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In this chapter I argue that Adam Smith’s moral, social and economic thought was influenced by both Stoic and Epicurean sources with surprising and fruitful results. Although these schools of thought conflicted in most respects, Smith adopted and adapted elements from each to creatively construct a kind of ‘benign-realist’ social science able to explain the order of the human universe while comprehending humans as they really were rather than as we might wish them to be. By combining the Stoic idea that all of nature is both divine and benign with a pragmatic Epicurean moral psychology, Smith not only reconciles his own realist intuitions with his sincere faith in a designed universe, but produces a compelling account of how economies and societies should operate. I show this by exploring how Smith responded to the Stoic and Epicurean approaches to virtue, self-interest, benevolence, justice and our obligations to others, especially strangers and foreigners. I also explore how he applied an Epicurean sensibility to reimagine Stoic cosmopolitanism.
The Stoics argued for women’s moral equality, companionate marriage, education, and participation in philosophy. And yet we have no writings from Stoic women, even from the Roman imperial period, when we know of several who could be considered Stoics. This silence of the written record coheres with the centrality within Stoicism of manliness (virtus), exemplified by heroes like Hercules. We must therefore examine indirect evidence, including writings by Stoic men on marriage and society, in order to glean anything about Stoic women. But this chapter suggests that writing tragedy provided the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca the opportunity to stage the voice of a Stoic woman facing the most crucial choice – between life and death – and responding as her own moral agent. Acting as a Stoic exemplar, Megara, Hercules’ wife, chooses death over a life inconsistent with her ethically determined role.
In De Officiis, Cicero values very highly the little society of parents and their children: an origin of society and seedbed of the republic, whose members should rank extraordinarily high among each other’s priorities. In light of Cicero’s biography and longstanding interest in a philosophical debate about parental love, I argue that Cicero’s position is that nature gives to humans a non-rational desire to care for their children, which leads many parents to rational love of their children, whereby they care about what is natural for at least some other humans, their children, as they care about it for themselves, holding property in common within the household. The rest of the family thereby learn loving attitudes. Such parents and their home are for their children images, however flawed, of virtue and a virtuous society. By making this experience common, nature teaches a lesson in what virtuous altruists would be like.
Is “patience a virtue” in Shakespeare? Yes, this chapter argues—though Shakespeare also fully acknowledges how the word and the virtue itself can be abused. For an example of the more troubling ways in which patience is invoked by Shakespeare, consider Petruchio’s promise to see Katherine become “a second Grissel,” an icon of patient wifely submission. Or take the jarring way Prince Ferdinand, in The Tempest, reaps romantic rewards for “patient” labors of the same sort that the enslaved Caliban has long unwillingly and unprofitably endured. Such scandalous appeals to patience invite us to read into Shakespeare a modern critique of this virtue: a critique that has been prominent ever since Nietzsche called patience one of Western culture’s key “fabricated ideals,”a constraint on human potential. To show why the abuse of patience discourse is not the whole story in Shakespeare, this chapter recalls how classical and Christian traditions envision patience as not a loser’s but a winner’s virtue. In classical ethics it is a practice of acting deliberately rather than reactively. And in Christianity, patience not only builds confidence in a better world to come, but—as Marina’s perseverance in Pericles shows—can also further meaningful change in this one.
The introduciton opens my exploration of Cicero’s notion of will. I argue that the will is an original Latin contribution to the Western mind. Cicero’s letters, speeches, and treatises show how his skill for language gave him a subtler take on events and a richer repertoire of persuasion. Practical uses of will are foremost: mapping alliances, winning elections, and navigating the “economy of goodwill.” From his earliest writings, however, voluntas emerges in normative claims about law and politics: that Rome’s mass of precedents could be rationalized through Greek ideas. Chief among these is Plato’s precept that reason must rule, and thus an alliance of philosophy and tradition can save the dying Republic. Transmuting political failure into philosophical innovation, Cicero lays the foundation for an idea – the will and its freedom – with tremendous consequences for Western thought. For Cicero, voluntas populi becomes the binding force of a nominally popular but functionally aristocratic constitution. If this state of affairs looks familiar in today’s “democratic” republics, we have Cicero in part to thank. Insistence on the singularity of popular will and mistrust of the common citizen lie at the heart of today’s political crisis and will require Ciceronian creativity to fix.
