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The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (classics.mit.edu)
237 points by mindcrime on Feb 3, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 129 comments

This quote has been floating around for a while (I first came across it in the early 90s if memory serves). According to [1] Marcus Aurelius never wrote it, but I still think it's a great little quote:

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

[1] http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6999/did-marcus-...

Here's a similar quote from Jay-Z:

“This is why we shouldn't be afraid. There are two possibilities: One is that there's more to life than the physical life, that our souls "will find an even higher place to dwell" when this life is over. If that's true, there's no reason to fear failure or death. The other possibility is that this life is all there is. And if that's true, then we have to really live it - we have to take it for everything it has and "die enormous" instead of "living dormant," as I said way back on "Can I Live." Either way, fear is a waste of time.”

I had no idea Jay-Z was so introspective.

His book Decoded is a very interesting read. He tells a lot of stories about how the songs came about, and then also takes a lot of songs and goes line by line and explains the meaning behind the lyrics.

You know, all these allegedly deep and smart "worldly wisdoms" that people who "made it" like to share in hind-sight do not show you the countless other people who said something similar and did not make it or lived by totally different priorities and still made it. Taking the initiative and not being crippled in your actions by fear is generally not a bad suggestion but there is so much more that goes into becoming so successful and a lot of that really is out of your hands at the end of the day, whether you like that or not. Attributing it to one mindset or quote is really oversimplifying things, no matter how good it can feel to read something like that.

Interesting way to hedge your bets, but to me it seems absurd that the clay should dictate the rules of the potter.

The clay shouldn't waste its time thinking about the potter. The potter will either put the finished product on his mantle or not, at his whim. Either that or he won't exist to do anything with it.

Ergo, what the clay should do is life a full, enjoyable and productive life, and pay little attention to that which is out of its hands.

Why should one worship a god that can't tolerate a pagan man that nevertheless lived a good life? If a god wants the man to be virtuous, why can't the man expect the same from the god?

A god implies that something is created(c). That god could be good or bad based on c's standards, but the god would still be the definer of the rules if it wished to do so. How would c even know if it is accepted or rejected based on goodness? And if it is so, how would c know that it lives a good life? By whose standards? [Update spelling]

Even if I could create sentient beings, this wouldn't imply the power to declare what is good or true by fiat. 2 + 2 = 4, massive objects attract each other gravitationally, and it's morally problematic to put children in ovens for being Jewish even if a maximally powerful alien or wizard said otherwise. These things cannot be changed by any fiat, and being very powerful doesn't make it any more possible.

> this wouldn't imply the power to declare what is good or true by fiat

There are volumes upon volumes of philosophical work spent discussing this one idea. I wouldn't think less of someone simply for having a different point of view, especially if it might be supported by more than a back-of-the-envelope argument.

A very powerful being could change gravity, but I agree with you on the rest.

No, the gravitational force would still be there, he might just overcome it with a different force.

I'm not sure that's true, but even if it were, the change is not achieved by mere fiat.

> That god could be good or bad based on c's standards, but the god would still be the definer of the rules if it wished to do so.

A god could define rules. So can men (in fact, men can be observed to create rules all the time). Anybody can define rules if they wish to do so. I'm not quite sure of the point here.

> And if it is so, how would c know that it lives a good life? By whose standards?

As a Stoic philosopher, obviously Marcus Aurelius' answer would be along the lines of the standards embraced by Stoicism. In addition to a heavy emphasis on virtue, the Stoics were also avid logicians, and this informed their ethics.

> A god could define rules. So can men (in fact, men can be observed to create rules all the time). Anybody can define rules if they wish to do so. I'm not quite sure of the point here.

The first parent comment implies the created can dictate on what basis the creator will "welcome you". That can only happen if the creator has given the created that specific trait. How does the created know if it has that trait?

He might have other traits like e.g. free will, but that does not mean he can make rules on how the creator will welcome him.

He might have other traits like e.g. free will, but that does not mean he can make rules on how the creator will welcome him.

How else should we interpret the lack of unambiguous instructions from our supposed Creator, if not as permission to speculate on said Creator's intentions and desires for us?

A God who communicates only with insane people is indistinguishable from no God at all.

Of course one can speculate on the Creator's intentions and desires for us. I even ask God about these things every day, and ask Him to guide me. Dictating how the creator "will welcome you", as indicated in the first comment, is another thing, though.

