The French scholar Pierre Hadot wrote a very thorough analysis of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations called The Inner Citadel (1998), in which he explores the Three Disciplines in detail, employing them as a framework for his exposition.
- The Discipline of Desire (Stoic Acceptance) - According to Hadot, the discipline of “desire” (orexis) is the application to daily living of the Stoic theoretical topic of “physics”, which includes the Stoic study of natural philosophy, cosmology, and theology. The discipline of desire, according to this view, is the virtue of living in harmony with the Nature of the universe as a whole, or in the language of Stoic theology, with Zeus or God. This entails having a “philosophical attitude” toward a life and acceptance of our Fate as necessary and inevitable. It’s tempting to see this discipline as particularly entailing the cardinal virtues associated with self-control over the irrational passions, which are “courage”, or endurance in the face of fear and suffering, and “self-discipline” (temperance), or the ability to renounce desire and abstain from false or unhealthy pleasures. (Hence, Epictetus’ famous slogan: “endure and renounce”.) Hadot calls the goal of this discipline “amor fati” or the loving acceptance of one’s fate. This discipline is summed up in one of the most striking passages from the Enchiridion: “Seek not for events to happen as you wish but wish events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly and serenely.”
- The Discipline of Action (Stoic Philanthropy) - According to Hadot, the discipline of “action” is the application to daily living of the Stoic theoretical topic of “ethics”. Stoic “ethics” which includes the definition of what is good, bad, and indifferent. It also deals with the goal of life as “happiness” or fulfilment (eudaimonia). It includes the definition of the cardinal Stoic virtues (wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline). According to the central doctrine of Stoicism, virtue is the only true good and sufficient by itself for the good life and fulfilment (eudaimonia). Likewise, Stoic ethics covers the vices, opposing virtue, and the irrational and unhealthy “passions”, classified as: fear, craving, emotional pain, and false or unhealthy pleasures. The discipline of action, according to Hadot’s view, is the essentially virtue of living in harmony with the community of all mankind, which means benevolently wishing all of mankind to flourish and achieve “happiness” (eudaimonia) the goal of life.
- The Discipline of Assent (Stoic Mindfulness) - According to Hadot, the discipline of “assent” (sunkatathesis) is the application to daily living of the Stoic theoretical topic of “logic”. Stoic “logic” actually includes elements of what we would now call “psychology” or “epistemology”. The discipline of assent, according to this view, is the virtue of living in harmony with our own essential nature as rational beings, which means living in accord with reason and truthfulness in both our thoughts and speech. It’s tempting to see this discipline as particularly associated with the cardinal Stoic virtue of “wisdom” or truthfulness. Hadot calls the goal of this discipline the “inner citadel” because it involves continual awareness of the true self, the faculty of the mind responsible for judgement and action, where our freedom and virtue reside, the chief good in life.