“Meditations”, Book 5 – Marcus Aurelius

by richibi

“In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present – I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm? – But this is more pleasant. – Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature? – But it is necessary to take rest also. – It is necessary: however nature has fixed bounds to this too: she has fixed bounds both to eating and drinking, and yet thou goest beyond these bounds, beyond what is sufficient; yet in thy acts it is not so, but thou stoppest short of what thou canst do. So thou lovest not thyself, for if thou didst, thou wouldst love thy nature and her will. But those who love their several arts exhaust themselves in working at them unwashed and without food; but thou valuest thy own own nature less than the turner values the turning art, or the dancer the dancing art, or the lover of money values his money, or the vainglorious man his little glory. And such men, when they have a violent affection to a thing, choose neither to eat nor to sleep rather than to perfect the things which they care for. But are the acts which concern society more vile in thy eyes and less worthy of thy labour?”

Meditations“, Book 5, 1

Marcus Aurelius

___________

though Marcus Aurelius produces
a seemingly logical argument in the
first paragraph of his fifth book of
meditations, his premises are not
air-tight

are we meant to “work”, a notion
already roundly infiltrating Christian
ideology, by the “sweat of its brow”,
as it were, at the time of Marcus
Aurelius, with those roots already in
early Stoicism, with Zeno of Citium,
a good 350 years before Christ

this notion is alive and well, indeed
thriving still, in the Protestant Ethic,
where very salvation is achieved
through labour, a consequence of
the Fall, which is to say, the expulsion
from the Garden of Eden

and Utilitarianism, where effort, which
is to say, work, is required to maximize
happiness, minimize suffering

these are profound pathways based
on faith, not necessarily ineluctable,
Epicureanism, an opposite philosophy,
of savouring the moment, though less
purported, less proclaimed, appears
ever flourishing nevertheless in our
voluptuous 21st Century

Marcus Aurelius brings up another
issue tangentially here, though he
expounds on it in later passages,
that of the primacy of either the
person or the community, a central
question of our times, socialism
versus democracy

he favours community, after Plato,
so, incidentally, does Jesus

these are not easy questions to
answer, what, essentially, are the
conditions required before one
starts to smell the flowers, is
smelling the flowers an abomination
when people are cruelly suffering,
dying

how can I help, should I, and when
do I say no to myself

therefore philosophy

your life, indeed your very next step,
depend on it

cheers

Richard

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