24 June 2006

An Unwilling Voluntarist

We saw that Anscombe makes the interesting claim that obligation (being bound or required, what one ought to do or needs to do, duty) is inherently diverse, and that some special justification is needed for either treating all 'ought' in action as the same, or holding that there is some uniform 'moral ought' that spans diverse domains of human action. She holds, correctly, that this view was presupposed by some major thinkers in the classical tradition, such as Aristotle (and presumably including also Aquinas); she furthermore maintains that 'modern moral philosophy' unreflectively, and--she thinks--incoherently, presumes, as against the classical tradition, that there is a 'moral ought', while not accepting any framework which could give this presupposition any sense. Among other things, she diagnoses Hume's is/ought quandry as a consequence of the modern viewpoint.

These are interesting claims. They would certainly merit examination in a book on the Nicomachean Ethics, as they would inevitably help to clarify what is distinctive and difficult to grasp in Aristotle's approach.

But Irwin's essay in the recent Kraut collection misfires, because he dramatically misunderstands Anscombe. He takes Anscombe to be claiming that Christian natural law theory is voluntarist; that a commitment to voluntarism sets Aquinas apart from Aristotle; and that the flaw in 'modern moral philosophy' is that it presumes a conception of 'ought' which could have content only by appeal to the will of a divine legislator, the existence of which is denied. The first two claims are false, and Anscombe never held them, and the third claim misconstrues Anscombe's diagnosis. So Irwin's essay ends up being an unneeded lecture, directed against Anscombe, on the theme that Aristotle and Aquinas were not voluntarists.

I give some quotations to show this. Irwin grants the initial plausibility of what he takes to be Anscombe's view as follows:

Evidently, Aquinas believes that there is a divine legislator, and that natural law embodies eternal law, which is not independent of the mind of God. Hence he seems to agree with the Christian view (as Anscombe describes it) against the Aristotelian view, by treating morality as the product of legislation by a divine legislator (p. 326).
Note that Irwin is supposing that Anscombe's view, or her view of Christian natural law theory, is that "morality is a product of legislation by a divine legislator."

Irwin then says, correctly, that this is not Aquinas' view, and, taking himself to be arguing against Anscombe, insists repeatedly:
[Aquinas] believes that natural law contains rules, commands, and action-guiding requirements, but he does not argue that law essentially consists in commands that are expressions of the will of a legislator....

Natural law includes commands that do not consist in expressions of the will of any external legislator...

Natural law imposes obligation that does not depend on the will of a legislator...
Irwin follows with a brief summary of non-voluntarist moralists in the early modern and modern periods, saying that these views are at least as plausible as "Anscombe's voluntarism" (p. 330). And he concludes:
If we believed Anscombe, we would suppose that Aquinas differs sharply from Aristotle about the moral ought, but we ought not to believe her. If we believed Pufendorf's voluntarism (implicit in Anscombe), naturalists such as Aristotle and Aquinas cannot recognize a moral ought because they cannot recognize external reasons, but we ought not to believe them. (p. 335)
All along he seems not to grasp Anscombe's basic challenge--over the uniformity of the notion of 'ought' or requirement.

More Like Colleagues Than Like Pupils

The following quotation from Ryle, offered recently by Alan Kim as a comment to a much earlier post on this blog, seemed worth giving attention especially given the remarks by Ran Baratz, concluding his BMCR review yesterday, which I also quote.

Ryle. The conviction that the Viennese dichotomy 'Either Science or Nonsense' had too few 'ors' in it led some of us, including myself, to harbour and to work on a derivative suspicion. If, after all, logicians and even philosophers can say significant things, then perhaps some logicians and philosophers of the past, even the remote past, had, despite their unenlightenment, sometimes said significant things. 'Conceptual analysis' seems to denote a permissible, even meritorious exercise, so maybe some of our forefathers had had their Cantabrigian moments. If we are careful to winnow off their vacuously speculative tares from their analytical wheat, we may find that some of them sometimes did quite promising work in our own line of business. Naturally we began, in a patronising mood, by looking for and finding in the Stoics, say, or Locke, primitive adumbrations of our own most prized thoughts. But before long some of them seemed to move more like pioneers than like toddlers, and to talk to us across the ages more like colleagues than like pupils; and then we forgot our pails of whitewash. ( "Autobiographical" in Ryle: A Collection of Critical Essays, p.10, f.)

