Whew, there’s quite the spread of topics here. We’ll stick to one topic: the beautiful, ὁ κάλως. This word can often be interchangeably translated as “good” or “beautiful.” Marcus is stating the position that beauty (read: goodness) is intrinsic, and nothing is made better or worse by praise.
I’m reminded of Epictetus’ injunction:
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things. Don’t wish to be thought to know anything; and even if you appear to be somebody important to others, distrust yourself. For, it is difficult to both keep your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature, and at the same time acquire external things. But while you are careful about the one, you must of necessity neglect the other.”
— Epictetus, Enchiridion 13
This seems to be the rougher side of the coin to what Marcus is reminding himself. Most folks see the teachings of Epictetus echoed in Marcus, but just as the figure cut by Diogenes is an almost hyperbolic example of Socratic teaching: Marcus often seems to be the applied version of the more “extreme” Epictetan example.
It continues to impress me how these folks 2,000 years separate from us have such a keen understanding of human nature. Of course we will seem different from the average when we’re seeking to right ourselves. Of course that will be a hard pressure to resist. Of course that will elicit both scorn at the outset and potentially after a time admiration as well. Of course we must prepare ourselves for both of these impressions.
We do this by building in ourselves the skill of judicious discrimination of impressions. Whether it is praise or scorn, if the feedback does not relay accurate moral information to us, it is nothing. So set aside the beauty of the horse, the scorn of the passerby, and the fawning praise of others: because we’ve got work to do. Work on ourselves, work for the good.
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