And I am sure you are right, I probably am a little crazy :-) But that is okay, as my hope in God is an anchor for my soul, firm and secure . . . (Hebrews 6.19)

> How does the created know if it has that trait?

Exactly. In this setup, the created can't know. Therefore it is pointless to worry about it.

Let's say this god entity as understood by any major religion, past or present, exists. Or would that be entities?

1. It doesn't communicate its rules to its created (C) in a way that would be undeniably from It. Books can be written by anyone. Give me letters of starfire in the sky, or floating letters of stone a mile tall, or something similarly miraculous that would be an undeniable mark of its divine provenance.

2. It gives C built-in rules (a moral sense), but enforces an external set of rules that often conflict with the internal rules. Why not just implant the rules in C in the first place?

3. There are rumors among C that they are being judged, and if they don't behave according to aforementioned poorly-communicated rules, they will be "rejected". Why? As the creator it's responsible for any defects in the created.

All together these seem like the actions of a cruel psychopath who gets off on its creations failing. But these are my internal rules, you say. Sure, but it planted them in me. What else am I supposed to use? The Book (any "Book") makes no sense by these rules. And I cannot respect a creator so childish and cruel, because my internal rules forbid me to and because by my rules, I am far superior to it - I don't torture those with less power than me.

I could pretend to respect it, but if it's omniscient as is always claimed, I couldn't fool it. So the only way to live is by my rules, and if at the end it turns out that there is a creator and that it is, indeed, as described in The Book and that I am, indeed, going to Hell, I can only hope for a chance to spit in its face when I meet it.

Interestingly, the Greek and Roman gods were not the creators of the universe, but descendants of the creator. Certainly in the myths, proper respect for the gods was somewhat more important than goodness. So, for example, Medea could be forgiven for murdering her brother, but failing to invite Strife to a wedding led to the Trojan war. (Just finished reading D'Aulaires' Greek mythology with my daughter)

This issue is much more complicated than you imply and has been written about for thousands of years.

Why should a man second-guess a god?

Whose second guessing a god. I'm second guessing your absurd claims that there is a god. When said god shows up at my door, then I can second guess his inane actions, but until then, I'm simply second guessing the claim that any god exists at all.

I'm not making any claim that there are gods. I, too, am an atheist. I'm only making a conditional statement that if there are gods, it would not be the place of men to second-guess them. I wasn't commenting on the truth value of my statement's antecedent, just pointing out an inconsistency in rapala's reasoning.

Because another god seems to be offering a better deal. I think that the point of the quote is that one should not care about the unjust good. Why would I want to be "welcomed" by a god that does not care about my pursuit of good life but only about devotion?

If a god exists and created us, not second guessing him with the brain he gave us is to deny his essence.

Either it's exactly what we should be doing, god's a complete idiot, or he doesn't exist.

Regardless, not much concerning ourselves with.

Because we can.

Probably because that god has rules.

Pascal would agree with you, but the problem is that the clay has no way of knowing who its potter is, if any.

Clay is inanimate and there's no potter in evidence around here.

Well, I am here -- I think -- an Adamah man waving his hands. I guess I am just a simple guy assuming that the beautiful sun, sky and sea that I saw today has the fingerprint of someone far bigger than me :-)

This is the exact quote according to his translation, which can be found at http://archive.org/stream/meditationsofmar00marc/meditations...

Manage all your actions, words, and thoughts accordingly, since you may at any moment quit life. And what great matter is the business of dying ? If the gods are in being, you can suffer nothing, for they will do you no harm. And if they are not, or take no care of us mortals — why, then, a world without either gods or Providence is not worth a man's while to live in. But, in truth, the being of the gods, and their concern in human affairs, is beyond dispute. And they have put it entirely in a man's power not to fall into any calamity properly so-called. And if other misfortunes had been really evils, they would have provided against them too, and furnished man with capacity to avoid them. But how can that which cannot make the man worse make his life so ?

Pascal's wager assumes one can only hold a belief in 1 god.

However as it is trying not to make assumptions about the existence of gods then it really should take into account the possibility of infinite gods. Wager value now divided by infinity or negative as believing in infinite gods is tough on your wallet.

