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Talk about forgiveness has reached astonishing proportions in the contemporary world. Forgiveness is said to do it all: it is the cure for wrongs both personal and political, the road to eternal salvation, and the secret to mental and physical health. Related notions such as apology, pardon, excuse, mercy, pity, sympathy, empathy, and reconciliation have also gained wide currency. One can hardly open the newspaper without reading about an apology being offered by, or demanded from, some organization, state, or prominent individual. We want apology and remorse from convicted criminals so as to decide how harshly to punish them; we praise South Africa’s famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the path to forgiveness and civic unity; countless self-help and religious tracts urge us to forgive our enemies unilaterally and instruct us how to do so, promising that we shall thereby rid ourselves of toxic resentment. Forgiveness and related notions are now so thoroughly woven into the fabric of culture that it is hard to imagine a moral world without them.
In this book, eminent scholars of classical antiquity and ancient and medieval Judaism and Christianity explore the nature and place of forgiveness in the pre-modern Western world. They discuss whether the concept of forgiveness, as it is often understood today, was absent, or at all events more restricted in scope than has been commonly supposed, and what related ideas (such as clemency or reconciliation) may have taken the place of forgiveness. An introductory chapter reviews the conceptual territory of forgiveness and illuminates the potential breadth of the idea, enumerating the important questions a theory of the subject should explore. The following chapters examine forgiveness in the contexts of classical Greece and Rome; the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and Moses Maimonides; and the New Testament, the Church Fathers, and Thomas Aquinas.
I believe that I’m one of a few Athenians – so as not to say I’m the only one, but the only one among our contemporaries – to take up the true political craft and practice the true politics. This is because the speeches I make on each occasion do not aim at gratification but at what’s best.
Especially in the modern age, Socrates is sanctified as a defender of free speech, honest and relentless inquiry, and the love of truth. Other philosophers too have shared these commitments. But Socrates stood up for them at the cost of his own life. In enacting his commitments as he did, Socrates became more than a theorist: in some sense, he was also an actor on the political stage.
In light of the enormous difficulties inherent in the effort to locate either the philosophy of the historical Socrates, or a Socratic philosophy about whose content the major ancient authors on Socrates agree, in this chapter I will confine myself principally to the Platonic “Socrates.” When referring to “Socrates,” I mean the Socrates of Plato’s dialogues. I have taken note of several interesting and relevant points of contact with other portrayals of Socrates where doing so is useful to my discussion. While confining myself mainly to the Platonic Socrates, I shall, unless otherwise noted, suspend judgment about the relation between Plato and Socrates.
Adam Smith's thought is known to us primarily through his Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations. We also possess a number of posthumously published essays on the history of science and the arts, as well as several sets of student notes of his lectures on jurisprudence and on belles lettres and rhetoric (none was authorized or reviewed by Smith). Smith conceived of himself as constructing a comprehensive system; what we have are parts of that system. The fragmentary character of the corpus, and the absence of a treatise on “the theory of the imagination,” mean that Smith's theory of the imagination must be woven together from a number of passages, of which fortunately there are quite a few. The imagination is a continuous and important theme throughout his work and would likely have been an important theme in the work he did not live to complete. In this claim about the imagination's crucial role in human life and cognition, Smith was not (and did not pretend to be) radically innovative; his emphasis on the imagination, and indeed on its creative capacity, unquestionably represents an appropriation of Hume.
[A man] must not expose himself to the charge which Avidius Cassius is said to have brought, perhaps unjustly, against Marcus Antoninus [Marcus Aurelius]; that while he employed himself in philosophical speculations, and contemplated the prosperity of the universe, he neglected that of the Roman empire. The most sublime speculation of the contemplative philosopher can scarce compensate the neglect of the smallest active duty.
