MARCUS AURELIUS: Meditations [Books IX-XII]

Book IX

  • He who acts unjustly acts impiously towards the universal will. He who pursues pleasure as good, and avoids pain as evil is guilty of impiety; for that man must of necessity find fault with nature because often the bad receive pleasure and the good receive pain.
  • Do not despise death; for it is necessary according to the will of nature.
  • He who does wrong or acts unjustly does wrong to himself and acts unjustly towards himself; for he makes himself bad.
  • He who does not do a certain thing acts unjustly as much as a man who does do a certain thing.
  • Contentment with everything that happens and benevolent conduct is sufficient for happiness.
  • Check desire and extinguish appetite.
  • Correct those who do wrong by teaching. If you cannot, then indulge them.
  • Direct your actions to one purpose – to be good, to help others and revere the gods.
  • Consider the change from adolescence to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to old age. Each change is the death of a former state. As there is nothing to fear in these changes, there is nothing to fear in the change from existence to death.
  • Every act ought to be directed to a social good; for men are rational social animals meant to cooperate with one another.
  • There is no reason to trouble yourself with the opinions others have of you.
  • Neither fame nor anything else is of any value, only that one performs one’s duty according to one’s nature.
  • Contemplate the eternity of time before and after your life; consider the rapid change of everything; consider the short time allotted from the time of your birth to the time of your death.
  • Ask for the faculty of not fearing what you fear, and not desiring what you desire, and not being pained at what happens, rather than ask for something to happen or not happen. You already possess this faculty, so use it.
  • Do not be offended with the conduct of a shameless man; for it is impossible that there not be any shameless man in the universe. Do not require what is impossible.

“He who pursues pleasure as good, and avoids pain as evil, is guilty of impiety.”

“Everything now is just as it was in the time of those whom we have buried.”

“Soon will the earth cover us all: then the earth, too, will change, and the things also which result from change will continue to change forever, and these again forever.”

“He who dies at the extremest old age will be brought into the same condition with him who died prematurely.”

“Pray for them to give thee the faculty of not fearing any of the things which thou fearest, or of not desiring any of the things which thou desirest, or not being pained at anything, rather than pray that any of these things should not happen or happen.”

In the ninth book, Marcus asserts that he who pursues pleasure as a good and avoids pain as an evil is impious towards the highest divinity; for such a man must of necessity find fault with what happens because often the bad receive pleasure and the good receive pain. This argument refutes the common opinion that pleasure is good and pain is bad. If one assumes that the universe is controlled by a benevolent force, and directed towards that which is good for the whole, then it is absurd to ask why good individuals are subject to pain and why bad individuals enjoy many of the pleasures of this world because everything that happens is for the health and felicity of the whole. This is difficult to accept, especially when affliction befalls you or your loved ones.

Marcus requests the reader to consider the changes from adolescence to youth, from youth to adulthood, from adulthood to old age. Just as there is nothing to fear in these changes, there is nothing to fear in the change from existence to nonexistence. This notion is comforting if one accepts that the changes are all similar to one another. However, in my opinion, the change from existence to nonexistence is not comparable to the change from youth to manhood. Granted a person of 25 years of age often feels like an entirely different person than the person that they were when they were 15 years of age – there beliefs, values, and physical appearance may have changed significantly. However, there still remains a sense of continuity and flow from one stage to another. The transition from existence to nonexistence is an utter transformation from one state to another. Nothing is carried from existence to nonexistence as there is a sense of identity carried from one stage of life to another.

We are all destined to the same end – death. He who dies at the extremity of old age is in the same condition as he who dies as an infant. There is an eternity of time before everyone’s birth and an eternity of time after everyone’s death. The only thing that matters is that one acts justly – i.e. according to one’s nature. According to Marcus, the nature of man is that of a rational and social animal; and therefore men ought to be benevolent towards one another and accept what happens cheerfully.

Marcus asserts that no external thing can affect the mind and make it worse. Only the mind itself can make the mind worse by virtue of judgment. Thus, according to Marcus, pain cannot make a man turn away from justice. When I read this notion, I remembered the scene in Orwell’s 1984, where Winston is tortured until he betrays his lover. Winston, like Marcus, believed that the mind was inviolable, that nothing could enslave a man’s mind. Unfortunately, Winston did not have the resiliency that Marcus believes everyone possesses. But is it possible for anyone to resist what awaits them in Room 101? In Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he relates a story of a martyr who laughed in the faces of his torturers, even to the very moment of his death. Perhaps this type of constitution and ability lies in everyone, but it certainly requires a tremendous amount of will-power and self-mastery.

