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Category: Marcus Aurelius

“Meditations”, Book 5 – Marcus Aurelius

“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

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,

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



“Meditations“, Book 4 – Marcus Aurelius

“How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his
neighbour says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself,
that it may be just and pure; or as Agathon says, look not round at
the depraved morals of others, but run straight along the line
without deviating from it.”

Meditations“, Book 4, 18

Marcus Aurelius


having given the sciences their theoretical
foundations, philosophy, overtaken by facts,
theorems and numbers, impermeable verities
based on rigorous calculations and verifiable
experimentations, feared ceding its austere
position at the head of progressive thought
and ground its studies in more rationally
impregnable pursuits, empiricism overtook
speculation, morality became merely a
subtext instead of the existential quest
it had earlier informed

it has never recovered, though the
importance of the question of good
and evil has never subsided

towards what do we aspire, how do we
accord that with our environment, be it
social, political, natural

it is not a bad thing to consider our
priorities, otherwise we are merely
wisps, I would think, of undifferentiated
dust in the wind, dust having returned
inexorably to untransubstantiated

therefore Marcus Aurelius


“Meditations”, Book 3 – Marcus Aurelius‏

“If thou workest at that which is before thee, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract thee, but keeping thy divine part pure, as if thou shouldst be bound to give it back immediately; if thou holdest to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which thou utterest, thou wilt live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.”

Meditations“, Book 3, 12

Marcus Aurelius


the idea of the virtuous man, or the
interpretation of Marcus Aurelius of
such a person, goes back of course to
Socrates by way of Plato, 427 – 347
B.C., who’s ideal was primarily
political, what to achieve within a
political order, rather than a private
meditation, an advice rather than
a contemplation as in Marcus
Aurelius, 121 – 180 A.D., 550,
not inconsequential, years later

other moral perspectives meanwhile
applied, Epicureanism, for instance,
notably, after which the stranglehold
of Christianity produced not philosophy
but dogma, for a subservient and,
biblically labeled, fallen people,
nearly fifteen hundred years spent
trying to figure out how many angels
fit through the eye of a needle,
essentially, how many irrationalities
could prove the existence, and
authority, of a mandated God

René Descartes inadvertently in this
very quest, but not before 1637, put
an end to that, introduced a new, and
revolutionary, perspective, I think,
therefore I am
which put the individual
instead of the Church in the driver’s seat,
this, if it didn’t bring on the Renaissance,
at least gave it a significant push

but because of his famous scientific
, studies afterwards in what
we now know as the humanities
became more empirical than
specifically moral, how do we
perceive rather than how do we live
according to what is right or wrong,
Nietzsche‘s Beyond Good and Evil“,
1886, reoriented that investigation,
as it happened, ominously, in an age
where any kind of god had become
irrelevant, Beethoven would be
transformed into a Hitler, an
uncomfortably fateful Übermensch,

now philosophy is concerned with
language, what do we mean when
we say what do we mean, and can
anybody understand that

our closest moralist, our modern day
Marcus Aurelius, is at present Miss
, whom I wholeheartedly

as well as, of course, Marcus Aurelius


psst: Miss Manners‘ question and answer
format, incidentally, is not at all unlike
what Plato does in his Socratic dialogues
she just has a larger, more flip audience

Meditations, Book 2 – Marcus Aurelius‏

“Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”

Meditations“, Book 2, 1

Marcus Aurelius


Marcus Aurelius was an emperor, he ruled
Rome for just under 20 years, from 161 to
180 A.D., a highly unlikely fount of
philosophical inspiration, do potentates
think this way, for instance, nowadays

meanwhile the advice above is not a
bad way to start any day, I think, even
for impotentates



psst: “Remember that all is opinion.”,
Book 2, paragraph 15, also one of my
favourite ruminations

for all I‘m apparently therefore worth

Meditations, Book l – Marcus Aurelius‏

“From Rusticus I received the impression that my character required improvement and discipline; and from him I learned not to be led astray to sophistic emulation, nor to writing on speculative matters, nor to delivering little hortatory orations, nor to showing myself off as a man who practises much discipline, or does benevolent acts in order to make a display; and to abstain from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing; and not to walk about in the house in my outdoor dress, nor to do other things of the kind; and to write my letters with simplicity, like the letter which Rusticus wrote from Sinuessa to my mother; and with respect to those who have offended me by words, or done me wrong, to be easily disposed to be pacified and reconciled, as soon as they have shown a readiness to be reconciled; and to read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book; nor hastily to give my assent to those who talk overmuch; and I am indebted to him for being acquainted with the discourses of Epictetus, which he communicated to me out of his own collection.”

Meditations, Book l, 7

Marcus Aurelius


recently a website caught my attention
with news of a shared interest in things
of, to my mind, significance, a guide to
a moral life

Marcus Aurelius, an emperor, 121 – 180
A.D., along with Epictetus, 55 -135 A.D.,
a slave, are probably the only two
philosophers we know today specifically
devoted to that profoundly noble

the juxtaposition of states here, from
the imperial to the abject, is instructive,
if not even inspiring

both from their divergent positions
proposed a considered life, of probity
and tolerance, what more do we
need of philosophy, fundamentally,
than that

above is an excerpt from Book l, others
will follow


psst: I found it hard not to imagine here
Laertes responding to Polonius in
“Hamlet”, Act l, scene l, lines 55 – 80,
nor Rudyard Kipling’s son responding
to his father’s poem, “If“, with its
famous, indeed timeless, exhortation,
“… you’ll be a Man, my son!”

daughters should also participate