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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – Book Review

Marcus Aurelius, a roman emperor and philosopher who not only read about stoic philosophy but actually used it in practice. He is one of the prime examples that shows that philosophy isn’t just a course one can follow in school but is a way of living. The Meditations is a book containing his wisdom about the world and the people in it. It’s a book that was not meant to be published; Marcus wrote it for himself. Because of this, we can see into the soul of the emperor, see what he was like as a person, troubled as he might have been as emperor of the then ‘known’ world.

            Marcus writes to himself with many maxims, remembering him how to act in the world. He follows Stoic philosophy and has a huge respect for Epictetus, the slave philosopher and Socrates. He regards himself lucky that he has met all the people he has met and every one of them has brought him some values. In his book there are three main components of his philosophy.

            The first is to live according with Nature with a capital N. Everything is Nature, and everything goes according to Natures will. We cannot control Nature in any way, we just live in it. We are going along for the ride. Everything Nature produces is good, because it is with Reason that Nature progresses. It is because of this that we shouldn’t feel sad when we get a disease, we lose a battle or die. All is according to Nature to Marcus. It is because of this that we should stop complaining, we should stop being angry and stop chasing pleasures. Don’t complain because you can’t control the flow of Nature. You can’t stop it so why bother. It happened, so what? It is all according to the Reason of Nature. Why be angry with someone? You can’t control other people their feelings or actions in any way. If he failed, try to teach him to be better, if you fail teaching him, he has not failed but you. Don’t be sad or angry that things happened, be happy that you have the strength to endure them. To achieve this state of extreme calmness means you have achieved ‘ataraxia’. A state where nothing can disturb your soul.

            This brings us to the rejection of fear. Marcus believed that because everything is according to Nature, you shouldn’t fear whatever happened to you. If you die, you die. Who cares? You’re dead. That is just the way how Nature progresses. So, leave fear. He only feared on thing: to not be the man he could be. He feared to be less than the man he was able to be. He feared not to live virtuously in life. He wanted to live life in his best way possible, be the most capable emperor he could be. He could only do his best, that’s what he has in his control, his own self. The rest is in the control of Nature.

            That’s the third component of his philosophy and the one where he is most famous for. He believed that everyone could live virtuously according to reason. Everyone could be a philosopher, which is shown by Epictetus the slave philosopher. You could say the Meditations is the first real self-help book and it might be one of the greatest to have ever been written. The only thing you control is yourself, so act in a way to better yourself. You can’t control the rest so don’t be angry with them, see if you can teach them to be better, by being a better human being. You, like everyone else, has the ability to erase your vices and to manifest your virtues. Don’t blame other people, see if you can fix the problem. Focus on the present. The present has happened, you can’t change it and the future is beyond your control because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. So do things right in the present and you’ll make things right in the future. It is only because the past has meaning, that looking at the future is meaningful.

            Live your life to the fullest of your capabilities wherever you are, in whatever social class you are born into, into what culture you grew up into. Philosophy doesn’t discriminate. And Marcus believed that living virtuously is the ultimate good in life. So be virtuous. That is the basic proposition of this book and it displays it marvelously. Using small paragraphs, it is a text which will take more time than anticipated if you want to read it carefully. Every ‘chapter’ will leave a new thought and every ‘book’ a new idea. It is one of those books which you can take from the shelf and just read a couple of pages of every day or week and your life will be better off doing it.

            I highly recommend this book to everyone. Not only to those who are interested in philosophy but everyone who thinks that improving their lives is important. This book repeats the same message over and over again and it is something which I also strongly advise. You won’t regretting picking up this book from the book shop.

By elenchusphilosophy

I'm a Philosophy student in Belgium, trying to talk and write about ideas of all kinds of sorts.

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