Stoic Week 2015 (Friday): Human, All Too Human…


The look on Henry’s face in this picture is pretty much the expression I wear every time I look at the job ads in philosophy…

Today’s theme is other people — how we relate to them, how we get along as/in a society, that sort of thing.

The morning meditation from Marcus Aurelius (Meditations 2.1) neatly encapsulates, I think, both an ideal and a problem where relationships with other people are concerned. Here’s how it reads in my Loeb edition:

Say to thyself at daybreak: I shall come across the busy-body, the thankless, the overbearing, the treacherous, the envious, the un-neighbourly. All this has befallen them because they know not good from evil. But I, in that I have comprehended the nature of the Good that it is beautiful, and the nature of Evil that it is ugly, and the nature of the wrong-doer himself that it is akin to me, not as partaker of the same blood and seed but of intelligence and a morsel of the Divine, can neither be injured by any of them — for no one can involve me in what is debasing — nor can I be wroth with my kinsman and hate him. For we have come into being for co-operation, as have the feet, the hands, the eyelids, the rows of upper and lower teeth. Therefore to thwart one another is against Nature; and we do thwart one another by shewing resentment and aversion.

First, the ideal: this is lovely, really. It’s a challenge, of course — it is extraordinarily difficult to remember one’s kinship with the drunk customer who’s getting a bit violent, or with the cat-caller on the street, or with any number of other people one finds unpleasant or frightening or irritating or boring. To be able to approach them in this way is an impressive accomplishment, and probably does make one’s life a bit more pleasant.

I imagine that if we could all do this, Facebook updates would look rather different.

The problem, perhaps, is that sometimes there may be people we ought to thwart. While it may do much for my well-being to be able to ignore the cat-caller or remain calm in the face of a combative customer, there are things I probably ought to do about them for the sake of others (who are also kin to me). This requires me to come up with solutions to interpersonal strife that combine an attitude of kinship with an appropriate response. Such responses are probably not going to be violent or punitive in intent (which runs against the prevailing cultural norm with regard to punishment, among other things).

How does the Stoic face the bad guy with a gun, without being a “good” guy with a gun?


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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