Indeed, one of the critical flaws with Pascal's Wager, from a decision-science standpoint, is that it's Judeo-Christian-centric. AFAIK, only the gods of monotheistic religions seem to demand singular worship. Gods of other religions and belief systems don't seem to give a crap how many of them you worship, or whether you blend them into admixtures of faith.

Given that there is no evidence that the Christian God is more likely to exist than, say, Zeus, we must provide equal statistical weight to Zeus as to J.C. And so on for all the other possibilities, ad infinitum.

But it doesn't stop there. Some religions' tenets conflict directly with the tenets of others. So it can be said that there are multiple sets of compatible religions that can be held at a given time. Most of these religions are polytheistic. By contrast, adopting a monotheistic religion limits you to just one chip on the cosmic roulette table.

Ergo, from a statistical standpoint, choosing a monotheistic religion (such as Christianity) for the Wager is taking the worst possible odds.

> Given that there is no evidence that the Christian God is more likely to exist than, say, Zeus,

What do you think about a premise that if one of the gods of religion exists, it is more likely to be one that has been fairly successful or at least has not allowed his following to die out, perhaps on the assumption that such a god would be fairly powerless and not much worth following anyway. I suppose you could counter that such a metric of success would depend greatly on the time period you looked at. Still, I think it might be reasonable to assert that a god who let all his followers die out is less likely to exist than a god who has inspired his followers to successfully spread his name to every country on earth for two thousand years running. If so, you might at least restrict Pascal's wager to a few "major" religions and perhaps proceed from there.

It's an interesting thought, and the other side of the coin might be the assumption that all the various gods are just manifestations of the same God/entity/whatever, who has appeared to different people in the form(s) most suitable to their historical and cultural contexts.

Were that the case, however, it seems strange that the same being would demand more sacrifices of some than of others, or place stricter guidelines on one group versus another. (Though perhaps God is a behavioral economist, after all, and he's simply structuring different incentives for different groups, i.e., creating the frameworks the different groups need most? But, to your point, that wouldn't account for why some groups and gods died out altogether).

Continuing this point you need to exclude any major religion with significant exclusive splits like Christianity, or Islam. Leaving Budism and Hinduism.

Good point. I could argue that Christianty's splits are not generally considered exclusive, at least today (excepting minor ones like Mormonism), or that even if they are exclusive, splits like Catholicism and Protestantism might still be large enough to be included alongside Buddhism and Hinduism. But at that point things may be far too subjective to attempt to salvage the cosmic reach of Pascal's wager.

You should probably learn more about Buddhism! :P

I disagree, I think most religions you could name or find in an encyclopedia (obviously the set of "religions" is infinite) are mutually exclusive. And statistically ... given that the set of possible religions is infinite, I'm not sure that you get much better odds; I'd have to think about that. Also, restricting yourself to what is in the current encyclopedia is pretty limiting ... Those poor citizens of the 1700s would have had no idea Mormonism was true. :)

Reminds me of a funny South Park bit, wherein a bunch of people wind up in hell. There's a demon serving as sort of a welcoming committee, and he tells the crowd he will answer any questions to the best of his ability.

"So...which religion was the right one?" someone asks.

"Mormonism," he replies. It turns out Mormonism was the correct answer. Sorry."

It would be interesting to see a matrix of popular religions and their compatibilities with/against belief in other religions.

Reminds me of the Game of Thrones character matrices I've seen around. People who are religious, funnily enough, exhibit the exact same tendencies as Game of Thrones and Dr. Who fans (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNtnN_DiP3o).

Ha! Hadn't seen that yet. I am shocked they didn't end it with "anyone got wood for my sheep? wood for my sheep..anyone?". ;)

A well known and obvious false dilemma, how is that relevant?

The problems with Pascal's wager are good to keep in mind when trying to reason about hypothetical deities. Mostly, the lesson here is that when you're considering what types of gods may exist, there are a lot of possibilities. Any time you try to break the set of all possible gods down into simple categories, be careful and double-check your assumptions, because you could easily have forgotten something major.

For example, Pascal's Wager doesn't really consider the set of hypothetical gods who are violently offended by blind faith, but these gods are no less possible than the ones it does consider.

One doesn't generally quote something they disagree with as support for something because something they agree with can be found in the criticisms of that which they quoted.

