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Fundamental Dogmas of Stoicism

The fundamental dogmas of Stoicism as found by Pierre Hadot in the The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and compiled in The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (pp. 36-43); the format follows that of Bruce MacLennan in Notes on Marcus Aurelius (IV, B).





The only good is moral good, and the only evil is moral evil.

But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly (Marcus Aurelius, II, 1, 3).

What principles? Those which relate to good and bad: the belief that there is nothing good for man, which does not make him just, temperate, manly, free; and that there is nothing bad, which does not do the contrary to what has been mentioned (VIII, 1, 6).


  • Pleasure is not a good and pain is not an evil.

    And think also of all that thou hast heard and assented to about pain and pleasure, and be quiet at last (IV, 3, 6).

    Contemplate the formative principles (forms) of things bare of their coverings; the purposes of actions; consider what pain is, what pleasure is, and death, and fame; who is to himself the cause of his uneasiness; how no man is hindered by another; that everything is opinion (XII, 8).


  • The only thing shameful is moral evil.

    But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly (II, 1, 3).


  • Faults committed against us cannot touch us.

    I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly (II, 1, 3).

    When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten this [...] that a man's wrongful act is nothing to thee (XII, 26).


  • He who commits a fault hurts only himself.

    Does any one do wrong? It is to himself that he does the wrong (IV, 26, 3).

    He who does wrong does wrong against himself. He who acts unjustly acts unjustly to himself, because he makes himself bad. (IV, 4).

    It is thy duty to leave another man's wrongful act there where it is (IX, 20).

    If any man has done wrong, the harm is his own. But perhaps he has not done wrong (IX, 38).


  • We can suffer no harm whatsoever from the actions of anyone else.

    I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly (II, 1, 3).

    The wrong-doer has done thee no harm, for he has not made thy ruling faculty worse than it was before (VII, 22, 2).


  • Faults cannot be found elsewhere then within oneself.

    ...that I received clear and frequent impressions about living according to nature, and what kind of a life that is, so that, so far as depended on the gods, and their gifts, and help, and inspirations, nothing hindered me from forthwith living according to nature, though I still fall short of it through my own fault, and through not observing the admonitions of the gods, and, I may almost say, their direct instructions (I, 17).



Only that which depends on us can be either good or evil; and our judgment and our assent depend on us.

Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in thy power. Take away then, when thou choosest, thy opinion, and like a mariner, who has doubled the promontory, thou wilt find calm, everything stable, and a waveless bay (XII, 22).


  • The only evil or trouble there can be for us resides in our own judgment; that is to say, in the way we represent things to ourselves.

    But among the things readiest to thy hand to which thou shalt turn, let there be these, which are two. One is that things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within (IV, 3, 10).

    It is not men's acts which disturb us, for those acts have their foundation in men's ruling principles, but it is our own opinions which disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss thy judgement about an act as if it were something grievous, and thy anger is gone. (IX, 18, 11).


  • People are the authors of their own problems.

    Hast thou seen those things? Look also at these. Do not disturb thyself. Make thyself all simplicity. Does any one do wrong? It is to himself that he does the wrong. Has anything happened to thee? Well; out of the universe from the beginning everything which happens has been apportioned and spun out to thee. In a word, thy life is short. Thou must turn to profit the present by the aid of reason and justice. Be sober in thy relaxation (IV, 26).

    Contemplate the formative principles (forms) of things bare of their coverings; the purposes of actions; consider what pain is, what pleasure is, and death, and fame; who is to himself the cause of his uneasiness; how no man is hindered by another; that everything is opinion (XII, 8).


  • Things do not come inside us in order to trouble us.

    But among the things readiest to thy hand to which thou shalt turn, let there be these, which are two. One is that things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within. (IV, 3).


  • The intellect is independent of the body.

