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March 08, 2022 2 min read

Marc-Aurel-Quotes-Meme

 

The meme includes three very popular quotes from Marcus Aurelius and I find it remarkable that in the present day Stoicism is so popular. There may be very superficial reasons for this - the calendar-like aphorisms lend themselves to social media and are immediately understandable without any prior knowledge and actually appeal to everyone. But that may be precisely a problem, because wisdom that is immediately tangible could just as easily be sophism based on reductionism of complex contexts (or non-contexts).

In the meme, I wanted to show that perspective-based ethics have weight and are in contrast to the universal "wisdoms" of the Stoics. A person who is starving will not be able to "afford" Stoic ethics. So the material conditions are decisive for the moral attitude and whether this is "fair" is rather irrelevant.

It was Nietzsche in particular who distinguished himself as a great critic of Stoicism, and in this sense he devotes himself throughout his work to the task of distinguishing what seems to be worth preserving from European antiquity and what is not. To put it succinctly, the Stoics' fundamentally passive attitude toward the world-or what aristocratic Romans thought chic at the time-is basically just slave morality, understood as an avoidance strategy with man's actually meaningful struggle against nature.

When the Stoics claim that their ethics is an agreement with nature itself, this neglects the fact that man is actually the "undetermined animal " (Nietzsche) that develops through the value of suffering in contrast to its negation. Drastically formulated: lives out his will to power and tries to enforce his ideas and conceptions instead of talking them down. We come back here in the end to the question what the human being actually is. I do not answer this question here, however, because I have probably already held up the mirror to enough neo-Stoics. This is not meant as an insult, because I understand why Stoicism is so popular today. But that fact is exactly what should make a philosopher wonder.


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