why he did write that? Does this paragraph make any sense? Maybe, he wanted to say it is impossible to be good man without good characters? Any assumption?

  • From Book 5, paragraph 17. "To pursue the impossible is madness: and it is impossible for bad men not to act in character"
    – Mike
    Oct 17, 2019 at 19:10
  • Nothing is impossible! Oct 17, 2019 at 19:58
  • Well besides logical contradictions, even though I heard of paraconsistent logics and dialatheism. Oct 17, 2019 at 19:59

2 Answers 2


Sounds like the logic used today in algebra.

To pursue the ‘impossible’ is madness = self-explanatory

‘For bad men not to act in character’ = ’impossible‘

Substitute ‘bad men not to act in character’ for ‘impossible’

Therefore: To pursue the (expectation that) bad men will not act in character is madness.

In other words, a leopard will not change its spots - recognise this, and protect yourself.

Hope this helps!


According to Wikipedia, other translations are these:

  • It is crazy to want what is impossible. And impossible for the wicked not to do so. (Hays translation)

  • To seek what is impossible is madness: and it is impossible that the bad should not do something of this kind.

To act in character means to act as expected.

So the way I understand this is that, perhaps being unrealistically ambitious (thus pursuing the impossible), goes against reason (i.e. madness).

The one who is utterly greedy (i.e. bad or wicked) would not follow reason.

Marcus Aurelius meditates constantly on his own mortality, which in itself poses a limit to our own "power", even to himself, who was an Emperor.

So I think he is alluding to not let oneself fool by greediness, which leads to pursue the impossible and ultimately is contrary to Marcus Aurelius philosophy.

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