Book X

  • Be satisfied with your present condition. All is well, and all will be well; for everything that happens is in accordance with the universal nature.
  • It is your nature to bear everything without complaint; for that which is bearable is bearable, and that which is not bearable will perish after it consumes you.
  • If a man is mistaken, do not be angered, but instruct him and show him his error. Do not blame yourself or him or the universe if you cannot correct him.
  • All that happens was prepared.
  • Everything is a part of the universal whole. There is nothing that can harm a part that is not injurious to the whole. The whole contains nothing that is not for the advantage of itself; and therefore, the parts can never suffer harm.
  • It is unreasonable to believe that nature would design evil for her own parts and thus for her own self. Death is necessary and not an evil.
  • To be happy, you must possess the following characteristics: Rational (a discriminating attention and freedom from negligence), Equanimity (voluntary acceptance of the things assigned to you by nature), and Magnanimity (the elevation of the intellectual part above the pleasures and pains of the flesh, and above fame, death, and such other things). If you cannot possess these three things, then depart from life, not with passion, but with simplicity, modesty, and freedom, so that you may have done one laudable thing in life.
  • Constantly contemplate the changing nature of all things. Seeing that one must leave life soon, one ought to perform only just acts, and be satisfied with what is assigned to him by nature.
  • Cease talking about what a good man ought to do, and be a good man.
  • All things as they are now are as they were in the past and as they will be in the future. The dramas of today are the same dramas of yesterday and tomorrow except with different actors.
  • On every occasion consider whether death is a dreadful thing because it deprives you of this.
  • When you are offended by a man’s fault, consider whether you too are compelled to such action by the desire for wealth, fame, or pleasure; or take away his compulsion to commit wrong.
  • Human things are as smoke – nothing at all.
  • It is within your power to be good.
  • Men are as leaves – produced in the spring, scattered by the wind in the fall, dead in the winter, and replaced by new leaves in the spring.
  • The understanding ought to be prepared for everything that happens. Those who wish for the impossible are diseased.
  • There is no man so fortunate that there will not be some people happy at his death. Considering this, one will depart this life more cheerfully as one leaving a world in which even one’s close associates hope to advantage from one’s death. Nevertheless, one ought to preserve one’s benevolent disposition towards such people; for nature requires it.
  • Practice considering the object for which every man strives when they perform a certain act. Do this also with regards to your own actions.

“Whatever may happen to thee, it was prepared for thee from all eternity.”

“Let men see, let them know a real man who lives according to nature. If they cannot endure him, let them kill him. For that is better than to live thus [as men do].”

“No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.”

“Imagine every man who is grieved at anything or discontented to be like a pig which is sacrificed and kicks and screams.”

“A little time, and thou shalt close thy eyes’ and him who has attended thee to thy grave another soon will lament.”

In the tenth book, Marcus reiterates his belief that all that happens is in accordance with the foresight of the universal ruling principle. All things that happen are determined by this ruling faculty. After a superficial consideration of this argument, one might conclude that Marcus is a strong proponent of Fate and strong opponent of free-will. However, Marcus believes that it is within man’s power to keep his own soul pure, and act justly despite any circumstances of Fate. Thus, Marcus is a compatibilist – i.e. he believes that free-will and determinism are not incompatible. All that happens is determined by Fate, but man reserves the ability to act within this divine plan according to justice or injustice.

Marcus argues that there exists a principle that nothing can be compelled to generate anything harmful to itself. He relies upon this principle to demonstrate that the universe cannot generate anything that is harmful to itself, and therefore it cannot generate anything that is harmful to its parts – mankind – because what is not harmful to the whole cannot be harmful to the parts. This argument is very slippery. For example, if we argue that there exists things that do generate stuff harmful to themselves, then the argument is refuted. However, Marcus would likely argue over the point of what is considered harmful. If we argued that some men generate thoughts that are harmful to their lives – suicidal thoughts – then Marcus would argue that those thoughts for that particular man are not harmful, but good because those thoughts are in accordance with Providence. It seems that his argument is irrefutable, and not falsifiable, which is a necessary condition for a valid and sound argument.

I was reminded of Shakespeare’s Hamlet while reading Marcus’ assertion that death must happen to all, and that we ought not to fear it or resist it, seeing as it is natural and necessary. Marcus’ sentiments are expressed by both Gertrude and Claudius to Hamlet, who is grieving over the death of his father. Unlike the Stoic calm that Marcus advises, Hamlet openly grieves for his lost father. Is it more natural for a man to grieve for his dead father, or more natural to accept death as inevitable with Stoic contentment?

