, or to act with virtue. The Stoic has no real difficulty in doing this because it is the service of this impulse that brings peace and serenity to life - and is in truth our only reason for existence.
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.