Stoicism & The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

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  • 0:02 An Emperor's Diary
  • 0:33 Definition of Stoicsm
  • 1:24 Virtue in Stoicism
  • 3:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, learn what stoic philosophy teaches about how to live a good life. Consider the writings of Marcus Aurelius, who used his diary to work through challenges he faced during his life.

An Emperor's Diary

Imagine writing a diary about the challenges of your life and how you try to face them. You admit your failings and try to work out how to improve. Now imagine a Roman emperor who is trying to live out his philosophy of life and uses a diary to do this. In this case, the end result is the work known as The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy of stoicism continues to have an influence on ways of thinking today. In this lesson, you'll learn what Marcus Aurelius had to say about how to live a good life.

Definitions of Stoicism

If someone calls you stoic today, they likely mean that you endure life without complaint. It's not that you don't feel, or don't experience pain or pleasure, but you keep this in perspective compared to bigger issues. This term relates back to some elements of the ancient philosophy of stoicism, which says that only virtue contributes to happiness, only vice contributes to unhappiness, and all else is indifferent.

So, if Marcus Aurelius stubs his toe on the way to sit down to work on his diary, he might react and feel the pain, but he would not see this as contributing to unhappiness. And even bigger issues, like being without food and enduring hunger, cannot contribute to unhappiness. This is because hunger is not a vice or virtue, but is indifferent.

Virtue in Stoicism

You might think it would be a bad thing to have a stoic as a friend. Wouldn't they tell you to buck up and get over your stubbed toe or your hungry belly? Actually, a person with a stoic philosophy could potentially make a good friend and neighbor. This is because those like Marcus Aurelius saw themselves as aiming to be responsible citizens of a cosmic city, in which it was right to behave in ways that contribute to the greater whole.

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