    I consist of a little body and a soul. Now to this little body all things are indifferent, for it is not able to perceive differences. But to the understanding those things only are indifferent, which are not the works of its own activity. But whatever things are the works of its own activity, all these are in its power. And of these however only those which are done with reference to the present; for as to the future and the past activities of the mind, even these are for the present indifferent (VI, 32).

    The ruling faculty does not disturb itself; I mean, does not frighten itself or cause itself pain. But if any one else can frighten or pain it, let him do so. For the faculty itself will not by its own opinion turn itself into such ways. Let the body itself take care, if it can, that is suffer nothing, and let it speak, if it suffers. But the soul itself, that which is subject to fear, to pain, which has completely the power of forming an opinion about these things, will suffer nothing, for it will never deviate into such a judgement. The leading principle in itself wants nothing, unless it makes a want for itself; and therefore it is both free from perturbation and unimpeded, if it does not disturb and impede itself (VII, 16).


  • Everything is a matter of judgment.

    Contemplate the formative principles (forms) of things bare of their coverings; the purposes of actions; consider what pain is, what pleasure is, and death, and fame; who is to himself the cause of his uneasiness; how no man is hindered by another; that everything is opinion (XII, 8).

    Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in thy power. Take away then, when thou choosest, thy opinion, and like a mariner, who has doubled the promontory, thou wilt find calm, everything stable, and a waveless bay (XII, 22).

    When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten this [...] that everything is opinion (XII, 26).


  • Every fault is in fact a false judgment, and proceeds from ignorance.

    It is not men's acts which disturb us, for those acts have their foundation in men's ruling principles, but it is our own opinions which disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss thy judgement about an act as if it were something grievous, and thy anger is gone. How then shall I take away these opinions? By reflecting that no wrongful act of another brings shame on thee: for unless that which is shameful is alone bad, thou also must of necessity do many things wrong, and become a robber and everything else (XI, 18).



The unity and rationality of the Cosmos.


  • Everything comes from Universal Nature and in conformity with its will.

    When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten this, that all things happen according to the universal nature... (XII, 26).

    • Even the malevolence of mankind, which is a necessary consequence of the gift of liberty.

      We are all working together to one end, some with knowledge and design, and others without knowing what they do; as men also when they are asleep, of whom it is Heraclitus, I think, who says that they are labourers and co-operators in the things which take place in the universe. But men co-operate after different fashions: and even those co-operate abundantly, who find fault with what happens and those who try to oppose it and to hinder it; for the universe had need even of such men as these. It remains then for thee to understand among what kind of workmen thou placest thyself; for he who rules all things will certainly make a right use of thee, and he will receive thee among some part of the co-operators and of those whose labours conduce to one end. But be not thou such a part as the mean and ridiculous verse in the play, which Chrysippus speaks of (VI, 42).

      But if thou wilt, receive also a tenth present from the leader of the Muses (Apollo), and it is this- that to expect bad men not to do wrong is madness, for he who expects this desires an impossibility. But to allow men to behave so to others, and to expect them not to do thee any wrong, is irrational and tyrannical (XI, 18, 24).


  • Everything occurs in conformity with Destiny.

    Has anything happened to thee? Well; out of the universe from the beginning everything which happens has been apportioned and spun out to thee. (IV, 26, 4).

    • All things undergo continuous metamorphosis in accord with Nature.

      Consider that before long thou wilt be nobody and nowhere, nor will any of the things exist which thou now seest, nor any of those who are now living. For all things are formed by nature to change and be turned and to perish in order that other things in continuous succession may exist (XII, 21).

      But perhaps the desire of the thing called fame will torment thee.- See how soon everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the changeableness and want of judgement in those who pretend to give praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is circumscribed, and be quiet at last (IV, 3, 11).

    • But are also ceaselessly repeated.

      As it happens to thee in the amphitheatre and such places, that the continual sight of the same things and the uniformity make the spectacle wearisome, so it is in the whole of life; for all things above, below, are the same and from the same. How long then? (VI, 46).

