Aurelius, Book 7, Selections

7.3 …Keep in mind that a person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he has set his heart on.

7.16 Our governing faculty never disturbs its own peace; I mean, it never arouses fear in itself, or desire. But if someone else can arouse fear in it or cause it pain, let him do so, for on its own accounts it will not exercise its judgement in such a way as to deliver itself to such feelings. Let the body take care, if it can, that it should suffer no hurt; and let the soul, which can come to know pain and distress, speak out if it suffers any such thing; but that which judges these matters overall will suffer nothing at all, for it is not its way to make such a judgement. In itself the governing faculty wants for nothing, unless it creates the want for itself, and likewise, it is not subject to disturbance or hindrance, unless it disturbs or hinders itself.

7.28 Retire into yourself. The rational governing faculty is of such a nature that it finds it contentment in its own just conduct and the serenity that it gains from it.

7.29 Wipe out impression. No longer allow your passions to pull you around like a puppet. Confine your attention to the present time. Learn to recognize what is happening to yourself or another. Divide and analyse every given object into the material and the causal. Give thought to your last hour. Let the wrong committed by another remain where it first arose.

7.64 …And remember this too, that many disagreeable things are really just the same as pain although we do not perceive them to be, such as drowsiness, or the oppression that we feel in hot weather, or loss of appetite. So when something like this is beginning to distress you, say to yourself, ‘You are giving way to pain.’

7.65 See that you never feel towards misanthropes as such people feel towards the human race.

7.75 Universal nature set out to create a universe; and now it is either the case that all that comes to be does so as a necessary consequence of that, or else even the most important things, to which the governing faculty of the universe directs its own efforts, like outside the rule of reason. Remember this, and you will face many a trouble with a calmer mind.

Considerations:

  • In 7.75 does MA mean “reason” to be something like “pondering” or “judgement,” since it seems not be an attribute of the “governing faculty of the universe,” and is set against “necessary consequence”? On the contrary, might not God, the governing faculty of the universe, have something analogous to our “reason,” as MA means it here?
  • In 7.64 MA separates pain from the governing intellect, saying that “neither in so far as it is rational nor in so far as it is concerned for the common good does pain cause it any harm.” This seems very far separated from how we talk about emotional pain these days. Drawing a dividing line between the highest part of the soul (whatever it is to be called), and the emotions, appetites, thoughts, or “impression” as MA says in my translation, used to be a common and essential feature of philosophical psychology. But defining our identity as nothing more than the sum of our thoughts or emotions seems to be common now. Perhaps dangerous? See also 7.33.
  • MA alternates between speaking of ‘god’ or ‘the gods’ as personal beings who have plans for us, or who take care of us (cf. 7.70) yet other times (esp. when speaking of death) takes a more pantheistic view of what we would probably call the divine, the “governing faculty of the universe,” (7.75) which is truly eternal and “necessary” (as separate from rational or individual). ‘The gods’ do not pervade all things but the governing faculty of the universe does, and it’s that force which we are absorbed into or continue in after death, and for MA this provides meaning for life and death. At what point does this become identical to the way some modern atheists talk about “Life” in a semi-divine way?
  • 7.28 “Retire into yourself.” MA (along with other writers of a similar vein) talk about the actions of the governing faculty in a passive sense. The governing faculty separates itself from the appetites like a tired party guest departing for its home and a quiet cup of tea. Yet in practice “retiring into yourself” and separating your identity from pain and appetite is perhaps the most mentally exhausting work possible. Do eastern writers speak the same way? I know that in strains of Buddhism I’ve read about meditation is often spoken of in very active terms, but I don’t know enough to compare or contrast.

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