As you aren't the OP, you can't answer the intended relevance. I do not think his reasons would match your rationalization of it. I agree with you, but doubt the OP does.

Of course; I didn't mean to imply that I spoke for the OP.

This implies that we can say/understand/dictate as humans what is just and not just.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius has often been recommended to me as the source of the earliest pro-homeschooling quotation found in Western literature:

"From my grandfather's father, [I learned] to dispense with attendance at public schools, and to enjoy good teachers at home, and to recognize that on such things money should be eagerly spent."


That does reveal a cultural difference between East and West, as the oldest Chinese quotation to speak to the issue of family education of children (a much older quotation from Mencius) specifically claims that education of children by their own families is a bad idea, because injecting the teacher relationship into the family wrecks family relationships. I respectfully disagree with Mencius, having homeschooled my half-Eastern, half-Western children while living both in Taiwan and in the United States. It's interesting that Marcus Aurelius was already concerned about "public schools" at a time when "public schools" just meant "schools outside one's home" rather than "schools funded by taxes and operated by state employees."

It would pay to bear in mind what SORT of education occurre in roman schools: For the most part it was rote memorisation of the letters and the sounds they made to give literacy and very little else. A roman education was not a 'Greek education', rhetoric and logic were not taught.

Mike Duncan's 'a history of Rome' podcast was very informative on this and though Marcus Aurelius would have had private tutors for these things that is really what he was likely talking about when he says to have in the home

Did you mean Roman public education only taught basic literacy? For aristocrats, pupils were taught Greek and Greek literature early on since later republic era. Julia Caesar's mother went so far as to have a Greek slave accompanying Caesar from early childhood so he grew up bilingual. Marcus Aurelius was as comfortable in Greek as he was in Latin. His extensive training rhetorics is obvious from his writing. He wrote "Meditations" in Greek, because that was the language of philosophy.

I don't think the two quotations are incompatible. Aurelius seems to be advising that no penny should be spared on providing a good education (and thus prefers hiring a tutor for 1-on-1 tuition). The Chinese quotation advises against children being educated by their direct families. Presumably public education was better in China at the time (see my sibling poster about Roman schooling), so public schooling was the "best" alternative, whereas in Aurelius's time hiring private tutors was.

My main concern with home-schooling is that it sort of sets an upper bound to the child's learning of that which the parent knows. (although I'd guess it works quite well at younger ages provided the social contact with peers is still maintained in some way).

Well given you can't know what your family would be like, or your kids education levels would be without home schooling... your can't make too many meaningful observations.

From all the reading I've done on educational outcomes for kids, the number one predictor of educational outcome, is socio-economic status of the parents. Sometimes exceptional teachers can move kids outside of that, but most of the time, it's what (socio-economic) 'class' you are in, not classroom.


Surprisingly this doesn't hold true in Asia, their focus on education is amazing at bridging socio economic gaps (though the above observation still holds true, but to a much lesser degree).

There's something to be said of IITs and the way they've done a remarkable job of taking people out of extreme poverty and into (both Indian and American) upper middle classes.

The SATs have initially had this effect in the United States as well: they were initially fiercely opposed by the WASP elite as their immediate effect was to bring "undesirables" like Jews (and later Asians) into what were once the holiest of hollies (Ivy League universities, flag-ship state schools).

Today, however, SATs tend to be too susceptible to cramming: ironically the efforts at making SATs more culturally fair have turned them into reinforcements of existing class structure as now cramming and expensive tutoring become viable strategies.

Not sure why this is on here really, but I will say I picked this up about a year ago and started reading it and was absolutely blown away by how relevant it still is 1,000 years later. ...Think about how grounded you have to be to turn away from the life of material fulfillment that is offered to you as a Roman Emperor and instead live a life of philosophy and the mind. Wise dude, and it's worth reading what he wrote.

If you enjoyed Meditations please keep a lookout for anything by Epictetus. Depending on the publisher titles may vary, but Discourses is common (iirc they were notes compiled from his many stories and teachings). You won't be disappointed.

Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are perfect examples of how universally Stoicism can apply to people. One is a roman emperor, one is a freed slave.