Baratz. To conclude, it seems that in some of the more recent reconstructions of Aristotle's Politics one finds what is perhaps the gravest concern of such efforts: 'mistreating or distorting Aristotle by importing ideas or imposing structures that are inimical to his thought' [
F. Miller (1995), Nature, Justice and Rights in Aristotle's Politics, p. 22]. As a result, I cannot accept some of the more far-reaching conclusions they offer (which occasionally appear to be a-priori assumptions). Instead, I prefer to continue viewing Aristotle as a unique and sophisticated political philosopher whose work does not necessarily dovetail with the frameworks of liberal thought. Largely by virtue of his realistic and mature conception of human nature, Aristotle managed to integrate into his political thought manifold factors that have a significant impact on human beliefs and conduct. I find that these qualities of Aristotelian political thought remain largely unequaled. Therefore, instead of reinterpreting his ideas so that they may adhere to the modern spirit, contemporary scholarship should instead enrich itself with Aristotle's innovative and thorough theories, even where it rejects their morals (an example might be Aristotle's cautious and complex ideas on the relation between the political and ethical, compared to the coarse subordination of the political to the moral, which nowadays we encounter all too often). It appears to me that Aristotle hardly warrants a rescue mission, especially one that leads to the dilution and alteration of his thoughts into inordinate liberal and thoroughly democratic modern viewpoints.
Baratz' complete review may be found here.

23 June 2006


I hope you don't mind if I share with you the occasional endearing story. This one also concerns my son, Joseph, who is six years old.

Earlier today, when I was working at my desk, I let him and his brothers watch the movie, Hello Dolly!, a humorous musical starring Barbara Streisand, with lots of dancing, songs, colorful outfits, and parades. I watched the credits together with him at the start and saw that the movie featured Louis Armstrong. "Oh, Louis Armstrong!" I exclaimed, with much enthusiasm, "He is the most wonderful jazz trumpet player ever. 'Ol' Satchmo'. You have to watch for Louis Armstrong."

"Is he in the movie?" Joseph asked. "Yes," I said, "and you can't miss him. He's a black man who sings like this..." and then I imitated Armstrong's gravelly voice, singing a few bars of the title tune.

Joe began watching the movie, and at one point he called out to me, "Dad! I think I see Louis Armstrong!" I got up to look at the TV and saw Walter Matthau marching in a parade wearing a Knights of Columbus uniform. "No, that's not Louis Armstrong," I said, "that's Walter Matthau." "But he's wearing a black suit," Joseph said. I didn't quite get what he meant.

An hour later or so, Joseph shouted out again, smiling, "That's Louis Armstrong!" Sure enough, there he was on the screen, holding his trumpet and singing. "He's wearing black, Dad, just as you said."

In the scene, Louis Armstrong was performing on a stage and wore a black tuxedo. And then I realized: Joseph didn't even notice that his skin was black. When I first said the word 'black' to him, Joseph thought of black clothing, and he was, so to speak, blind as to the color of Louis Armstrong's skin.

Anscombe's Criticism of the 'Moral Ought': What This Is

Here's a parable to understand Anscombe's point about the 'moral ought'.

Imagine a young woman in school who devotes herself especially to music (she plays the piano), gymastics, and mathematics. Each of these areas, clearly, has its own standards of excellence. What is 'required', what is to be done, is one thing in gymnatics, another thing in music, and something else (the demonstrandum) in mathematics. It would be absurd to suggest that this person in pursuing her education is measuring her actions against some common notion of 'requirement'. It wouldn't help for her to keep constantly in mind that "I'll aim to do always what is required."