      What is badness? It is that which thou hast often seen. And on the occasion of everything which happens keep this in mind, that it is that which thou hast often seen. Everywhere up and down thou wilt find the same things, with which the old histories are filled, those of the middle ages and those of our own day; with which cities and houses are filled now. There is nothing new: all things are both familiar and short-lived (VII, 1).

      All things are the same, familiar in experience, and ephemeral in time, and worthless in the matter. Everything now is just as it was in the time of those whom we have buried (IX, 14).

      When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten this [...] that everything which happens, always happened so and will happen so, and now happens so everywhere (XII, 26).

    • We must die.

      For with what art thou discontented? With the badness of men? Recall to thy mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily; and consider how many already, after mutual enmity, suspicion, hatred, and fighting, have been stretched dead, reduced to ashes; and be quiet at last (IV, 3, 4).

      Consider that thou dost not even understand whether men are doing wrong or not, for many things are done with a certain reference to circumstances. And in short, a man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct judgement on another man's acts. life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead (XI, 18, 10).


  • Nature is unified by a sympathy.

    Either it is a well-arranged universe or a chaos huddled together, but still a universe. But can a certain order subsist in thee, and disorder in the All? And this too when all things are so separated and diffused and sympathetic (IV, 27).

    Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web (IV, 40).

    Let the part of thy soul which leads and governs be undisturbed by the movements in the flesh, whether of pleasure or of pain; and let it not unite with them, but let it circumscribe itself and limit those affects to their parts. But when these affects rise up to the mind by virtue of that other sympathy that naturally exists in a body which is all one, then thou must not strive to resist the sensation, for it is natural: but let not the ruling part of itself add to the sensation the opinion that it is either good or bad (V, 26).

    Frequently consider the connexion of all things in the universe and their relation to one another. For in a manner all things are implicated with one another, and all in this way are friendly to one another; for one thing comes in order after another, and this is by virtue of the active movement and mutual conspiration and the unity of the substance (VI, 38).

    All things which participate in anything which is common to them all move towards that which is of the same kind with themselves. Everything which is earthy turns towards the earth, everything which is liquid flows together, and everything which is of an aerial kind does the same, so that they require something to keep them asunder, and the application of force. Fire indeed moves upwards on account of the elemental fire, but it is so ready to be kindled together with all the fire which is here, that even every substance which is somewhat dry, is easily ignited, because there is less mingled with it of that which is a hindrance to ignition. Accordingly then everything also which participates in the common intelligent nature moves in like manner towards that which is of the same kind with itself, or moves even more. For so much as it is superior in comparison with all other things, in the same degree also is it more ready to mingle with and to be fused with that which is akin to it. Accordingly among animals devoid of reason we find swarms of bees, and herds of cattle, and the nurture of young birds, and in a manner, loves; for even in animals there are souls, and that power which brings them together is seen to exert itself in the superior degree, and in such a way as never has been observed in plants nor in stones nor in trees. But in rational animals there are political communities and friendships, and families and meetings of people; and in wars, treaties and armistices. But in the things which are still superior, even though they are separated from one another, unity in a manner exists, as in the stars. Thus the ascent to the higher degree is able to produce a sympathy even in things which are separated. See, then, what now takes place. For only intelligent animals have now forgotten this mutual desire and inclination, and in them alone the property of flowing together is not seen. But still though men strive to avoid this union, they are caught and held by it, for their nature is too strong for them; and thou wilt see what I say, if thou only observest. Sooner, then, will one find anything earthy which comes in contact with no earthy thing than a man altogether separated from other men (IX, 9).


    • There is a mutual mixture and implication of everything in everything .

      Frequently consider the connexion of all things in the universe and their relation to one another. For in a manner all things are implicated with one another, and all in this way are friendly to one another; for one thing comes in order after another, and this is by virtue of the active movement and mutual conspiration and the unity of the substance (VI, 38).

      All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other thing. For things have been co-ordinated, and they combine to form the same universe (order). For there is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and participate in the same reason (VII, 9).

