Christopher Gill: "Marcus Aurelius' Meditations: How Stoic are They?"

Christopher Gill (Exeter): "Marcus Aurelius' Meditations: How Stoic are They?" Listen to the talk here.


In this paper I address the longstanding question whether the Meditations present orthodox Stoic philosophy or a personal or eclectic selection of themes. In approaching this question I stress the importance of taking into account what seems to be Marcus’ core project in the Meditations (namely, promoting his own ethical self-development) and also of taking full note of the themes which recur most commonly in the work before focusing on the more exceptional and puzzling features. I suggest that Marcus’ core project in the work and many specific points made in the Meditations reflect key standard ideas in Stoic ethics, especially the distinctive account of development as oikeiōsis (Marcus, like us, seems especially familiar with Cicero’s presentations of this in de Finibus 3.17-22, 62-8). As in many other Stoic writings, the significance of the interface of ethics with logic/dialectic or physics is stressed by Marcus; standard themes that are evoked repeatedly include the ideal of wisdom as ‘dialectical virtue’ (D.L. 7.46-8 = LS 31 B) and the definition of the goal of life as bringing your daimōn into line with the rational direction of the whole (D.L. 7.88 = LS 63C(3-4)). Within this interface area, certainly, there are some unexpected motifs, including rather Platonic-looking mind-body dualism and (at least in a few cases) seemingly inappropriate use of the ‘providence or atoms’ disjunction. However, the best explanation for these features is, I think, premature or over-hasty moralisation within a fundamentally Stoic framework, rather than philosophical amateurishness or eclecticism.



Meditations cited include 3.11 (ethics), 2.2 and 5.26 (psychology), 3.16, 6.14 and 11.20 (ethics-physics interface), 4.3 (esp. 4.3.3 and 5), 6.44, 12.14 (‘providence or atoms’).

The view offered here will be presented more fully in the Introduction to Marcus Aurelius: Meditations 1-6, translated with introduction and commentary (Clarendon Later Ancient Philosophers, Oxford University Press, forthcoming Sept 2013).

See also these earlier discussions:

Gill, C., ‘Marcus Aurelius’ in R. Sorabji and R. Sharples (eds.), Greek and Roman Philosophy (100 BC – 200 AD), Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 94 (2 vols.) vol. 1, 175-87 (London 2007). 

Gill, C., ‘Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: How Stoic and How Platonic?’, in M. Bonazzi and C. Helmig (eds.), Platonic Stoicism – Stoic Platonism: The Dialogue between Platonism and Stoicism in Antiquity (Leuven, 2007),189-207.

Other recent treatments adopting this kind of approach include: 

Ackeren, M. van., Die Philosophie Marc Aurels (2 vols.), Quellen und Studien zur Philosophie 103/2 (Berlin, 2011).

Giavatto, A., Interlocutore di se stesso: La dialettica di Marco Aurelio (Hildesheim, 2008). 

Note also Ackeren, M. van. (ed.), A Companion to Marcus Aurelius. Blackwells Companions to the Ancient World (Oxford, 2012), part 5 (Marcus the Philosopher).