Adam Smith, TMS VI.ii.3.6
I began this book with a general discussion of the Enlightenment and of the widespread unease about its prospects and about its virtues. I suggested that Adam Smith is both a partisan and critic of the Enlightenment; he purposes to preserve what is best about the movement by drawing upon resources ancient and modern, while also analyzing its unintended shortcomings. I have argued throughout that the old problem of the relationship between philosophy and ordinary experience is itself fruitfully seen as a principal theme in his reflections on what it would mean for human life to be enlightened. At several junctures I queried the persuasiveness of the manner in which particular themes and arguments are treated in Smith's work – for example, the priority of the spectator over the actor in matters of ethical evaluation, the safeguards against the possible degeneration of the pleasure of sympathy into selfishness and vanity, the circularity of ethical reasoning, and the prescriptions for liberty of religious belief and their implications for the survival of energetic religion. On each occasion I sought to articulate Smith's likely reply to questions that might legitimately be put to him.
In that case, Diotima, who are the people who love wisdom, if they are neither wise nor ignorant?
Smith's account of the passions does not mention the love of wisdom. The “intellectual sentiments” of wonder, surprise, and admiration are the basis for our praising the “intellectual virtues” (I.i.4.3). But these emotions are spectatorial and not especially strong. They do not seem to have a place in any of the three categories of passion we examined in Chapter 3. By characterizing the intellectual sentiments as “spectatorial” I mean to underline the relative detachment they entail; whether the spectator is the philosopher-scientist observing the great “theatre of nature” (“History of Astronomy,” III. 1, EPS, p. 48) or the person admiring the philosopher-scientist's acumen, “theoretical” knowing seems propelled not by a desire to live out our lives with greater perfection but by a desire to restore a certain tranquillity to the nonsympathetic imagination. Consequently Smith's theory of the passions provides no explicit place for philosophy, in the etymological and edifying Platonic sense of the term.
To be sure, in its natural proclivity to enter into and understand the situation of another, to take interest in and weave together the other's story, the sympathetic imagination resembles the urge to comprehensiveness and unity tied to eros in Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus. But of course for Plato, eros also binds together mortal and divine, providing a “ladder” ascending from the ordinary (such as another's physical beauty) to the extraordinary (such as of the Forms).
The man of the most perfect virtue, the man whom we naturally love and revere the most, is he who joins, to the most perfect command of his own original and selfish feelings, the most exquisite sensibility both to the original and sympathetic feelings of others. The man who, to all the soft, the amiable, and the gentle virtues, joins all the great, the awful, and the respectable, must surely be the natural and proper object of our highest love and admiration.
Adam Smith, TMS III.3.35
Virtue occupies Smith's attention throughout the The Theory of Moral Sentiments and is the chief topic of an entire section (Part VI). Virtue is the “natural object of esteem, honour, and approbation”; it is that on which moral evaluation focuses (VII.i.2). “Virtue is excellence, something uncommonly great and beautiful” (I.i.5.6), and that excellence concerns primarily the perfection of self, though we also speak of virtuous or vicious action or conduct. Morality is to be understood primarily in terms of an ethics of character. In the course of an approving summary of Aristotle's ethical theory, Smith writes: “When we denominate a character generous or charitable, or virtuous in any respect, we mean to signify that the disposition expressed by each of those appellations is the usual and customary disposition of the person” (VII.ii.1.13). This, in turn, means that Smith must place significant weight on excellence of character, on the right “pitch” or “tenor” of the emotions, and on judgment. Smith is unusual, among modern moral philosophers, in according judgment so important a role.
Clearly, no one has a higher claim on our reverence than the man who possesses the instinct and the strength for justice. … In fact, the will to be just is not enough; and man's worst miseries are the result of justice that lacks discernment. This is why the general welfare demands above all else that the seeds of judgment be sown as widely as possible so as to distinguish between fanatic and judge, and to recognize the difference between the blind desire to be judge and the ability to judge. But how can we possibly develop such discernment?
Justice differs from the other virtues in a number of respects. It seems preeminently a social or political virtue, bearing on the relations required for the very existence of community in a way that other virtues do not. Unlike the other virtues, justice may rightly be exacted from us by force. The principles or rules that define justice are ordinarily taken as enforceable whereas the rules of benevolence are not. The rules specifying what actions justice requires or prohibits are more precise than those of the other virtues; as we have seen, Smith compares them to the rules of grammar. Further, justice is distinct in that it is primarily a “negiative virtue” (II.ii.1.9), defined in terms of abstention from wrongdoing. Whereas Smith insists on the distinctness of justice, he also holds that justice is a virtue or excellence of character, though not an admirable disposition of self in quite the same sense as the other virtues.