Now suppose that her father, whom she loves and admires very much, lately takes a special interest in her education and tells her something like, "It would please me greatly if you excelled in all areas of your study." Perhaps he is a perfectionist, and the woman gets the sense that in meeting the standards distinctive of each of her areas of endeavor, she would also meeting be her father's standards for her. Now it would indeed be possible for her to conceive of her studies with a certain unity, as aiming to 'please her Dad' or 'meet his expectations (or standards)'. But note that this unity would be a posterior, and there would be no question--it would be absurd to suggest--that the father's interest in her education creates standards in mathematics, music, or athleticism.

Anscombe believes that historically Christianity allowed for an analogous unifying of the moral life. It is correct, she believes, to think of requirements ('what is to be done', officia) as, initially, varied and peculiar to different domains of action--what is to be done by a soldier in battle is different from what is to be done by a merchant exchanging goods in the marketplace, etc. But if one holds that the requirements of practical reason in these various domains are expressions of a 'natural law' which is promulgated, as it were, in the very nature of the practical reason that we have, then it becomes possible to view what is required under any virtue as falling under the concept of 'required by divine law'.

In Anscombe's view, when moral philosophers of the 1950s (e.g. Hare) were aiming to analyse 'the concept of morality' and looking for the distinctive 'logic' of the word 'ought' as, it was supposed, used in a distinctively moral sense, they were engaged in a fundamentally incoherent enterprise, that came of imagining there to be a unity to requirement in action, which could not intelligibly be accounted for except for the postulation of a divine legislator or the equivalent.

One finds a slightly similar line of thought in Aristotle's Ethics (although Anscombe does not mention this in her article). I mean Aristotle's discussion of 'general justice' in V.1. He admits that there is a sense in which what is required under any virtue may be regarded as required in the same way, if we regard the acts of the various virtue as all obligatory under some system of law (hence an act of courage and of commercial justice are both alike in being 'what's law-abiding', nomimon.) (I would add that Anscombe's criticism of the concept of 'moral ought' has a similar spirit to Aristotle's criticism of a uniform notion of 'good' in NE I.6.)

It's clear that Anscombe's view, and Aristotle's, have nothing whatsoever to do with the view known as 'voluntarism', viz. that moral obligation must ultimately be explained by appeal to the will of a legislator.

In fact, Anscombe formulates her view in a way that makes it very clear that she rejects voluntarism:

To have a law conception of ethics is to hold that what is needed for conformity with the virtues failure in which is the mark of being bad qua man (and not merely, say, qua craftsman or logician)--that what is needed for this, is required by divine law. Naturally it is not possible to have such a conception unless you believe in God as a law‑giver; like Jews, Stoics, and Christians. But if such a conception is dominant for many centuries, and then is given up, it is a natural result that the concepts of "obligation,” of being bound or required as by a law, should remain though they had lost their root; and if the word "ought" has become invested in certain contexts with the sense of "obligation," it too will remain to be spoken with a special emphasis and special feeling in these contexts.

In her phrase, 'what is needed for conformity with the virtues, failure of which is the mark of being bad qua man', she acknowledges standards of action which provide, as it were, the reasons why the divine law is as it is.

Anscombe of course knew Aquinas well enough to recognize that this is how he conceived of the natural law also! ("Non enim Deus a nobis offenditur nisi ex eo quod contra nostrum bonum agimus", ScG III. 122, and like principles, were surely known to her.)

22 June 2006

Sputtering Magnanimity

Aristotle mentions, as an expression of magnanimity, that one give in return more than what was originally given to you, since in that way the other person is blessed, as it were, by dealing with you, and furthermore he now becomes indebted to you--which presumably will encourage him to initiate another round of reciprocal giving (NE IV.3 1124b10-12).