Marcus exhorts the reader to cease contemplating the nature of a good man, and to begin being a good man. This is similar to Aristotle’s interpretation of virtue. Aristotle argues that virtue is an activity that must be practiced. The inactive and passive man is not the good man. It is only those who compete in the Olympic games who win the wreaths and medals.

Book XI

  • The rational soul sees itself, analyzes itself, and forms itself as it chooses. The rational soul understands that those who come after us will see nothing new, and those who came before us have seen nothing more. The rational soul loves its neighbor, is modest and sincere, and values nothing more than itself.
  • One’s reward is in doing something good. Never stop doing good.
  • A branch cut off from another branch must necessarily be cut off from the whole tree. A man who is separated from another man has been separated from the whole of mankind.
  • It is a weakness to be vexed at those who attempt to turn you aside from proper action, and it is a weakness to yield to fear.
  • You will not pursue or avoid things if you cease to judge them.
  • A man ought never to complain or be dissatisfied. All that happens is for the common good. Be benevolent to every man.
  • There is no reason to tell another that you will treat him according to justice. Your virtue will soon show itself by acts.
  • No external thing produces an opinion within us. Our soul judges external things, and ought to judge everything to be well; for everything that happens is in accordance with nature. Therefore, be content.
  • We are made for one another.
  • If men do wrong, it is plain that they do so involuntarily and in ignorance. For everything desires what is best according to its nature.
  • One must learn much about the circumstances of an act to pass a correct judgment. In some situations, it is impossible to learn enough about the circumstances to pass a correct judgment.
  • When you are sad, remember that life is a moment, and after a short time all will change.
  • It is not what happens, but the opinion we have of what happens that disturbs us. Remove opinion and resolve to dismiss judgment.
  • More pain is brought on us by the anger and vexation at what happens than the actual events.
  • A benevolent disposition is invincible. No violent man can harm you if you continue to be kind towards him and gently correct his errors if the opportunity allows. Show him the errors of his way by general principles of nature.
  • He who is moved by passion, fear, or pain is not manly, he is beastly.
  • Supposing that bad men will do no wrong is madness; for it is the desire of impossibility.
  • Cast away all thoughts as unnecessary that are not in accordance with nature.
  • Constantly think of virtuous deeds.

“Consider how much more pain is brought on us by the anger and vexation caused by such acts than by the acts themselves, at which we are angry and vexed.”

“To look for the fig in winter is a madman’s act: such is he who looks for his child when it is no longer allowed.”

“No man can rob us of our free will.”

In the eleventh book, Marcus uses a metaphor to describe the unity of mankind. He writes that a branch cut off from an adjacent branch must of necessity be cut off from the entire tree. Similarly, a man separated from another man is separated from the whole of mankind. This is an interesting analogy. Marcus argues that we must love and be good to every human being, else we become separated from the union of mankind, even the universe itself. I do not completely agree with this argument. I think that if one branch receives a pestilence, it can be removed from the tree, leaving the other branches whole and attached to the tree. Similarly, one evil man may be separated from society without destroying the bond between the other members of the community.

Marcus asserts that it is sometimes impossible to learn enough about the circumstances surrounding a particular act in order to pass a correct judgment about whether the act was good or bad. I agree with Marcus. I would even argue that it is always, not just sometimes, impossible to accurately judge whether an act is good or bad. There are so many subtleties that influence every act that it is impossible to confidently assert that an accurate judgment can be made.

Marcus writes that there is more pain brought on us by the anger and vexation we feel at what happens than the actual events. This is very true. When I have forgotten where I placed my car keys in the past, I have become angry at myself and sometimes others, believing that someone used them and then placed them in a different location from where I had left them. Inevitably I find the keys and continue on with life. The only pain that was brought on me was the pain I brought on myself by the anger and vexation I felt because I judged the situation to be bad. If I, like Marcus suggests, reflected that life is but a brief moment and that all will pass away, I might have been able to judge that the situation was not worthy of anger.

