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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


AURELIUS

(121 — 180)

 

STOICISM

Marcus Aurelius was born in Rome and devoted himself to Stoicism from an early age. He was adopted by Emperor Antoninus whose name he subsequently took and whose daughter he married. Marcus himself became Emperor in 161, but although he was a peace-loving man his reign was marked by natural disasters and the turbulence of wars he was obliged to fight in defence of the Empire.

 

METAPHYSICS/ PSYCHOLOGY

[1] [Meditations (passim.)] According to Aurelius the universe is a divinely ordered material unity. He in fact on the whole talks throughout of 'the gods', but there is an implicit suggestion in his writings of a personal God [a]. He distinguishes within individual man a material body, a material soul (psuche), and a rational soul (reason — nous) [b]. The rational part is the 'controller' (hegemenikon) or guide (daimon), and is a fragment of Reason, which is identical with Nature and emanates from the Divine [c]. He does not seem to accept any personal immortality but says that after death the material soul is reabsorbed into the material world and the rational soul into the Cosmic Reason [d]. All things ultimately disappear into the 'world-conflagration' to be followed by a new cycle [e].

 

ETHICS

[2] It is man's duty to follow his daimon, which reflects the cosmic will [a]. This requires us to love humanity in general and to act altruistically [b]: "Love mankind. Follow God" [Med. 7, 31]. To disobey the daimon is contrary to reason. Evil or sin, says Aurelius, is thus the result of ignorance; man has the capacity and freedom to avoid wickedness [c].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Perhaps the characteristic feature of Aurelius's stoicism is his incorporation of a variety of tendencies into his philosophy. But like other members of the Stoic school he fails to reconcile the contradictions within that system; and indeed his reversion to Platonic solutions would seem to give rise to a tension between his materialist world-view and his fundamental moral and religious impulses. However, as with the philosophies of Seneca and Epictetus (he particularly admired the latter), one can appreciate the positive aspects of the practical ethics towards which the theoretical speculations are ultimately directed and to which they are subordinated.

 

READING

Aurelius: Meditations; Long and Sedley, op. cit., chs 56-67 (Stoic Ethics); The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (trans. A. S. L. Farquharson). There is also a translation in the Loeb Classical Library edition .

General

E. V. Arnold, Roman Stoicism.

T. Brennan, The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties and Fate.

J. M. Rist, Stoic Philosophy.

Study

R. B. Rutherford, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: A Study.

Collections of Articles

B. Inwood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics.

J. M. Rist (ed.), The Stoics.

 

CONNECTIONS

Aurelius

 

[1a] Transcendental personal God and the cosmic reason

   Seneca

   Epictetus

[1a]

[2a]

 

[1b] Body and material and rational souls

   Plato

   Philo

   Seneca

   Epictetus

[9c]

[2a]

[1b]

[2b]

 

[1c] Soul — reason (nous) (the 'daimon') as 'controller'

   Plato

   Seneca

   Epictetus

   Plutarch

Hutcheson

[9a d 11g 13a]

[1b]

[1b 2b]

[2a]

[1d]

 

[1d] Immortality

   Seneca

   Epictetus

[1b]

[2c]

 

[1e] Cosmic conflagration Epictetus [2d]

 

[2a] Duty and divine will; the 'daimon'

   Epictetus

   Plotinus

Hutcheson

[1c]

[2c]

[1d]

 

[2b] Cosmopolitanism/ benevolence

   Seneca

   Epictetus

Hutcheson

[2c]

[1h]

[1d]

 

[2c] Evil and ignorance, and freedom to choose

   Plato

   Seneca

Epictetus

[13a]

[2a]

[1g]