Cicero in De Officiis recommends something similar, although he does so under his treatment of the virtue of liberalitas, a species (he considers) of iusitia, not under magnitudo animi:

Quodsi ea, quae utenda acceperis, maiore mensura, si modo possis, iubet reddere Hesiodus, quidnam beneficio provocati facere debemus? an imitari agros fertiles, qui multo plus efferunt quam acceperunt? Etenim si in eos, quos speramus nobis profuturos, non dubitamus officia conferre, quales in eos esse debemus, qui iam profuerunt? (I 48)

For if, as Hesiod commands [Works and Days 349-51], you should return in greater measure, provided that you can, anything that you have needed to borrow, what should we do when challenged by an unsought favor? Should we not take as our model the fertile fields, which bring forth much more than they have received? We do not hesitate to perform dutiful services for those whom we hope will assist us in the future; what, then, ought we to be like towards those who have already assisted us? (Adkins)
Since I agree with Aristotle that the point of studying ethics is not simply to know what virtue is but also to become good (and that these may come apart), during the Mayweek Seminar I decided at one point to attempt to put this advice into practice.

At lunch with some graduate students I found myself short for paying my share of the tab. One student kindly lent me £2. The next day, I purposefully brought to the seminar £3 in change, and, when this student was leaving the room at the end of the session, I placed that sum in his hand. He had a chance to look at the money and count it before he went out the door, and then he turned to me and said, "It was only £2! You gave me one pound too many." "But that's the magnanimous thing to do," I said, "I'm repaying you with more than you lent me." "Don't be silly" he said (or something to that effect) and placed the pound piece on the table next to me.

So much for my attempt to be magnanimous! Reflecting on this I drew the following lessons. First, the maxim of Cicero and Aristotle cannot easily be carried out if the exchange involves money. A main purpose of money seems to be to allow exact and equal exchanges--to be able to reckon up the columns and make sure that debits equal credits. Money is therefore not a suitable medium for a 'magnanimous' exchange. Second, the benefit is best returned in such a way that the other person has no opportunity to reject the excess in favor of equality: even with a return of money, my plan might have worked if I had left £3 in an envelope for the person at the Porter's Lodge of his college. (And yet how might one indicate with suitable refinement that the extra sum wasn't a mistake?)

Another instance of sputtering magnanimity: Last winter, I was shoveling snow from the long driveway at my home, when a neighbor driving past with a plow on his pick-up truck offered to do the job for me. Especially as the snow was wet and heavy, I without hesitation welcomed the help. (He accomplished in about 30 seconds what would have cost me two hours and a sore back.) I knew that I could have paid someone $20 for the job, and that he had bought a plow for his truck whereas I hadn't, so I asked him whether I could give him some money for the service. He refused this, as I expected, but then he said, "Sam Adams is my favorite beer. I would never refuse a six-pack." Waiting a few days, so that the exchange was 'more free', but not too long, so that I wouldn't seem to be slow to show gratitude, I bought a case of beer for him instead and left it on his porch. This was all in keeping with the principle of magnanimity--the value of the beer was greater, yet since the value of each good was indefinite, and they could not strictly be compared, he might accept the gift, recognizing it was in some sense 'more', but recognizing also that we were counting it as an 'even' and a friendly exchange.

But even this effort at magnanimity, I later thought, was flawed. It would have been better had I waited until he was home to drop off the beer. My simply leaving the beer at his house made the exchange too much like a commercial exchange of services and insufficiently friendly--an exchange of things, rather than affection or time. Much better would have been additionally to sit down with him, share one of the beers, and talk. (As it is, he lives a quarter mile down our country road, and I hardly see him. This was a missed chance to start a friendship.)

Foedus Rerum

We have seen that there is no specifically "moral" sense of duty in Cicero, nor, as Anscombe pointed out, is there is a "moral ought" in Aristotle.

