Study Guide

Meditations Versions of Reality

By Marcus Aurelius

Versions of Reality

If Marcus Aurelius were writing today, he might have called his book something like The Power of Positive Thinking—or at least The Power of Neutral Thinking. One of the dude's central principles is that "thinking makes it so" (2.16). Basically, it's all in your head.

In Meditations, Marcus understands that nothing in the universe can truly harm him unless he believes himself to be injured or to feel pain. If he refrains from making a value judgment on the things that happen to him, he can keep his mind isolated, pure, and unharmed. He repeatedly advises himself to strip things bare, right down to their elements, to see them for what they really are.

Now, there are some things that do withstand the reality acid test. Virtues—like beauty, truth, freedom, goodness—are empirically awesome and cannot be defaced of their value. As for the rest of human existence, Marcus is basically like, "Reality check, folks. Most of life is just tedium and decay."

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. What does Marcus think about the concept of reality? Is it an easily defined category for him?
  2. What does Marcus mean when he says that no one can really harm him?
  3. How does Marcus think about things that are "wrong"? How does he approach a wrongdoer?
  4. In what ways does pleasure fall into the same category as pain? How should a rational human being approach them, according to Marcus?

Chew on This

Marcus tries to lift himself out of ordinary human perception so that he can escape the monotony of life on earth.

Marcus believes that there really is no objective good and evil in the world. It's all in our heads.