Meditations | Study Guide

Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations | Book 7 | Summary

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Summary

In this book Aurelius gets down to the "brass tacks" of philosophical discussion and its application to the struggles of daily life. He outlines three critical disciplines: that of the will, action, and perception. He proposes a series of questions with statements of insight from pertinent philosophers specific to his understanding. Beneath the discussion, however, is another reminder that regardless of esteem, wealth, or accomplishments of any kind, everyone dies and is forgotten. It is immaterial whether "the nature of All" moves in continuity or whether there is no ultimate rationality of action. A person must attend to duty with an attitude of love and forgiveness for its own sake, and not because a reward of praise or gratitude is expected.

Analysis

Aurelius presents here three disciplines he finds essential to maintaining peace of mind; discipline of the will, discipline of action, and discipline of perception. These are emphasized in this book and are drawn forward to play out under most of the other ideas and concepts in Meditations.

Discipline of the will makes it possible to maintain a steady and consistent focus on what is, and what is not, important in the moment. For example, while the opinions of others are unimportant, what one thinks of the self from within is the only important perspective to keep in mind. Then, guided by discipline of the will, the person with discipline of action can go forward in the moment of each day with focused attention. While duty is served to the best of one's ability, there is no need to worry about situations over which one has no control.

To discuss discipline of perception—which can also be thought of as a discipline of the senses—Aurelius mentions qualities such as sweetness and bitterness. It is easily observable, he says, that the sense of taste by which what is sweet is distinguished from what is bitter differs from one person to another, so there is no "absolute" state of sweet or bitter taste. Furthermore, for anyone, something tastes more sweet if it follows something bitter than if it follows something that is also sweet. These observations lead Aurelius to conclude that there is no absolute reality of the senses, and, therefore, there is no absolute reality to the will or actions a person may take. So, instead of adhering to a rule to be followed in any and all situations, Aurelius describes these as "disciplines" that guide him toward his own relative reality. Reality is thus generated by the individual person, instead of handed from a superior authority. The idea is taken from one of Democritus's discussions about how the senses present relative instead of absolute conditions of reality.

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