Book XII

  • Take no notice of the past, trust the future to providence, and direct the present in accordance to piety and justice. Do not let the opinions of other men hinder you, nor the sensations and appetites of the flesh. Fear living not in accordance with nature rather than fear dying.
  • You are composed of a little body, a little breath/life, and intelligence. If you can separate your intelligence from the sensations of the body and the desires of the breath so that the intelligence is pure and free to do what is just, to cheerfully accept what happens, and to live life in the present moment, then you will live nobly and free from vexation.
  • It is strange that every man loves himself more than other men, but values his own opinion less than the opinion of others.
  • Practice things that you despair to accomplish.
  • Consider what condition the body and soul ought to be in when a man dies. Consider the brevity of life and the limitless oblivion of time.
  • Consider the purposes of actions, what pain is, what pleasure is, what death is, what fame is. Everything is opinion.
  • Consider the nature of things by dividing them into matter, form, and purpose.
  • Be good and accept what happens.
  • Blame nothing; for the gods do no wrong whether voluntarily or involuntarily, and men do wrong only involuntarily.
  • He who is surprised at anything that happens is ridiculous.
  • A bad man must of necessity do bad acts. If you are vexed, then correct his disposition.
  • Soon you will be nobody and nowhere. Soon all things which now exist will be nothing and nowhere; for nature forms things to change and perish.
  • Everything is opinion, and opinion is within your power. Thus, everything is within your power.
  • Every man only possesses the present moment, and can therefore lose only the present moment.
  • Consider the most famous men of the past and where they are now – smoke, ash, dust. Everything for which men violently strive is worthless. All that matters is that one behaves according to justice and cheerfully accepts what happens.
  • Like the gods, Marcus has never seen his soul yet reveres it. He reveres the gods because he constantly experiences their power as he constantly experiences the power of his invisible soul.
  • Man is assigned a very small part of limitless time that is eventually overwhelmed in the eternal oblivion. Regard nothing to be valuable except to act according to nature and endure what happens.

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”

“Everything is opinion.”

“If there is a confusion without a governor, be content that in such a tempest thou hast in thyself a certain ruling intelligence. And even if the tempest carry thee away, let it carry away the poor flesh, the poor breath, everything else; for the intelligence at least it will not carry away.”

“If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.”

“Before long thou wilt be nobody and nowhere, nor will any of the things exist which thou now seest, nor any of those who are now living.”

In the twelfth, and last book of Meditations, Marcus makes a very insightful remark about man’s nature. He writes that every man loves himself more than all the rest of mankind, yet values his own opinion less than the opinion of others. In other words, a man will be vexed or pleased depending upon the opinions others have of him rather than the opinions he has of himself. This is inconsistent with man’s self-love. Perhaps every man does not love himself above all others, but actually loves others more than himself as demonstrated by the value every man places on the opinions of others. However, I think that most people act according to their own self-interests, and one of those interests is the opinions others have of them.

Marcus asserts that there is either Fate or confusion without a purpose and director. If there is Fate, then there is no reason to resist what is necessary. To resist what is necessary is to desire the impossible, which is the act of a madman. On the other hand, if there is only confusion without a purpose and directing force, then be content that you possess intelligence to guide you through this tempest, and take solace in the thought that the tempest may take away your body and life, but it cannot take away your intelligence – i.e. your will to do good and cheerfully accept what happens. The only complaint I have in regards to this argument is Marcus’ refusal to see any benefit to resisting what is necessary. Although resistance is futile, one can still profit from the activity of resisting the inevitable. For example, death is inevitable, but we can still resist it by taking medicine, exercising, and eating healthy foods. This resistance is futile, but the activity of resisting it affords us the opportunity of performing good acts and “acting in accordance with nature.” When I read Marcus’ argument, I also remembered the Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. Despite the futility of Sisyphus’ existence, Camus maintained that there is no Fate which cannot be overcome by scorn. The act of defiance in the face of necessity retains a sense of dignity, and is valuable in itself.

Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

16 thoughts on “MARCUS AURELIUS: Meditations [Books IX-XII]”

  1. This is my first call here and l am always thrilled to learn great philosophies. Thank you for the analysis.
    I lost faith in Religion when l amalysed all the intolerance it leads to and the numerous mysteries it carries. I haven’t yet come across any one ‘dogma’ that puts my restless mind to rest, but alas, isn’t that the art of living?

    1. Thanks for reading!

      Take care to distinguish between the ‘believers’ and the actual tenets of a belief system. Many ‘believers’ make grievous interpretations of the fundamental principles. I wish you the best on your life journey!

    2. Dear Lady
      This is how we all lose faith. The thin onion skin is all that organized religions have to share.

      The Mysteries are the juicy flesh beneath the skin and they transcend all dogma.

  2. Pingback: 1EPH

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