Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

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A series of short audio commentaries on one of the classic texts of Stoicism, The emperor Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

I.1, I.3 & I.6: Marcus Aurelius is thankful to his grandfather and his mother.

I.7 & I.9: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that it is a strange thing to get offended by what people say or do.

I.12 & I.13: Marcus reminds us that we have duties toward the people we live with, and how to be positive about our friends.

II.1: Marcus is summarizing here some of the most important concepts of Stoicism, especially why we should pity, and not get upset with, people when they make mistakes.

II.4 & II.5: Marcus reminds us that our life is short, and that we don’t really know what day will be our last. So why not use our time in the best possible way?

II.8: Marcus tells us that it’s too easy and unnecessary to worry about other people’s thoughts. It is far more difficult, but useful, to worry about our own.

II.11: Marcus Aurelius introduces us to the apparently paradoxical notion that life, death, honor, dishonor, pleasure and pain are neither good nor bad.

II.12 & II.14: Marcus Aurelius thinks that it’s good to keep things in perspective, and that we only control the here and now.

II.17: Marcus Aurelius talks about how we should keep our “daimon,” i.e., our deliberating faculty, or our conscience.

III.3: Marcus Aurelius lists a number of important people who are no more, as a reminder of the impermanence of things, and to help us keep what happens to us in perspective.

III.3: Marcus Aurelius sounds agnostic about the after life. He also seems to think it doesn’t matter.

III.4: Marcus Aurelius tells us to ignore the opinion that others have of us, and to focus our energy instead on positive projects.

III.4: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that to care for all people is according to (human) nature.

III.5: Marcus Aurelius says that we need to stand erect of our own accord, not wait to be propped up by others.

III.6: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that we need to work for the public good, not pursue power, fame, or pleasure.

III.7: The emperor-philosopher tells us that there is no profit for our character in doing things that require lying, being hypocritical, or otherwise damage our integrity.

III.10: Marcus Aurelius engages in a view from above meditation, reminding himself that the quest for fame is just plain irrational.

IV.3: Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that he can always retreat into what Pierre Hadot famously referred to as the Inner Citadel, our own mind, where we can pay attention to and refine our faculty of judgment.

IV.3: Marcus Aurelius reminds us of one of the most difficult, and yet most profound, doctrines of Stoicism: nobody commits wrongs on purpose, but only because they lack understanding of good and evil.

IV.3: Marcus reminds us that the number of Facebook likes we get is irrelevant to our happiness.

IV.3: Marcus Aurelius here sounds like a Sophist, or a post-modern relativist. But he is a Stoic, so his message is a little more subtle than that.

IV.4: Marcus Aurelius articulates a series of if…then statements that argue that we are all members of a community of reasoners, and that reason dictates that we be helpful to such community.

IV.7: Marcus Aurelius says that there is a difference between objective facts and our opinions of them. And much of our misery comes from the opinions, not the facts.

IV.12: Marcus Aurelius reminds himself to use his faculty of judgment at its best, which includes changing his mind, should others have better reasons than his own.

IV.13: Marcus Aurelius asks himself the rethorical question of whether he has reason, and then the less obvious one of why he is not making good use of it. What about you?

IV.17: Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that his life is finite and brief. How to live it, then? As a good person would, which is in his power to do.

IV.19: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that fame is ephemeral and intrinsically meaningless. What we do for others and to improve ourselves here and now is what really counts.

IV.20: On the day of Marcus Aurelius’ birthday, April 26, let’s reflect on a simple Stoic precept: good or bad lie in actions, thoughts, and words, not in the praise or blame that those things get from others.

IV.22: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that justice is a crucial virtue in Stoicism, and we need to constantly keep it at the forefront. He also says that we need to evaluate our impressions of things, before acting. Don’t just do it, stop and think about it first!

IV.24: Marcus says that we have a duty to do what a social animal capable of reason ought to do. And that’s to practice virtue for the betterment of humankind.

V.31: Marcus writes near the end of his life about the sort of things he did that he values, from discounting honors and other externals to having been kind even toward people who were not kind to him.