I'd also recommend Epicurus's writings. Not exactly stoic, but they go hand-in-hand. See: http://classics.mit.edu/Epicurus/menoec.html

On a sidenote i just started to read "The Swerve" which is about how epicurs thoughts (by Lucretius "On the nature of things") were rediscovered at the beginning of the renaissance, until now a great read (and Pullitzer price winner last year, apparently)!


A modern-day devotee of Epictetus was Admiral James Stockdale, best known for being Ross Perot's 1992 running mate. He wrote two great essays on how stoicism influenced his life, especially during his time as the senior naval prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

http://www.usna.edu/ethics/publications/documents/stoicism1.... http://www.usna.edu/ethics/publications/documents/Stoicism2....

"who am i, and why am I here ? "

A comment about his audience rather than himself.

In fairness to his audience, it wouldn't have been a big deal if he were otherwise polished and practiced at public speaking, debates, interviews, etc. As it was he looked like a goof most of the time, so most people actually were thinking "Ok, Seriously: who is this guy and why is he here?"

Also look for Seneca. In particular I liked "Letters From A Stoic".

Agreed, at times, when reading M.A. you will think you are reading the Discourses of Epictetus. Like literally.

Seneca's essays are also great!

Yes, I would read Seneca first or I highly recommend "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy". Then reading Epictetus and Aurelius. Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson can also be added to the reading list in my view.

I can also recommend Cicero. But like any Stoic needs to be read critically.


Eh, a lot of it was kind of crappy stoner-speak and cosmic stipulations. You're better off reading Seneca - "Letters from a Stoic" is a good place to start.

Downvotes/tone aside, Letters from a Stoic is indeed a much easier to digest read. Much of Meditations feels particular to Aurelius, his education and his problems where Seneca feels a bit more easily applicable to life in the 21st century.

I found the opposite; Meditations felt like immediate practical wisdom, Letters from a Stoic I struggled to keep reading.

Also: if you're going to take self-help advice from anyone, might as well be the World's Most Important Man (at time of writing).

Not sure why this is on here really


but I will say I picked this up about a year ago and started reading it and was absolutely blown away by how relevant it still is 1,000 years later

I think you just answered your own question.

I can't remember who first recommended The Meditations to me, but I've found this work to be very relevant as well. What I wish I had, was more time to follow up with the writers of other Stoics. One day... sigh

I think it's a reaction to the other article on the front page that spoke about stoic philosophy.

And I agree wholeheartedly with what the OP said :)

I think it's a reaction to the other article on the front page that spoke about stoic philosophy.

It is. I was the earlier discussion, was reminded of this, and - since Stoicism has been on my mind lately anyway - I thought now might be a good time to share this, and that some people might find it interesting.

That said, I was shocked to come back online after a couple of hours and find this at the top of the front page. I thought it would get 4-5 upvotes and maybe 1 comment. :-)

Agreed. Many lessons there from a timeless wise man. 1,850 years later actually.

and yet as grounded as he was he still turned the empire over to Commodus.

We'd like to believe that wasn't his choice.

"The 1964 movie Fall of the Roman Empire and the 2000 movie Gladiator both posited that he was assassinated because he intended to pass down power to Aurelius's adopted son, a Roman general.." -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Aurelius#Legacy_and_rep...

am I missing your point or are you really just citing movie plots?

His point is that the movie plots show what people would like to believe.


The most accessible guide to Stoicism that I've ever found was recommended by Derek Sivers, and written by William Irvine "A Guide to the Good Life".


I really highly recommend it myself. A bit of history of Stoicism, but also a lot of practical advice about how to put it into practice in modern times. (Always going back to the key Stoic thinkers.)

To add more social proof, it’s also featured on the personal mba (http://personalmba.com/best-business-books), which is a highly curated place.

Tim Ferriss also talks a lot about stoicism on his blog.

When I saw it on the personal mba, saw it with a note of 10/10 in Sivers’s books notes, and understood it was about “the weird thing Tim Ferriss was talking about constantly” I knew this book was worth my attention. I haven’t been disappointed, even without practicing the principles depicted in the book as much as I should it as substantially made my life better.

Agreed that this is a great book to introduce Stoicism. This, and Seneca's works which I've read since, have been life changing for me - I think it should be required reading for all entrepreneurs, if not everybody.

Add Epictetus to that list, as well.

Following Ryan Holiday's recommendation (http://www.ryanholiday.net/reading-list/), I highly, highly advise you to go with the Gregory Hays' translation (http://amzn.to/XQSimT)!

