In comparing crimes together, as, according to the common idea, they may be compared, Theophrastus makes the true philosophical distinction — that those committed from motives of pleasure are more heinous than those which are due to passion. For he who is a prey to passion is clearly turned away from reason by some spasm and convulsion that takes him unawares. But he who sins from desire is conquered by pleasure, and so seems more incontinent and weaker in his vice.
Justly then, and in a truly philosophical spirit, he says that sin, for pleasure’s sake, is more wicked than sin which is due to pain. For the latter sinner was sinned against, and driven to passion by his wrongs, while the former set out to sin of his own volition, and was led into ill-doing by his own lust.
Theophrastus, a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.
This is an odd one from the meditations because its merely a citation to another thinker without any explicit commentary. Perhaps Marcus was trying to remind himself? Why? Was he struggling with crime of his own?
Theophrastus, in his comparison of bad acts says ones committed out of desire are worse than those which are committed through anger. For he who is excited by anger seems to turn away from reason with a certain pain and unconscious contraction; but he who offends through desire, being overpowered by pleasure, seems to be in a manner more intemperate and less manly in his offences. Rightly then, he said that the offence which is committed with pleasure is more blamable than that which is committed with pain; and on the whole the one is more like a person who has been first wronged and through pain is compelled to be angry; but the other is moved by his own impulse to do wrong, being carried towards doing something by desire.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.10
- Wow, “less manly”? A helpful reminder that Marcus’s world is not our, and his goals should not be our goals. There’s much to learn here, but keep it in the context of the misogynistic, slave owning society from which it comes.
- Theophrastus, by the way, was a leader of the Peripatetic school, a student and friend of Aristotle who wrote widely on a number of subjects and isn’t much studied. Today.
- According to the notes in the Hays translation, this sort of hierarchy of “bad acts” is at odds with stoic doctrine, which finds all wrongs equal. But that’s Marcus, going his own way.