Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is one of the most popular philosophical works by sales to the public, while in academic philosophy he is considered somewhat of a philosophical lightweight. In Marcus Aurelius (Routledge, 2020), John Sellars argues that this academic perception mistakes the Meditations as a failed work of theoretical argument, when instead it is a series of spiritual training exercises to condition the Roman emperor’s character in accordance with the Stoic doctrines he learned as a bookish boy.
Sellars, who is reader in philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, sees Marcus Aurelius as using his Meditations as an antidote to corrupting pressures of his powerful position and debilitating suffering in the face of adversity in his personal life and in his military campaigns against Germanic tribes. The book accessibly introduces the main Stoic doctrines that form the background of Marcus Aurelius’s writings, and shows how he reviews the day’s events and where he has gone wrong in his responses to them in their light.
Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.