Irwin contests this in his contribution to the Kraut volume on NE, actually imputing voluntarism to Anscombe! And I'll say more about this later. But for now I want simply to point out something astonishing in "Modern Moral Philosophy", which I am not aware has been noticed.

Anscombe is discussing ways in which moral philosophers of her day, who reject the existence of a Divine Legislator, might nonetheless justify their appeal to a special, moral sense of 'ought', and she throws out the following idea:

There is another possibility here: "obligation" may be contractual. Just as we look at the law to find out what a man subject to it is required by it to do, so we look at a contract to find out what the man who has made it is required by it to do. Thinkers, admittedly remote from us, might have the idea of a foedus rerum, of the universe not as a legislator but as the embodiment of a contract. Then if you could find out what the contract was, you would learn your obligations under it. Now, you cannot be under a law unless it has been promulgated to you; and the thinkers who believed in "natural divine law" held that it was promulgated to every grown man in his knowledge of good and evil. Similarly you cannot be in a contract without having contracted, i.e. given signs of entering upon the contract. Just possibly, it might be argued that the use of language which one makes in the ordinary conduct of life amounts in some sense to giving the signs of entering into various contracts. If anyone had this theory, we should want to see it worked out. I suspect that it would be largely formal; it might be possible to construct a system embodying the law (whose status might be compared to that of "laws"of logic): "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," but hardly one descending to such particularities as the prohibition on murder or sodomy. Also, while it is clear that you can be subject to a law that you do not acknowledge and have not thought of as law, it does not seem reasonable to say that you can enter upon a contract without knowing that you are doing so; such ignorance is usually held to be destructive of the nature of a contract.
I would guess these remarks were inspired by the argument of Grice's "Meaning", published in 1957, the year before the appearance of Anscombe's essay. But has anyone noticed that Anscombe here, in a few words, anticipates the "discourse ethics" of Habermas and Apel?--anticipating, too, the shortcomings in this approach.

21 June 2006

"Aquinas Is Aristotle"

I have read Anscombe's "Modern Moral Philosophy", of course, but I took the quotation I used in yesterday's post from a footnote in Terry Irwin's essay in the Blackwell Guide to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

Irwin's essay is called, "Aquinas, Natural Law, and Eudaimonism". It puzzles me that it is included in a collection on Aristotle's Ethics. The bulk of the essay is an argument that Aquinas is not a 'voluntarist' in ethics but rather a 'naturalist'. Yet why include such a thing in a volume on Aristotle?

Yes, Irwin observes that Aquinas is like Aristotle in not being a voluntarist. But this is hardly BIG NEWS. (Not that there aren't a dozen interesting ways in which the two thinkers might be compared--on happiness, on goodness, on virtue, on the will, on magnanimity, on humility, on some other particular virtue, on charity.)

Moreover, if a compare-and-contrast essay were wanted, it seems arbitrary to select Aquinas. What about Aristotle and Hume on practical reason? Aristotle and Reid on the 'constitution of human nature'? Aristotle and Smith on fittingness and propriety? Aristotle and Kant on moral absolutes? Aristotle, Mill and Rawls on the common good? -- You see what I mean.

I have my thoughts about what the essay was meant to accomplish, but doesn't. I'll say more about that in a later post.

P.S. I have heard the claim, "Aquinas is Aristotle", cited as "McInerny's Thesis"--meaning Ralph McInerny at Notre Dame. I don't think that that was the rationale for Irwin's essay!

For the Sake of the Cosmos

I recommend Thomas Johansen's astute review, appearing today in NPDR, of Monte Ransome Johnson's Aristotle on Teleology (yours for only $68.62!).

