Proud of Pride

“For the pride which is proud of its want of pride is the most intolerable of all.” Marcus Aurelius wrote near the end of his common place book published as Meditations. He wrote this after encouraging a simple lifestyle, free from desires for material possessions or fame, and instead ruled by reason and virtue.  What Aurelius throughout his book encourages us to do is live a life where we are not striving to reach the goals of others or to seek success for the purpose of impressing others. He encourages us to abandon that pride, think deeply about others, and to live a humble life, recognizing that our time on Earth is finite. For Aurelius the most important thing we can develop is our relationships, and things like pride get in the way of becoming a truly connected and compassionate person in the lives of those around us.


Before the quote above Aurelius writes, “Think of the eager pursuit of anything conjoined with pride; and how worthless everything is after which men violently strain.” By encouraging us to avoid pride and to seek relationships, he is encouraging us to live well with those around us and to recognize the needs of our society. Striving to be great is not a negative thing on its own, but when it is combined with a desire to obtain great wealth and material possessions, or to impress to others, the goal of greatness becomes a trap that we cannot escape.


Aurelius would not have argued that we should never feel pride, but that we should redirect that pride away from selfish desires. By focusing on others and helping others we can develop a sense of pride that results from becoming a more connected and well rounded human being, and we can enjoy the self-confidence that flows with that pride. Ultimately however, we must make sure that we are not feeding that pride for our own self-interests and we must ensure that our pride is generated from actions that are benevolent toward all.

2 thoughts on “Proud of Pride

  1. I agree with your comment on how we should not strive to be proud of greatness, but I don’t think you have analysed the quote correctly. Or at least, I would like you to explain it more clearly please.
    In reading the quote, I gathered that Marcus was saying that being proud of not being proud (want of pride) is intolerable. I googled the quote “The pride which is proud of want of pride is the most intolerable of all” because I wanted it explained and ended up on your page.
    I’ve always been rather proud of not being proud, and if this is intolerable, I would like to understand *why*.
    Your assistance would be appreciated.


    1. I think it is helpful to make a distinction first between pride and arrogance. Pride can be useful, and I think it is reasonable to have pride in the fact that one is generally not a prideful person. However, arrogance systematically gets in the way of being kind to others, in building knowledge, and in building strong relationships. If one’s pride is combined with arrogance, then the pride that one feels is going to also be systematically obstructionary.

      I think that what Aurelius is getting at in his quote is that type of arrogant pride. I also think that the kind of pride he finds intolerable is the kind of pride that we would today call virtue signaling. Virtue signaling is when you go out of your way to be upset by something or when you go out of your way to be overly showy about how strong and moral you are relative to others on a particular issue. (Search my blog for “outrage” and you can find some posts on this idea)

      If you are proud of being proud in simply a way to be showy about your lack of selfish pride, then you are effectively just virtue signaling, and that is what I think Aurelius would find intolerable.

      The opposite side of this is the positive side of pride. Being prideful in what one has, whether it is a 12,000 square foot McMansion in the Hamptons or a 600 square foot apartment in the Bay Area can be good. It doesn’t systematically lead to negative outcomes if one’s pride helps one value and take care of what they have. We can be proud of not being prideful of material possessions, and that pride might help us feel good about who we are and might help us place more value in our relationships and communities. In this sense one can find good outcomes from a sense of pride. Without this sense of pride, we might not care about our relationships and about the person we are, and we might allow ourselves to fall into bad habits and selfish ways of thinking.

      I think the distinction between a constructive pride and an obstructive arrogant pride (combined with our ideas of virtue signaling) provides a useful perspective for you.


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