Marcus Aurelius and Stoic Philosophy

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Marcus Aurelius and Stoic Philosophy

Stoicism is a belief that the universe, despite its appearances, is completely rational and guided by fate. Within it, individuals can, by conforming themselves to divine reason, find their proper place, learn to accept whatever happens with a strong and tranquil mind, and fulfill their obligations to society. These beliefs are the heart of Stoicism, a philosophy that originated in Athens during the 3rd century BC.

Stoicism can be divided into three periods: Old (300 - 129 BC.), middle (129 - 30 BC.), and New (30 BC. - AD 200). The foundations were laid by Zeno and were reshaped by his Greek and Roman followers (Comptons). Among the eminent Roman Stoics were Seneca, Epictetus, and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, all of who provided valuable writings on the subject. Of special interest are Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations", which were private notebooks written during his military campaigns. He wrote "Meditations" as a relief from his lonely office, attempting to reconcile his Stoic Philosophy of virtue and self-sacrifice, with his role as Emperor.

Stoicism is essentially a system of ethics, which is guided by logic as theory of method, and rests upon physics as foundation. The whole philosophy was fairly complex and included a complete view of the universe, physics, psychology, and political theory. The ethics, or the principles governing the behavior of people in society, was the most prominent and appealing feature of the philosophy. By the time of Cicero in the 1st century BC, Stoicism had become the most widely diffused intellectual movement in the Roman Empire. It persisted as a powerful doctrine for centuries and influenced many of the early Christian writers.


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I think stoic philosophy is fairly reasonable and easy to identify with. It is a mistake to regard health, wealth, success, or any other temporary condition as a cause for happiness. Only virtue is good, and vice is evil. The individual who pursues virtue can become wise. Virtue is defined as the attainment of courage, justice, and moderation. These are the ingredients of a good life, and the only things that can provide true happiness. A morally weak individual is unhappy no matter what good fortune the world brings. Money, wealth, and success can create a temporary psychological condition called happiness, but they cannot create real happiness --- described as the good life well lived.

Works Cited

"Marcus Aurelius." Comptons Encyclopedia. Online. America Online. 12 Feb.2001.

"Stoicism." Stanford Encyclopedia. Online. America Online. 10 Feb. 2001.
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