Aurelius’ remark that “This thou must always bear in mind, what is the nature of the whole, and what is my nature, and how this is related to that, and what kind of a part it is of what kind of a whole…” can be said to abstract the basic Stoic world-view in terms of its radical anti-individualism. This position is made through what can be termed a metaphysical argument, whereby Aurelius relates the apparent individual or the self to the world around him or her: from this perspective, the significance of the individual disappears.
The key terms of this argument are arguably nature, part, whole and the relation between these terms. Aurelius draws a distinction between the nature of the self and the nature of the whole. Namely, the self is not all that exists. If there is a distinction between the nature of the self and the nature of the whole, this is the same as stating that there exists a distinction between the nature of a part and the nature of a whole: but the part is precisely part of the whole, therefore included within it. Individuals should thus think of themselves as in reality belonging to this greater whole: this is their fundamental metaphysical identity.
This has various effects on Stoic ethics and approaches to politics. Societies that emphasize individuality, such as the contemporary United States, would be critiqued for their egocentric picture of the world and the neglect of our belonging to a common “whole.” Since we are only a part of the whole, our ethical actions must be directed to improving this whole, this greater common community of which we are a part. At the same time, this has the effect of also improving our own lives, since we are the same part of this greater aspect.
Aurelius’ arguments are compelling because they deconstruct the false detachment from others that is the foundation of individualism. We do not exist in a void, but with others. This reflects a basic metaphysical common sense claim about how we exist. However, this metaphysical claim should also have political effects. When we see the rampant individualism and consumerism of contemporary American culture, the arguments of the Stoics become even more timely and poignant.