Meditations: The Philosophy Classic: A book review by Bob Morris

Meditations: The Philosophy Classic
Marcus Auerelius
Introduction by Donald Robertson; Edited by Tom Butler-Bowdon
Capstone/A Wiley Brand (February 2020)

“The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.”

The statement by Marcus Auerelius (121-180 AD) offers no indication that he once ruled the Roman Empire when it was most dominant but its assertion is representative of the thoughts of someone who was — and remains — among the most highly regarded philosophers in the ancient world, in a group that also includes Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. My own opinion is that Marcus Aurelius more closely resembles Erasmus and Montaigne, more recently, Emerson and Thoreau.

These are among the dozens of Robertson’s observations and insights of greatest interest and value to me:

o “We’re told that he constantly had the saying of Plato on his lips, ‘that those states prospered where the philosophers were kings or the kings philosophers’ (Historia Augusta). By all accounts he was widely perceived ans embodying the principles of the Stoic philosophy that he followed, and which he describes throughout The Meditations.”

o “‘Living in accord with Nature’ came to have a double, or even treble, meaning for early Stoics. On the one hand, it means fulfilling our potential by applying reason to the best of our ability in our daily lives — living personally and wisely. For the Stoics, we’re both inherently rational and social creatures. Fulfilling our potential therefore requires exercising wisdom in our relationships, whether with individuals or with groups, and to society as a whole.”

o “Living in accord with nature, however, has another meaning. It means living in harmony with our fate, not being disturbed or frustrated by the external events that befall us in life. In order to live consistently in accord with wisdom and justice we have to master our fears and desires. Overcoming fear and learning to endure pain and discomfort, when that’s our fate, requires the virtue of courage or endurance. Likewise, mastering our desires, so that we’re healthy and moderate, requires the virtue of temperance or self-discipline.”

o “The Meditations is one of the most loved self-help and spiritual classics of all time. It has had a profound influence on many people throughout history, ever since the first printed edition of the Greek manuscript was published in 1558, edited by Wilhelm Xlander.”

o “The influence of The Meditations and Stoicism in general continue to spread throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, the practical applications of the philosophy were not fully appreciated until the 1950s when it reached a new audience through the founders of cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, which is now the leading evidence-based form of modern psychotherapy.”

Donald Robertson suggests that if and when you read The Meditations for the first or even second time, it will be helpful to keep three principles in mind. They served as articles of faith for Marcus Aurelius and countless others and will no doubt continue to do so for many others in years to come..

1. Wisdom consists of living in harmony with our own true nature as reasoning beings and fulfilling our potential for rationality.

2. Justice consists in living in harmony with others, fulfilling our social nature by applying wisdom in a manner designed to build friendships and well-ordered communities.

3. The virtues of courage and temperance consist in mastering our fears and desires, respectively, so that we live in harmony with our fate by accepting events as they befall us. We don’t complain or demand more from life than is reasonable and healthy.

By the way, that was Marcus Aurelius portrayed by Richard Harris in the early portion of Gladiator (2000) directed by Ridley Scott.

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