Marcus Aurelius

Sunday, January 30, 2022

What Is It

Marcus Aurelius was a 2nd century Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher. He is most famous for his Meditations, which was written as a private guide to himself on how to live a life where virtue is the only good and vice the only evil. So how do we figure out how to live a truly Stoic life? What’s the relationship between the wellbeing of an individual and the interest of the larger community? And what can we learn from Marcus about developing mental resilience when confronted with fear, suffering, or pain? Josh and Ray stay calm with Rachana Kamtekar from Cornell University, author of Plato's Moral Psychology: Intellectualism, the Divided Soul, and the Desire for Good.

Comments (4)


Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Saturday, January 1, 2022 -- 5:32 PM

Marcus Aurelius (MA) never

Marcus Aurelius (MA) never intended to publish his meditations for posterity; instead, he wrote them in the spirit of being a better person. If I were to take any one idea from his example to build resilience in my life, it would be to write my philosophy down, meditate on it, and be mindful of the spirit in which I wrote it to guide my daily choices.

Somehow MA avoided the edict that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is a lesson less easily translated as few people today have absolute power – though there are examples. For most philosophers, however, this has the corollary that MA could focus his thought on his duties as emperor and leader to his community. This is a practical takeaway for the best relationship of individual well-being and the larger community's interest, stay within your role.

But how do we figure out our role? When is change best, and when do we hold the line? This question, like resilience, was one that MA answered in his meditations.

I look forward to insight from Rachana on these questions and more modern takeaways from the world's first stoic self-help manual. Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer sums much of the stoic thought passed down to our current thinking.

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."- Reinhold Neibuhr.

The tricky part is, not being a Roman emperor, what exactly is possible when changing. Though it would be cool to be emperor of all things (Czar?), our modern standard of living far exceeds that of any Roman emperor. Much of that standard is derivative of technology and privilege that can't be controlled or undone without more courage and hardship than I have been willing to bear so far in my life. Marcus Aurelius never had to face that dilemma. So I can't take his exact path as an example for my own. However, this much I can handle; to live below my means for personal satisfaction, meditate upon my life, and make the most of my opportunities to make those thoughts a reality.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, January 7, 2022 -- 5:01 AM

Presumably, Ms. Kamtekar

Presumably, Ms. Kamtekar knows something of Marcus, in so far as she has written of Plato. And is occupied with philosophy. I suppose many of us are stoics at heart. We pretty much have to be so, in order to weather these tumultuous times. As a pragmatist (at heart), my stance follows the old AA credo. You may know it: changing what one can;leaving the rest alone and knowing the difference. As a practical matter, this old duck's back has been wet before, and, sooner or later, any additional water runs off. Stoicism is really akin to other disciplines, many older, and most aimed at knowing inner peace; keeping one's blood pressure manageable and avoiding avoidable violence. (PT has, admirably, addressed non-violence among many topics.)

Stoicism is not very fashionable in our fast-paced, extreme-laden world. We just can't make time for it
But, for some of us, it is still food for reflection. Or, a fading mirror...

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, January 16, 2022 -- 4:13 AM

See Smith's comments above-

See Smith's comments above- re: the serenity prayer. I missed it on first reading. Sorry, Tim.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, January 16, 2022 -- 10:39 AM

Like minds... :-)

Like minds... :-)

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