Marcus Aurelius: On opinions

Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius

There is a popular quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Remember that all is but opinion” being continuously shared online, usually in attempt to claim that there are no such things as facts, but when taken in the context in which he wrote he wrote it, we can see that clearly, he was writing about the power of the mind.

It wasn’t quite as simple as the memes suggest.

There are so many memes that either misquote, take the quote out of context, or paraphrase what he said about opinions.

When he wrote that “All is but opinion…” he was speaking of the power things have over us, if we allow them to, and how they can affect us if we attach an opinion to them that causes us to fret or worry or worse. (see below)

If you would like to know Marcus Aurelius ACTUALLY wrote with regard to opinions, here is what he said, according to the translation available on the always wonderful Project Gutenberg, which has 54,160 books online for you to search through by title or author.

The full quote and context:

“Remember that all is but opinion, and all opinion depends of the
mind. Take thine opinion away, and then as a ship that hath stricken in within the arms and mouth of the harbour, a present calm; all things safe and steady: a bay, not capable of any storms and tempests: as the poet hath it.”

“The things themselves (which either to get or to avoid thou art put
to so much trouble) come not unto thee themselves; but thou in a manner goest unto them. Let then thine own judgment and opinion concerning those things be at rest; and as for the things themselves, they stand still and quiet, without any noise or stir at all; and so shall all pursuing and flying cease.”

“To live happily is an inward power of the soul, when she is affected
with indifferency, towards those things that are by their nature indifferent. To be thus affected she must consider all worldly objects both divided and whole: remembering withal that no object can of itself beget any opinion in us, neither can come to us, but stands without still and quiet; but that we ourselves beget, and as it were print in ourselves opinions concerning them. Now it is in our power, not to print them; and if they creep in and lurk in some corner, it is in our power to wipe them off.”

“Remember, that that which sets a man at work, and hath power
over the affections to draw them either one way, or the other way, is not any external thing properly, but that which is hidden within every man’s dogmata, and opinions: That, that is rhetoric; that is life; that (to speak true) is man himself. As for thy body, which as a vessel, or a case, compasseth thee about, and the many and curious instruments that it hath annexed unto it, let them not trouble thy thoughts. For of themselves they are but as a carpenter’s axe, but that they are born with us, and naturally sticking unto us. But otherwise, without the inward cause that hath power to move them, and to restrain them, those parts are of themselves of no more use unto us, than the shuttle is of itself to the weaver, or the pen to the writer, or the whip to the coachman.”

So add your own critical thinking to decide whether the meme accurately summarises what Marcus Aurelius said about opinions.

If you want to check for yourself, click through to the full text of his Meditations, and do a word search on the word “opinion”. Depending on your browser, you can usually operate a word search using “find on this page”

Here’s a link to his meditations