V.34: Marcus Aurelius maintains that if we think and act the right way our life will be an equable flow of happiness. This is because we will do our best, but look at outcomes with equanimity.

VI.2: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that whether we are cold or warm, ill-spoken of or praised, and dead or “doing something else,” we still have a duty to make this a better world.

VI.11: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that all sorts of things will disturb our rational soul, and that we therefore need to practice re-centering it in order to respond to situations with reason and equanimity.

VI.16: Marcus Aurelius reflects on what is worth doing, and decides that it’s not seeking fame, but rather being helpful to fellow human beings.

VI.18: Marcus Aurelius observes that some people are obsessed with what posterity will think of them, even though they have no idea what sort of individuals will make that judgment. Meanwhile, how about taking care of those we know here and now?

VI.20: Marcus Aurelius suggests we think of others as partners at the gym: don’t hate or hold grudges against them, think of them as opportunities to improve your virtue.

VI.21:Marcus Aurelius reminds himself of something that modern politicians need to pay attention to: if someone shows you that you are in error, the right thing to do is to admit it and learn from the other.

VI.24: Marcus Aurelius reflects on what happens to us when we die: either we are absorbed in the seminal principle of the universe, or we become atoms scattered in the void. Either way, we still need to behave decently toward other human beings.

VI.27: Marcus Aurelius says that people make mistakes because they don’t know better. So there is no point in getting self-rigtheous and angry about it, instead we need to teach them where they go wrong.

VI.44: Marcus Aurelius recognizes that, as Antoninus, he is a citizen of Rome. But more fundamentally, he is a citizen of the human cosmopolis. Some pretty radical consequences immediately follow…

VI.47: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that Stoicism is both self forgiving and forgiving of others, and that while we should take the path of truth and justice, we should also be tolerant of people who are even further from wisdom and are gooing the wrong way.

VI.48: Marcus Aurelius suggests some simple therapy for our troubled souls: pause and observe some good things done by people around you. Appreciate what they are doing. And use it as an inspiration for becoming better yourself.

VI.51: Marcus provides us three options for what sort of thing is truly good for you, and argues that a person of understanding will go for the third one. Have you reflected on what is good for you, and why?

VI.52: Life is hard as it is, says Marcus Aurelius, there is no need to make ourselves more miserable by adding unnecessary opinions that increase our suffering.

VI.53: Marcus Aurelius gives some commonsensical advice on how to interact with other people, which leads us to a brief discussion of what counts as “Stoic” advice in the first place.

VII.5: Marcus Aurelius talks about being helpful to society. And yet he was an emperor who waged war and presided over slavery. How do we reconcile his actions with his Stoicism? At least in three ways, explored in this episode.

VII.11: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that there is no difference between acting according to nature and according to reason. What did he mean?

VII.15: Marcus tells us that, regardless of how people around us behave, we should keep following our moral compass, just like an emerald keeps its color regardless of what others are doing.

VII.18: Marcus Aurelius reflects on the famous concept the Stoics inherited from the pre-Socratic Heraclitus: panta rhei, everything changes. What would happen if we took this seriously, in our everyday life?

VII.22: Marcus Aurelius says that other people do wrong out of lack of wisdom, and so do we, which means we should be forgiving toward others. Besides, life is short, and others can’t harm the most important thing: our faculty of judgment.

VII.26: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that people do and say things not because they are evil, but because they are mistaken. The proper response, then, is education and pity, not hatred.

VII.27: Marcus Aurelius reminds himself to be grateful for the things he has, which he would long for if he didn’t have them. At the same time, everything is impermanent, so we should be prepared for our losses.

VII.32: Marcus Aurelius contemplates whether death is a resolution of atoms or a final annihilation. He doesn’t seem bothered by either possibility.

VII.33: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that, when we need to regain serenity, we may retreat into ourselves and recharge our batteries. In this episode, learn about the ruling faculty and its neural correlates.

VII.46: Marcus Aurelius takes for granted that death is a natural and unavoidable end. The real question is what you are going to do between now and then.