I have a copy of Long's and it doesn't do it justice.

If you want to dive deeper consider Pierre Hadot's 'The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius" - http://amzn.to/YuWyvh

I am also fond of these YouTube lectures on the Meditations: http://youtu.be/nLD09Qa3kMk

I second this. But don't take my word for it. Here is 5.24 (one of my favorites) translated by Long:

  "Think of the universal substance, of which thou hast a 
  very small portion; and of universal time, of which a short
  and indivisible interval has been assigned to thee; and of
  that which is fixed by destiny, and how small a part of it
  thou art."
And by Hays:

  Matter. How tiny your share of it.
  Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it.
  Fate. How small a role you play in it."

Very diffeernt styles but I'm not sure how I would choose one over the other. I don't know which is closer to the original.

Actually, I'm not even sure that's a consideration I'm interested in. I might be more interested in a translation that most efficiently communicates the intended message.

A literal translation, the Stoics having doubtless written in formal Latin, it being so concise, might appear more as riddle than prose to English speakers.

Koine (vulgar or Hellenist) Greek, actually, but the point still stands.

I wouldn't be surprised if someone's personal writings were concise. This is how I write for myself, so I prefer Hays.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - by William Irvine

Notes by Derek Sivers available at http://sivers.org/book/StoicJoy

Tim Ferriss also frequently shows his admiration for Stoicism. A quick read that also provides a broad overview with a few reading recommendations.

Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/04/13/stoicism-101...

+1 on A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.

This translation rocks so hard. My new motto is lifted directly from the book:

"Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one."

>Pierre Hadot's 'The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius"

As someone who bought this book, I'd caution against a hasty purchases of it. I found it to be excessively dry and tedious. None of the original emotional content that make the meditations so moving is present. In the meditation you can clearly see - here is a dying man asking hard questions about life. In contrast the citadel book debates the various possible translations of specific words etc. Nothing wrong with it...just tread cautiously.

I will definitely look into the other suggested translation though.

Hey there, to the people recommending good books to "introduce you to stoicism" I would say: Um, the originals are probably the easiest and most straight forward philosophy ever written. Just read those.

Suppressing rueful grin here -- I fled a philosophy PhD to run a startup, and it's shocking how often the degree turns out to be practical -- if not in substance ( higher-order logics, paradoxes of game theory, history of set theory, common fallacies ) then in style (the framework-vs-lib debate is a weird recap of the continental-vs-analytic divide, IMHO.)

Aurelius is recommended reading, but he needs to be cut with some Epicurus. They start from the same position but reach very different conclusions. I like to think of Aurelius as being noneuclidean epicureanism. :)

Geeks, nerds, tech people: we seem to have ended up with a fair amount of global influence.

I know a lot of us are into -- or getting into -- some kind of "traditional wisdom," even if we're not traditionally religious.

For me, Buddhism resonates strongest, so I'm walking that path.

Whichever path, by walking it, you affect the world. Living ethically is a great gift; it makes you a source of safety and peace.

And that shines through in your work, and many of us have livelihoods with global effects. That's a powerful fact.

Stoicism resembles Buddhism in its focus on practical psychology and mastery of the mind through reason. The Stoics do not deny the reality of the physical world and the ego, but they teach that unhappiness comes from attachment to undependable things, things outside one's own control. The Stoic road to happiness comes from training one's mind, through the application of reason, to care about nothing except one's own ethical actions, and the ultimate measure of a philosopher consists in successful application of this training, not in knowledge or argumentation.

There are glaring differences between Stoicism and Buddhism, of course. The Stoic definition of ethical behavior is not rooted in compassion like Buddhism is, for example, and the Stoics did not create a practice of mental training anywhere near as well-elaborated as Buddhist meditation.

Buddhism and Stoicism have a lot in common, particularly Zen Buddhism. As a complement to the skull on your desk, I recommend Basho:


I am going to run afoul of the common thinking...but this is one of the reasons I really value my liberal arts degree. I was exposed to a wide variety of disciplines and forced to spend time digesting them. You can certainly walk yourself through a philosophy of ethics class but a lot of the value was having the professor walk us through things, guide the resulting discussion and ensure a certain level of rigour.

