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Lecture Three Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Lecturer: Wu Shiyu.

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1 Lecture Three Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Lecturer: Wu Shiyu

2 Outline I. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius represents the culmination of Greek thought with regard to god, fate, and good and evil.

3 II. The writings of Marcus Aurelius have had relevance throughout the ages. A. These writings spoke profoundly to such thinkers of the 18th century as Thomas Jefferson, who believed that a book of ethics comparable to the New Testament could be compiled from the writings of Marcus Aurelius.

4 B. The Meditations inspired people ranging from entrepreneurs, such as Cecil Rhodes, to Matthew Arnold, a poet who spent much of his life attempting to reform the schools of England. C. This work can represent a source of meditation for even the busiest contemporary CEO. D. The Meditations are forever a call to duty— Marcus Aurelius himself saw them as a call to carry out the meaning of his life as god had given it to him.

5 III. Marcus Aurelius was born to wealth and power in the vast Roman Empire of the 2nd century A.D., in which Greek and Latin were the common languages, the one coinage was Roman money, and the law of Rome protected its people and property.

6 A. The father of Marcus Aurelius died young, and Marcus was adopted by his uncle and guardian, the emperor Antoninus Pius. B. Marcus had wanted to be a philosopher. The term philosopher referred to a love of wisdom; it was not a narrow academic specialty but the search for wisdom needed to live one’s life.

7 C. Following the death of Antoninus Pius in 161 A.D., Marcus Aurelius became emperor. It was the duty of the emperor to protect individual rights and privileges, to create peace and prosperity for Rome, and to govern this “one world,” the unrivaled superpower of its day. D. As emperor, Marcus Aurelius spent much of his life campaigning to protect the borders of Rome. E. He wrote his Meditations, actually called “Thoughts for Myself,” in the evenings in his tent.

8 IV. The great theme of the Meditations is the meaning of life. A. To arrive at the meaning of life, Marcus Aurelius began with god and fate. He believed that god exists and that even an intensely irritating person is part of that same god and has the same divine spark. Each person has a soul and that soul partakes of the essence of god. Fate, through god, has decreed a destiny for everyone.

9 B. The writings of Marcus Aurelius represent the development of a theme found in Homer: The Zeus of the Iliad has transitioned from being a capricious and lecherous king to being a god of wisdom. 1. The Stoics—who played a major role in this transition—taught that god is the universe and is all- good, all-beneficent, and all-knowing. They, too, believed that god gave each individual a soul and decreed a particular fate for each individual. This monotheistic idea paved the way for Christianity. 2. This god of the Stoics was the idea of god for Marcus Aurelius. It was a god who can be called Nature, Providence, or Reason.

10 C. Marcus Aurelius believed that a fate had been laid down for each one of us and that all individuals must work out their own destinies. Whether an individual believed in “order or atoms” was irrelevant. A person might believe that order existed in the universe or that the universe consisted of a random collision of atoms. That belief, however, does not change how one should live.

11 D. Marcus believed that both good and evil exist in the world and that wisdom lies in understanding that every person is a vehicle for doing good.

12 E. All that a person can control is his or her own mind, the thoughts of that mind, and the actions taken on the basis of those thoughts. 1. The mind must be trained. Meditation and contemplation, rather than books, lead to understanding. 2. No one can control the mind of another person. Actions of other people do not harm an individual; what matters is the individual’s opinion of that action. An individual has been harmed only if he believes that he has been harmed.

13 3. People have no true control over their own property, other people, or even their own reputations. God controls events. He is like the pilot of a great ship who has let a person out on shore; when he calls, the person must return to him.

14 F. Another idea found in the Meditations is that everything that happens is good, because god would not allow something to happen if it were not good.

15 G. Everyone has a duty to perform. 1. Marcus, who wanted to be a philosopher, had a duty as emperor. His role was to perform that duty as well as possible, because god called him to perform that duty. 2. After death, a person turns into atoms and vanishes. A person is a mere individual, an atom in the universe. The soul does not endure. Glory does not matter. What matters is whether an individual has performed his assigned duty to the best of his ability.

16 V. The only real reason for studying the great books is that they present absolute values for living life. These values, according to both Marcus Aurelius and Socrates, include the following: A. Truth: Truth is an absolute value. Some things are true in all places and times. Resisting evil, for example, is always right. B. Justice: Justice consists of treating others as one would wish to be treated. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you” summarizes this concept of justice.

17 C. Courage: Courage means standing up for justice. D. Moderation: Nothing should be carried to excess. E. Wisdom: Wisdom enables a person to know what justice is, to recognize when courage is required, and to do what is right.

18 VI. These values—which are found in the literature of classical India and classical China, as well as contemporary literature—were, for Marcus Aurelius, the way to live life to find freedom. Education is ultimately freedom, freedom from worry about this world and from the fear of death. According to Marcus Aurelius, a fear of death implies wisdom in an area that people know nothing about. Death is as natural as life.

19 VII. For Marcus Aurelius, everything could be understood in terms of god, fate, and the central values. A. Justice was the essence of his role as emperor. B. He believed that power, honor, and ambition were false ideas that led people astray. Power, for example, is ultimately unimportant. The desire to have power, obtain it, and maintain it is a false goal, because power vanishes after death.

20 C. Marcus Aurelius dreamed of an empire in which individuals were free to live life as they chose and to follow their ambitions. He stated, “I dream of one world in which all are prosperous and all can take care of their children, and in which there is no war.”

21 VIII. In addition, he believed that the world is beautiful and is full of god’s glory.

22 IX. The philosophy found in the Meditations can be summarized as follows: “Get out of bed, get on with your duty, and appreciate what is around you. That is the meaning of life.” The goal of education, he believed, was to enable people to understand their duty, to find their assigned tasks, and to perform them to the best of their abilities.

23 谢谢!

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