VII.49: Marcus says that once we have observed human affairs for 40 years, it’s the same as having observed them for 10,000 years. Surely he is wrong? Not necessarily…

VII.58: A quote from Marcus Aurelius sounds a lot like what Ayn Rand would say. But it couldn’t be further from it.

VII.61: We take a look at one of the most famous metaphors in Stoicism, the notion put forth by Marcus Aurelius that life is a bit like wrestling: we need to be prepared and alert, because the next move may be unexpected.

VII.62: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that all too often we care far too much about the opinions of people we do not actually hold in high esteem. If they judge us badly according to mistaken values, the problem is theirs, not ours.

VII.68: Marcus Aurelius exhorts us to not just do it, but slow down, think about it, and then see if we really want to do it.

VII.69: Marcus Aurelius advises us to live by avoiding both violent emotions and torpor, and by not being a hypocrite. But also, to treat every day as if it were our last. What does that mean?

VII.71: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that we spend far too much time trying to change other people, which is outside of our control, and too little time attempting to improve ourselves, which we certainly have the power to do.

VII.73: Marcus Aurelius argues that when we do something right we shouldn’t expect either recognition or a return. Otherwise, we are doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

VIII.4: Marcus Aurelius joins Seneca in his rejection of anger as a valid or effective motivator of human action. We should, instead, be moved to act by positive triggers, such as a sense of justice, or duty, or love.

VIII.5: Marcus Aurelius takes the long view of things in order to remind himself that whatever troubles us so much right now will soon be over, one way or another. This isn’t nihilism, but rather the conscious adoption of a healthier perspective on human affairs.

VIII.8: Doesn’t it take time to practice Stoicism? We are all so busy! Here is Marcus Aurelius’ response to that question. A response that applies also if you are a Christian, or a Buddhist, among other things.

VIII.13: In order to live a meaningful life (ethics) we need to reason well about things (logic), and we need to have a good grasp of how the world works (science). How are your logic and science, then?

VIII.14: Finding yourself at a party and want to know if someone else is practicing Stoicism? Ask them what they think is the chief good and the chief bad. 

VIII.17: Blame is not a Stoic thing. We bear responsibility for what we do, of course, but to blame people isn’t particularly useful. As Marcus Aurelius says, teach them, if you can, or bear with them.

VIII.26: Stoicism leads us to a life of benevolence toward other human beings, in pursuit of a constant refinement of our judgments and understanding of how the world actually works — so that we can more effectively live in it.

VIII.33: Stoics have no problem with wealth. We are not Cynics, after all. So long as it is not ill-gotten, or ill-used, it represents yet another preferred indifferent, yet another occasion to exercise virtue.

VIII.36: Do not let your thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles that you may expect to befall you: but on every occasion ask yourself, What is there in this that is intolerable and past bearing?

VIII.39: I see no virtue that is opposed to justice; but I see a virtue that is opposed to love of pleasure, and that is temperance.

VIII.43: It is my delight to keep the ruling faculty sound without turning away from any of the things that happen to people, but looking at and receiving all with welcoming eyes and using everything according to its value.

VIII.44: Those who rather pursue posthumous fame do not consider that the people of tomorrow will be exactly like these whom they cannot bear now; and both are mortal.

VIII.45: Take me and cast me where you will; for there I shall keep my divine part tranquil, that is, content, if it can feel and act conformably to its proper constitution.

VIII.47: If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.

VIII.47: Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that if life is unbearable, one has the option to leave. But we have a duty, toward ourselves and others, to stay, if at all possible.

VIII.48: The mind that is free from passions is a citadel, for we have nothing more secure to which we can fly for refuge and repel every attack.

VIII.50: “A cucumber is bitter.” Throw it away. “There are briars in the road.” Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”

VIII.56: Marcus Aurelius reminds us that just as we do not control other people’s bodies, so we do not control their opinions and judgments. We should, therefore, be concerned chiefly with improving our own.

VIII.58: Marcus Aurelius contemplates two possible scenarios for what happens after we die. Neither one of which justifies our fears on the matter. Better to focus instead on the fact that we are alive, here and now.

VIII.59: People exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.