September 20, 2003


Marcus Aurelius:

"Often think of the rapidity with which things pass by and disappear, both the things which are and the things which are produced. For substance is like a river in a continual flow, and the activities of things are in constant change, and the causes work in infinite varieties; and there is hardly anything which stands still. And consider this which is near to thee, this boundless abyss of the past and of the future in which all things disappear. How then is he not a fool who is puffed up with such things or plagued about them and makes himself miserable? for they vex him only for a time, and a short time."
Mediations Bk. 5
Historical Background
philosophy history

These links tell us that philosophy is an art and form of living not just a discourse or a system. The former was the philosophical tradition that Marcus Aurelius was working within; a tradition that had its roots in Socrates. Hence we can talk about a Socratic style of life. This is a philosophical life: a life guided by reason and the moral virtues.

The idea here is to transform one's life so as to live philosophically, rather than merely to study philosophyas a set of texts. Thus the Meditations are spiritual exercises, exercises of self-transformation. For Marcus Aurelius philosophy was a mode of existing in the world; a way of life. Since it is therapeutic, as it is intended to cure our anguish, so philosophical theories are in the service of a philosophical life whose goal is to transform ourselves.

It is this classical conception of philosophy that was lost once philosophy became a part of the university. It became a philosophical discourse conducted by professionals linked to the classroom and scholarship; a discourse constructed in technical jargon reserved for specialists. Philosophical discourse has a scholastic quality that has very little to do with what Nietzsche would have called the flourishing of our joy of existing.

As Nietzsche would say academic life was stifling and a hindrance to doing this kind of philosophy that is situayed in the lived experience of the concrete, living, perceiving and suffering subject. This concern for living well entails a community obligation---duties to my fellow citizens--- as it is linked to acting in service of the human community within the nation-state.

But we can no longer accept the "spiritual exercises" of antiquity of Chritianity that were designed to cure us of our sickness and pain caused by living a damaged (unjust) life. We have to devise new exercises to deal with the solidly-rooted prejudices that help to shape our conduct in our situation.

How do we do that?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at September 20, 2003 10:06 PM | TrackBack

The reading of meditations by Marcus has helped me to come out of my ethical dilemma and crisis which I have to undergo several times in life. I always keep it with me as my guide
Madhu Kapoor
(Prof.of Philosophy)

Posted by: madhu on May 2, 2004 03:33 PM

To say the meditations were life changing for me is a little strong,i can say however that i think differently and hence this is reflected in my daily life style,i often re read and refresh my reading and to date find a new aspect to to dwell on,i consider the meditations a personal treasure that has divided my life and separated the calm from the turmoil.

Posted by: tony on May 13, 2005 04:51 AM
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