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Consider this quote by Marcus Aurelius:

Art thou angry with him whose armpits
stink ? art thou angry with him whose mouth
smells foul ? What good will this anger do
thee ? He has such a mouth, he has such arm-
pits: it is necessary that such an emanation
must come from such things: but the man has
reason, it will be said, and he is able, if he
takes pains, to discover wherein he offends; I
wish thee well of thy discovery. Well then,
and thou hast reason: by thy rational faculty
stir up his rational faculty; show him his error,
admonish him. For if he listens, thou wilt
cure him, and there is no need of anger.

It confuses me. I have a commented, curated version of Meditations in which this is not included. But the sentiment in that version is that "take away then, when you choose, your opinion, and like a mariner, who has doubled the promontory, you shall find calm, everything stable, and a waveless bay." You can always take away you opinion and everything is opinion. Why, all of a sudden, is the perception of this smell not an opinion that can be taken away, and if that opinion can easily be taken away, why then admonish someone for something that it completely natural? Would it not be easier to choose one's set of opinions such that they agree with all things natural to this world?

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You can always take away you opinion and everything is opinion. Why, all of a sudden, is the perception of this smell not an opinion that can be taken away [...]

You've made a hasty generalization; everything is not opinion. More specifically, perception is not opinion-- I cannot eat a lemon and decide that it tastes sweet, nor look at it and decide that it is purple, and I can't smell a foul odor and decide that it smells pleasant.

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    I disagree here. It's still an opinion as one person might find a particular food pleasant tasting and another find it disgusting. Because we get only representations of things in our minds, and much processing before they get there (and thus opportunities to mess with the data), our perceptions are opinions, even if the perceptions themselves aren't. This Kantian "thing it itself" is unknowable, so while such a thing may be some objective state, we can't meaningfully talk about it. We talk about our perceptions... – stoicfury May 6 '12 at 21:15
  • @stoicfury: Yes, but we can't choose our perceptions. We don't need to worry about the ding-an-sich or noumenon at all; the phenomenon has a "givenness" that we can't shape with our will. If I find a particular food disgusting, I can't choose to find it delicious; my finding it disgusting is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. That you may find it delicious is a different fact altogether, but we're still not in the realm of opinion as defined by Marcus Aurelius. – Michael Dorfman May 6 '12 at 21:26
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    @stoicfury sure, but can we not safely call factual the observation that someone consistently perceives something as pleasant/unpleasant (or expresses a desire to do or refrain from something, etc.)? – Joseph Weissman May 6 '12 at 21:27
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    @MichaelDorfman @ joe But you can change how you perceive things, that's why coffee and beer tastes nasty when you're little but many people enjoy those flavors later in life. Nothing has a "fixed" taste. So while almost no one can just choose to like something that tastes gross to them on the drop of a dime, I don't think it's outside theoretical possibility. One can choose to find things delicious, to varying extents, through control of the mind, such as a kind of mental control which has been demonstrated in Buddhist monks, for example. – stoicfury May 6 '12 at 21:43
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    Yeah, I agree; that's what wanted to make particularly clear in my answer. :) – stoicfury May 7 '12 at 16:25
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In my opinion, the quote is saying that one ought to use the faculty of the mind to control that which is in ones control — namely, that the smell of someone's breath or armpits is offensive to your senses (i.e., it bothers you). That is, you can recognize that something smells bad without getting angry about it or letting it bother you. One needn't get angry over things which are within one's control to fix.

Would it not be easier to choose one's set of opinions such that they agree with all things natural to this world?

Easier is not necessarily better, and "easiness" itself is relative. For someone with a strong will and great mental control, changing how one is bothered by a smell is as easy as a thought. It get's a bit more challenging if you want to alter the perception itself, but at any rate Aurelius is only talking about the former.

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