Marcus Aurelius was made joint Emperor of Rome in 161. He belonged to the Stoic school of thought. He died on campaign in 180 and was succeeded by his son Commodus, who is recorded to have been bloodthirsty and power hungry. Commodus' succession is considered the point at which 'Pax Romana' failed.

Marcus Aurelius kept a philosophical diary that was not intended for publication and seems to be "the paradigm of the stoic sage"(p 86 of text)- however, he never explicitly declared himself Marcus_aurelius_bust.jpga stoic, and it is likely that he incorporated elements of other schools of thought into his world-view.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
MSN Encarta

Summary of reading

The readings clearly reflect Marcus Aurelius' subordination to the most influential philosophy of the day, namely, Stoicism ("Stoics were convinced that the universe was an ordered whole, amenable to rational explanation and proceeded so to explain it" (Brown et al., p. 28)). In this regard, humans "will act in ways wholly congruent with human rationality at its best" (ibid.).

From "Meditations", Book 2, 17
According to Marcus Aurelius, life is short and hard, and the only thing that can help us along our way is philosophy (p. 86 in Brown et al.). He states that “This consists in keeping the ‘divine’ genius within pure and unwronged, lord of all pleasures and pains, doing nothing aimlessly or with deliberate falsehood and hypocrisy, independent of another’s action or inaction; and furthermore welcoming what happens and is allotted, as issuing from the same source, whatever it be, from which the man himself has issued; and above all waiting for death with a good grace as being but a setting free of the elements of which every thing living is made up.” (pp. 86-87). Change is by way of nature (i.e., is natural), “and in the way of Nature there can be no evil.” (p. 87).

From "Meditations", Book 6, 36 and 44
The source of all things is the “ruling Reason of the Universe” (p. 87 in Brown et al.). What is of advantage to the city/country and the world is also good for man (ibid.).

From "Meditations", Book 9, 1 and 9
Injustice is impiety (p. 88 in Brown et al.).

“[A]mong rational creatures are found political communities and friendships and households and gatherings, and in wars treaties and armistices.” (p. 89).

(Summarize the reading discussed in the course, and add relevant links to other pages or to external sources)
Online text: Meditations, MIT Classics Archive. (Book 2.17; 6.36 and 34; 9.1, 9.9; and 12.36)

Study Questions

(Add, answer, and discuss study questions for this author and reading)
  • What does "nature" suggest our attitude should be towards life, according to the Meditations?
Marcus Aurelius suggests that we, 'go with the flow' of life. Our body is like a river, our soul like a vapour and life is short and full of warfare. Nature is forever changing and we must learn to accept that.
  • Is the universe ordered? What does the order of the universe imply for us?
From reading Meditations it is clear that Marcus Aurelius believes the universe is ordered. It is the belief of Aurelius that "all things come from that one source, from the ruling reason of the Universe, either under a primary impulse from it or by way of consequence" (6.36). Whether good or bad, everything in the Universe comes from this source. Everything in the Universe is connected and "all things happen neutrally in a chain of sequence to things that come into being" (9.1).
  • What does it mean to live in accordance with nature? Does living in accordance with nature mean that we can follow our every desire, according to Marcus Aurelius?
Marcus Aurelius seems to point to neutrality as the basis of living in accordance with nature. This means following the universe's neutrality with regard to all things, such as pain, pleasure, death and life etc. To live in accordance with nature the individual must remain in tune with the nature of the universe. For example the willing or unwilling liar has acted impiously and out of tune because he has neglected to use the means endowed by nature to distinguish truth from false.
He also makes it clear that those who seek pleasure and avoid pain are acting impiously due to the mere fact that both are necessary in the world. Thus to pursue pleasure is not in accordance with nature and according to Marcus Aurelius will lead to injustice.
  • What communities are important to Marcus Aurelius?

External Resources

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