    • "The whole is more important than its parts." (Epictetus)

      ...God has made all the things in the universe and the universe itself completely free from hindrance and perfect, and the parts of it for the use of the whole? All other animals indeed are incapable of comprehending the administration of it; but the rational animal, man, has faculties for the consideration of all these and for understanding that it is a part, and what kind of a part it is, and that it is right for the parts to be subordinate to the whole (Discourses IV, 7).


  • Universal Reason gives form and energy to matter that is docile.

    • We must always and everywhere distinguish the causal (reason) and the material.

      Examine into the quality of the form of an object, and detach it altogether from its material part, and then contemplate it; then determine the time, the longest which a thing of this peculiar form is naturally made to endure (IX, 25).

      Enough of this wretched life and murmuring and apish tricks. Why art thou disturbed? What is there new in this? What unsettles thee? Is it the form of the thing? Look at it. Or is it the matter? Look at it. But besides these there is nothing. Towards the gods, then, now become at last more simple and better. It is the same whether we examine these things for a hundred years or three (IX, 37).

      In everything always observe what the thing is which produces for thee an appearance, and resolve it by dividing it into the formal, the material, the purpose, and the time within which it must end (XII, 18).


  • Human reason is a part of Universal Reason.

    When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten this [...] that every man's intelligence is a god, and is an efflux of the deity (XII, 26).

    • All humans are related.

      When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten this [...] how close is the kinship between a man and the whole human race, for it is a community, not of a little blood or seed, but of intelligence (XII, 26).

    • People are made for each other.

      Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them (VIII, 59).

      He who acts unjustly acts impiously. For since the universal nature has made rational animals for the sake of one another to help one another according to their deserts, but in no way to injure one another, he who transgresses her will, is clearly guilty of impiety towards the highest divinity (IX, 1).



The immensity of Universal Nature.


  • The whole of life seems to be of miniscule duration.

    Near is thy forgetfulness of all things; and near the forgetfulness of thee by all (VII, 21).

    Turn it (the body) inside out, and see what kind of thing it is; and when it has grown old, what kind of thing it becomes, and when it is diseased (VIII, 21).

    Consider in what condition both in body and soul a man should be when he is overtaken by death; and consider the shortness of life, the boundless abyss of time past and future, the feebleness of all matter (XII, 7).


  • The instant seems infinitesimal .

    Though thou shouldst be going to live three thousand years, and as many times ten thousand years, still remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. The longest and shortest are thus brought to the same. For the present is the same to all, though that which perishes is not the same; and so that which is lost appears to be a mere moment. For a man cannot lose either the past or the future: for what a man has not, how can any one take this from him? These two things then thou must bear in mind; the one, that all things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle, and that it makes no difference whether a man shall see the same things during a hundred years or two hundred, or an infinite time; and the second, that the longest liver and he who will die soonest lose just the same. For the present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose a thing if he has it not (II, 14).

    When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten this [...] that every man lives the present time only, and loses only this (XII, 26).


  • The earth is like a point .

    For the whole earth is a point, and how small a nook in it is this thy dwelling, and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee (IV, 3).


  • Current fame and posthumous glory seem completely vain.

    How many after being celebrated by fame have been given up to oblivion; and how many who have celebrated the fame of others have long been dead (VII, 6).

    Near is thy forgetfulness of all things; and near the forgetfulness of thee by all (VII, 21).

    See that thou secure this present time to thyself: for those who rather pursue posthumous fame do consider that the men of after time will be exactly such as these whom they cannot bear now; and both are mortal. And what is it in any way to thee if these men of after time utter this or that sound, or have this or that opinion about thee? (VIII, 44).

    Consider that before long thou wilt be nobody and nowhere, nor will any of the things exist which thou now seest, nor any of those who are now living. For all things are formed by nature to change and be turned and to perish in order that other things in continuous succession may exist (XII, 21).

    • All the more so since they only can be obtained from people who contradict themselves and each other;

    • Whom one cannot respect if one sees them as they really are.



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