My favorite philosophy reading was Plato's Republic.

Text: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html

Discussion of politics and ethics: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-ethics-politics/

Plato generally: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato/

The last two links are from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I highly recommend it if you are interested in philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/

I have to recommend the newer translation by Gregory Hays, which makes the book immensely more readable. I got through it in an evening.

One thing that pops out of the Hays translation that isn't so obvious at first glance in the Long translation, is that _Meditations_ wasn't a philosophical treatise at all, but rather a series of philosophical "Notes to Self" -- the sorts of issues he was struggling with at the time.

When you think about how you'd like your life to be different, it gives you a little bit of perspective to realize that the Emperor of the Roman Empire appeared to be primarily preoccupied with (1) death, and (2) how much he hated his coworkers (the Imperial court). Reflecting on death, he mentions if you lived thousand lives, it would be just be the same stuff over and over again. How true.

To get a better understanding of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a king, you should read The Discourses of Epictetus, a slave, who has truly affected the philosophy the of former. They have a deep relationship although they did not live in the same era. Marcus was a king who lived like a slave, and Epictetus was a slave, although freed later, who lived like a king.

For a discussion of the philosophy of Stoicism, the BBC's In Our Time program is very good :


"Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Stoicism, the third great philosophy of the Ancient World."

Angie Hobbs is always worth hearing, as is this program. It's a reason to pay the license fee.

If you enjoy this, you should also pick up a copy of the Davie translation of Seneca's "On the shortness of life"[1]. Seneca is another stoic, and a much better writer than Aurelius.

"Nothing concerns the busy man less than the business of living: nothing is so difficult to learn"

"There is, therefore, no ground for thinking that, because of his white hair or wrinkles, someone has lived too long: he has not lived a long time, but existed a long time"

Epictetus's "handbook"[2] is also very good. You will get a lot out of both.



I love Meditations. I actually use it as a journalling tool.

I have about four copies of Meditations sitting on my bookshelf. What I really enjoy about reading it is that at any point, I can pore through a chapter, find something that "hits" and is relevant to something going on in my life, and I'll process it in pen, on the page, whether I actually agree or not with the line. I write down the date whenever I pick up the book, so it's a kind of diarying reflective process.

In my experience, reading it more than a chapter or two at a time is a bit of a waste. Too many ideas going in one ear and out the other - I hit two or three and that's all that's going to stick in my head.

Ah, classics..the patience and study of the philosopher's common book and their grounded theses revealed. A best seller or a mention in lecture halls reassures that you've evolved into someone unique or you're a man with minimal words who aggregates the ordinary and his niche topic into art.

I've still haven't found someone who open sourced their common book journey, their resources, and resources' resources, as linked data.

Thanks for all these reading lists comments though. I REALLY appreciate it!

Another great translation of these is by two brothers, David and C. Scott Hicks. It's called The Emperor's Handbook[1], and is an attempt to translate them in a way that is less literal and more "in the spirit" of what Aurelius was trying to convey. I definitely suggest it.


i wonder how true the translation is to the original text. nevertheless, marcus aurelius was an extremely intelligent and well-learned man. i particularly liked book 1, his thanks to rusticus:

From Rusticus I received the impression that my character required improvement and discipline; and from him I learned not to be led astray to sophistic emulation, nor to writing on speculative matters, nor to delivering little hortatory orations, nor to showing myself off as a man who practises much discipline, or does benevolent acts in order to make a display; and to abstain from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing; and not to walk about in the house in my outdoor dress, nor to do other things of the kind; and to write my letters with simplicity, like the letter which Rusticus wrote from Sinuessa to my mother; and with respect to those who have offended me by words, or done me wrong, to be easily disposed to be pacified and reconciled, as soon as they have shown a readiness to be reconciled; and to read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book; nor hastily to give my assent to those who talk overmuch; and I am indebted to him for being acquainted with the discourses of Epictetus, which he communicated to me out of his own collection.

this screams out to me a man with principles and integrity and perhaps the reason why the roman civilization was so successful, the level of reasoning and education is astounding.

note that i live in china now (for the past 6 years) and find that there's a lack of general scruples because the environment is rife with corruption, greed, deception, cheating. but as the saying goes, when in rome, i find myself adapting to these circumstances in order not to get burned, so it's really, really nice to read these thoughts. i'm not saying ancient rome wasn't filled with similar things, and who knows if marcus was a man of moral fiber or just talked the talk, but surely i'd like to believe that his uprightness got him to where he was.

