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Introduction to Philosophy from "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius

A short introduction to philosopher Marcus Aurelius' diary, "Meditations."
Introduction to Philosophy from "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius
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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Recently, I finished reading the philosophy staple, "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius. In the sheer 170 pages that make up "Meditations," there are countless encaptivating ideas. The book is simply a collection of all of Marcus Aurelius' diary entries during his time as Emperor of Rome. To grasp the context of the book and the magnitude of Marcus Aurelius' thoughts and revelations, it's necessary to explore who he was.

Who was Marcus Aurelius?

First and foremost, Marcus Aurelius was the adopted son of the Roman Emperor, Antoninus. His biological father passed early, and Antoninus was designated to succeed the previous Roman Emperor in exchange for taking Marcus Aurelius under his wing. As the son of the Emperor, Marcus was trained in the highest courts and studied with accomplished scholars.

These distinctions are important because they lend credibility to Marcus Aurelius and his philosophical beliefs. He had the opportunity to study with many other great philosophers in preparation for his inheritance of the Roman Empire. His education was meticulous and therefore vets Aurelius as an intellect worthy of listening to.

When Antoninus passed, Marcus Aurelius inherited the throne and ruled over the entire Empire. Aurelius received a nation already crumbling and had to contend with wars on multiple fronts throughout his time as Emperor. With violence and fighting consuming his everyday life, Aurelius turned to philosophy to soothe the mind and guide himself in making distressing decisions.

What is stoicism?

Marcus Aurelius studied many great philosophers in his time; after being exposed to multiple different schools of thought, Aurelius found that he identified with stoicism the most.

To preface stoicism, philosophy during this period was applicable. It provided moral and ethical guidelines for decision-making, something that religion could never provide. This is not to discredit religion in any way, but philosophy provided concrete specifics.

Stoicism is a philosophical thought process defined by order and rationality. To control and maintain an orderly world, there is logos (a natural force). The specifics of the logos is unimportant in this context; it is only important to know that the world is controlled by said force.

Because the world is controlled by logos, events follow a strict cause-and-effect chain. This means that as humans, we have no say in what happens, although it is in our power to either accept or reject the events that occur around us. Stoicism in this regard tends to revolve around controlling our perceptions and associations with external events; external events are neutral by nature, so our perceptions control how they affect us. As Professor Gregory Hayes puts it, Stoicism was, "a practical discipline - not an abstract system of thought, but an attitude to life."

I'll close this section with an admission of mine that may ease some doubts in your mind: I don't necessarily believe in all the different components of stoicism. To me, it seems farfetched that there is a greater force controlling every single aspect of life. Thankfully, that is the beauty of philosophy - you and I can take what resonates with us and apply it to our lives, and then forget the rest. Keep that in mind, and approach the ideas of Marcus Aurelius with an open mind. There is no harm in having an open mind; if the train of thought does not suit you, simply discard it and move on.

Plans for Series

This is a simple compilation of the main ideas that resonated with me throughout the book, to be elaborated more in future parts.

As I began to compile all my notes and reflections that I made throughout my time reading "Meditations," I realized it would be impossible for me to fit everything I want to say in one post. I would either have to skim the surface level of my thoughts and never go deeper, or the post would take a good half hour to get through. For those reasons, I've decided I'm going to create a small series of posts to have the ability to elaborate and articulate everything.

My plan currently is to split the series into seven parts, including this. I have 30+ ideas to touch on, so I would rather space things out and give every thought its' deserved time. In terms of timing, I am thinking I'll push out one part every other week, supplementing in between with other topics.

To cap things off, "Meditations" has some possibly life-altering philosophical ideas. It took me a long while to work through the book, even though it's very short (I took notes, highlighted, etc. to help digest the confusing text). It's my hope through this series that I can convey these complex ideas not only in elementary terms but in a quicker fashion than reading the entire book. I hope everyone finds value in this concise exploration of "Meditations". That said, I hope to see you back for Part One in a couple of weeks.