Please help me!
When I initially read the quote below I thought it sounded like Marcus was saying we are not responsible for our own actions.
“The gods are not to blame. They do nothing wrong, on purpose or by accident. Nor men either; they don’t do it on purpose. No one is to blame.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 12:12
Marcus spends a lot of time telling us (himself actually) that we should strive to control our interpretations of what happens to us and how we should respond to events outside our control. That’s why I don’t understand what he’s saying in this passage. On the surface it sounds like he’s implying we are simply reacting to everything around us rather than deciding how to act.
Let me start over and try this on my own.
“The gods are not to blame. They do nothing wrong, on purpose or by accident.”
As I understand the Stoics, the Universe works according to laws that humans may not understand. That includes the logos, or gods, who also conform to the Natural laws of the Universe.
It doesn’t mean something is bad just because we don’t understand it. For example, an earthquake may kill many people but it’s just an act of nature. There was no ill will in the Universe that planned to kill those people. It’s just the Universe recycling atoms and energy, or changing people, animals and things from one form to another. If an earthquake didn’t kill those people they would have died some other way at some other point in time. It’s irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
“Nor men either; they don’t do it on purpose. No one is to blame.”
This is the part I struggle to understand. Is Marcus saying humans behave according laws of nature and not because of their own decisions (aka free will)? If the gods must obey the natural laws of the Universe, why wouldn’t humans have to do so as well? I think this is where my understanding of Stoicism is lacking.
Taking it a step further, can a man with a gun blame the predetermination of the Universe if he kills children at an elementary school? Did the Universe make him do it? Human law says he made the choice and must be held accountable. What does Natural law say?
I’m open to any insights in the comments. I want to make sure I understand what Marcus means. Please help me!