This chapter draws on Cicero’s letters to propose the existence of an “economy of goodwill” in the late Roman Republic. Through voluntas mutua, the mature statesman handles sensitive transactions and vouchsafes his allies’ support. I examine potential antecedents to Cicero’s goodwill in Aristotle’s theories of friendship (eunoia and philia), as well as in the system of “friendly loans” (mutuom argentum) in the comedies of Plautus. Cicero’s economics of friendship, though informed by these others, aim at problems particular to Rome’s fast-growing empire. Unlike normal currency, “spending” voluntas only increases one’s supply of it, allowing for mutual reinforcement of political support over time. Additionally, voluntas may be exchanged regardless of facultas, facilitating long-distance governance by low-cost trades of support across the empire when concrete beneficia are unfeasible. In his philosophical works, finally, Cicero shows an intriguing ambivalence about the economy of goodwill that served him so well in practice. Are reciprocal favors a defensible part of friendship? Though he excludes the possibility in De amicitia, in De officiis, voluntas mutua is redeemed in decorum, the ideal by which proportion and mutuality yield virtue.
This chapter is dedicated to the theory of selfhood Cicero presents in the De officiis: each person being a player of four personae. The allegory of four dramatic roles or masks (from the Greek prosopon) is borrowed from the Stoic Panaetius, whose ethical theory adapts the stringent demands of the sage to a morally imperfect and multifarious public. He who wishes to progress, Cicero explains, must play the roles of reason, of nature, of fortune, and, finally, the role “we ourselves may choose sets forth from our will” (quam personam velimus, a nostra voluntate proficiscitur). In this final treatise, the will comes most clearly into view as a mental capacity and rational force. I argue that when read in conjunction with related uses of voluntas and persona in other texts, Cicero’s will serves a recursive purpose within each of the other personae. Whether in actualizing reason, refining our inborn qualities, or navigating the forces of necessity and civic duty, voluntas creates a dialectic of actor and mask from which emerges a conscious moral self. Though the will develops richly as a moral faculty and principium individuationis in the hands of later thinkers, its terrestrial purposes disappear as divine ones take hold.
With the Tusculan Disputations, willpower enters Western thought. This chapter departs from a peculiar decision Cicero makes in his account of the human soul. In previous centuries, Platonists and Stoics had bitterly disagreed on whether the soul was unified or divided into rational and nonrational parts. In the Tusculan Disputations, Cicero announces that he will combine Stoic moral stricture – predicated on the soul’s unity – with Plato’s divided, self-moving soul. The result is a new narrative of inner struggle in which voluntas gains a formal definition at last: “that which desires with reason” (quae quid cum ratione desiderat) (Tusc. 4.12). While drawing importantly on the Hellenistic schools of philosophy, the Latin “force” of volition is foremost. Here, Cicero links together lines of debate that in Greek had run in parallel, rendering hekon, boulesis, and prohairesis by voluntarius and voluntas. His “struggle for reason” thus moves originally beyond Greek accounts of askesis, moral training that emphasized education and cognitive clarity over present effort. An orator zealous to persuade, Cicero paints his account of reason in Roman colors of honor, endurance, and painstaking progress.
At the beginning of the debate over free will, freedom is nowhere to be found. In the Hellenistic period, the question of human autonomy is not one of freedom (eleutheria) but instead, given the nature of the universe, what is “up to us” (eph’emin) and thus left to our choice (prohairesis). It is Cicero and the Epicurean poet Lucretius who first turn the debate into one specifically over man’s freedom from fate. But Cicero’s idea of the will’s libertas – its opportunity to conquer vice and win honor – is very different from that of Lucretius in De rerum natura, a text Cicero read and may even have edited. De fato, one of the last in his corpus, returns to the question of a libera voluntas explicitly to refute the Epicurean doctrine of the swerve (clinamen) and their abandonment of civic duty. For Cicero, free will is the locus of public virtue, the justification of “praise and honors,” and the power to strengthen ourselves against natural vice. Cicero’s letters reveal, in turn, that this technical treatise on fate has decidedly political stakes for the Roman Republic.
This book tells an overlooked story in the history of ideas, a drama of cut-throat politics and philosophy of mind. For it is Cicero, statesman and philosopher, who gives shape to the notion of will in Western thought, from criminal will to moral willpower and 'the will of the people'. In a single word – voluntas – he brings Roman law in contact with Greek ideas, chief among them Plato's claim that a rational elite must rule. When the republic falls to Caesarism, Cicero turns his political argument inward: Will is a force in the soul to win the virtue lost on the battlefield, the mark of inner freedom in an unfree age. Though this constitutional vision failed in his own time, Cicero's ideals of popular sovereignty and rational elitism have shaped and fractured the modern world – and Ciceronian creativity may yet save it.
The apostle Paul has been viewed by many as a cosmopolitan thinker who called Christ-followers to embrace the ideal of a single humanity living in harmony with a divinely ordered cosmos. A close comparison of Paul's apocalyptic theology with various interpretations of ‘cosmopolitanism’ over the centuries, however, shows few points of agreement. Paul was fundamentally a Jewish sectarian whose vision for a better world embraced only Christ-followers and involved the cataclysmic end of the present world order. Those who accepted and lived by this vision were effectively relegated to the same marginal position in civic life as the local Jewish community.
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