On Amazon, there is a free Kindle version of Meditations.

Here is the URL that worked for me:


So I'm wondering, If humans can create things that did not exist (computers, mobile phones, cars) etc, to solve problems they had, will it be too far fetched to assume that we were also created by someone/something more intelligent to do something?

My guess is "to form a higher collective awareness"

I don't really see the value of translating this into archaic "thy, thou and hast" english.

Have there been any more recent translations. I could understand reading it (untouched) in the original language. But if you're going to translate it anyway...

There are more recent translations, but they're not in the public domain. Take a look on Amazon if you're keen.

And to stop Michael Hart from spinning in his grave, the Project Gutenberg link: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2680


His overall outlook in the project was to develop in the least demanding format possible: as worded in The Chronicle of Higher Education, to him, open access meant " open access without proprietary displays, without the need for special software, without the requirement for anything but the simplest of connections."


More thought provoking stuff without the stoic fluff: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/

Stoicism is like Buddhism without the sitting meditation fluff.

I'm halfway through Meditations, and I do find that there are similarities. But when you look at intense practice of stoicism vs. buddhism, they promote different goals. Buddhism encourages you to abandon a normal life to dissociate yourself so you don't have to be reborn. Stoicism seems to be neutral on what to actually do with your life, besides the broad "be a good person and grow yourself" aspect.

Oh, and your vinegar is sour. My vinegar rocks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinegar_tasters

There are definite similarities, though I think Stoicism and Buddhism have fairly different philosophical motivations and conclusions. In particular, Stoicism tends to emphasize rationalism more, and is less suspicious of attachment to the self (if anything, being in favor of cultivating the self). It's a fairly complex topic and there are a dozen variants of both Buddhism and Stoicism, so that's probably wrong as a generalization, but it seems to me to be where the emphases are.

This random Google Books result expands on a comparison along those lines: http://books.google.com/books?id=yLQ-GQTcwVkC&pg=PA67

For those of us that have ebook readers. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2680

I'm actually more curious why this link hits the top of HN right now. Its been available for many many years already. What changed?

I'm the guy who submitted this, and I can't even explain why it's at the top. I mean, I'm not saying it shouldn't be.. I wouldn't have submitted it if I didn't think it were of interest. But I didn't expect so much of a reaction.

Anyway, I don't think anything has "changed" I think it as just a case of somebody taking the initiative to post this, and it just happening to be somewhat timely (there was another thread discussing stoicism earlier) and being of interest to a broad cross-section of HN readers. shrug

Ha, my greatest takeaway from reading Marcus Aurelius was "All is vanity" - a good one for the entrepreneurial crowd...

It'll be interesting to see when HN gets into Political Philosophy : )

This is so strange - I feel a disturbance in the Force!

Hackers are getting into Stoicism now? The world really is coming around to points of view that I thought were my individual peculiarities. Fantastic!

Couple of links to contribute something other than my amazement:



It doesn't seem terribly strange to me. I've seen the occasional reference to Stoicism and/or The Meditations on here before, and on other sites that were geek/hacker centric, going back quite some years now.

"I was shocked to come back online after a couple of hours and find this at the top of the front page"

Well mindcrime, Stoicism has been on my mind for well over 20 years, and I'm simply agreeing with your "shock" that a simple link to the Meditations is on the front page.

Let me assure you, this level of recognition of the very word is new. It may be only the Tim Ferriss PR machine, but I think it's more than that.

Geek/hackers that I've come across over the last 30 years have much more in tune with such awful hackneyed dungeons and dragons/Tolkien crap than anything so sophisticated.

Fair enough. Me using the word "shocked" might have been a bit of hyperbole, maybe I should have said "surprised". But nonetheless, I'm not shocked to see some meaningful interest in this subject among this crowd.

Of course, I'm FAR from an expert on this topic myself, and one thing I'm really happy about, from this thread, are all the great links and suggestions for other reading material.

After you read Meditations, follow up with Essays by Montaigne and then Markings by Dag Hammarskjold. Thank me later!

PS - don't just read, take notes and write your own reflections. That's the way to learn.

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