Perfect Chaos

The Blog of Author Steven Colborne

Does Life Have Purpose?

In this week’s philosophy post we’ll be looking at the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, whose Stoic philosophy demonstrated a belief in the ultimate meaninglessness of all things.

Who Was He?

Aurelius lived from 121-180 AD. He was the adopted son of the Emperor Pius, and himself became Roman Emperor for nearly 20 years in the period leading up to his death. We have only one work from Aurelius entitled Meditations or Writings to Himself, allegedly written in the midst of the Parthian war, a long conflict between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic / Roman Empire.

As a convert to Stoicism, he became interested in a variety of social problems including slavery, imprisonment, and poverty, although at the same time was responsible, as emperor, for the persecution of the Christian population, who posed a threat to Roman polytheism.

What’s the Big Idea?

The Meditations contain a series of philosophical exercises designed to put into practice philosophical theory and thereby to transform Aurelius’s own behaviour and his entire way of life. He didn’t believe in an afterlife, instead supposing that everything we strive after will be condemned to oblivion. This considered, he believed desire is really pointless, except the desire for death, which has some merit as it marks the end of all desires. The best we can hope to achieve in life is to master our thoughts and try to suffer as little as possible.

My Reflections

Researching the thought of Aurelius I couldn’t help but think of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, with its message that all of our toil is mere ‘vanity and grasping for the wind’. But at the same time that Aurelius was philosophising with his Stoic contemporaries, presenting a message which focused on the insignificance of our lives, Christianity was emerging with its message that human beings have the hope of eternal life if they will turn to Jesus, repent, and follow him.

I can understand how philosophers like Aurelius can find a certain peace of mind in embracing the view that our lives are ultimately meaningless. It can be comforting to think everything will simply end, and that nothing really matters. On the other hand, if in reality there is a single omnipotent God who lives eternally, and in whom we live and move and have our being, our worldly actions can be seen to have an eternal purpose, and even eternal consequences, if we are to face judgment one day as Christians believe.

In next Friday’s philosophy post we’ll be moving from Stoicism to Scepticism and the thought of another Roman philosopher named Sextus Empiricus. If you’d like to receive an email every time I post, please consider subscribing. Thank you for reading!

11 responses to “Does Life Have Purpose?”

  1. Very well done, Steven. It certainly seems that Aurelius lived a dismal life, a life which could have found hope and meaning had he embraced the very faith, indeed the very One, he persecuted. Looking forward to next Friday’s post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, David! Have a great weekend 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice post–learned something new but the post is easy to digest! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad, Lily! I aim to keep them short and sweet, just an intro to each philosopher 🙂 Thanks so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Finally, on Friday I shared this week’s Friday Philosophy post, which looked at the philosophical ideas of Marcus Aurelius, who was Roman Emperor for a time. Read about his views, and my reflections on them, by clicking here. […]



    I enjoyed this post. I have also come upon this blog (see link) which discussed Marcus Aurelius and the Christians,

    All the best

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Easy insightful and memorable. A brilliant read. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very kind of you, friend! Thank you so much for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pleasure! Look forward to you’re next post.

        Liked by 1 person

Steven Colborne

About Me

Hello, I’m Steven and I’m a philosopher and author based in London. My main purpose as a writer is to encourage discussion about God. I write about a wide variety of subjects related to philosophical theology, including divine sovereignty, the nature of God, suffering, interfaith dialogue and more. My mantra: Truth heals.

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