According to the review, Johnson (or 'Monte' from now on, to avoid confusion) begins by defending the following, very sane interpretation of Aristotle, as expressed in a quotation from the beginning of the book:

'Aristotle thinks that the fact that things function well in nature needs a general explanation. But the explanations he offers invariably make reference to specific natural substances. He is wary of attempts to generalize about a generic, overall good, which he holds has little or no explanatory power . . . His teleological explanations in the works on nature make reference to the good of specific kinds of things -- stars, elements, plants, animals, humans, families, and cities -- and not just to human beings, god, or some other overarching cosmic good' (11)
But from this view he apparently slides over to denying 'anthropocentric' or 'cosmic' teleology at all-- from saying that teleological explanations for Aristotle make reference 'not just to human beings [or] god' to saying they do this not at all.

If this is what he claims, then I think Johansen is correct in rejecting this as a sound interpretation of Aristotle. (One simple argument against this, although there are dozens more: surely Aristotle thinks that each species within a 'system'--such as a symbiotic system--has and aims at a good beyond the good of that species alone. Thus 'anthropocentric' teleology will apply for systems of which human beings are a part; and it would seem strange to deny that, for Aristotle, the universe as a whole is some sort of system--the very word kosmos signifies that it is.)

But one passage in the review perplexes me. Johansen is considering Monte's arguments against 'cosmic' teleology: Monte holds that, for Aristotle, 'there is no good for all beings in the cosmos'. And Johansen begins to argue against this as follows:
There is no good for all beings in the cosmos, whether we take this to mean a) a good represented by a distinct being such as god, or b) a good represented by the cosmos as a whole over and above the good for each individual species as such. Johnson seems (274) to take it as sufficient to dispel a) to say, on the basis of Eudemian Ethics I.8, that there can be no good in the sciences beyond what is practicable for human beings. The highest such good is 'intelligence' (nous), as practiced by god with no implication that this good exists as a 'good-itself'. One senses an ignoratio elenchi here: to say that one can identify the highest good as intelligence in ethics without identifying it as a separate good says nothing about whether Aristotle in Metaphysics L should want to make the highest good exist separately.
The sentence 'one can identify the highest good as intelligence in ethics' confuses me. I think Johansen means: 'in ethics, one can identify the highest good as intelligence'. Fine. But I don't know what it would mean to say that, in ethics, the highest good is intelligence as practiced by god (since presumably the highest good in ethics is a good practicable by human beings) or how that could possibly work as a premise in an argument for Monte (since this would concede from the start that the highest good for human beings is a separately existing good).

But if we put these difficulties aside, wouldn't a relevant argument here (Monte's argument?) be the following:
  1. If there is a separately existing good of the cosmos, it is the ultimate good for each sort of thing in the cosmos.
  2. But the ultimate good of human beings is a good practicable for human beings, (human) intelligence.
  3. Thus one sort of thing does not have a separately existing good as its ultimate good.
  4. Thus there is no separately existing good of the cosmos.
I'm not convinced that that is a sound argument; yet at least it is not an ignoratio elenchi.

20 June 2006

Classical and Modern Conceptions of Autonomy

...the concepts of obligation and duty--moral obligation and moral duty, that is to say--and of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of 'ought,' ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible; because they are survivals, or derivatives from survivals, from an earlier conception of ethics which no longer generally survives, and are only harmful without it.
Thus Anscombe, in her famous "Modern Moral Philosophy".

We saw that Mill does indeed think of duty as specifically 'moral', at least insofar as he connects duty essentially with someone else's right to legislate, coerce, and punish.

Cicero, in contrast, lacks what Anscombe decries. As someone was urging at the Mayweek Seminar, he presents in De Officiis a continuum of 'things to be done' (or 'not to be done'), which encompasses everything from protecting others from injury, on the one hand, to wearing appropriate clothing, on the other. True enough, he holds that we should always act consistently with our belonging to the 'community of gods and men', which takes the form, usually, of simply not harming others. But this viewpoint (a 'persona' for Cicero) is only one of several that we need to get right in order to act well. The viewpoint has no special standing, except for its being the most universal and most general context of our action.

What goes along with this relatively relaxed notion of duty and ought (expressed with the gerundive, not any word implying legal right), is, strangely, a more rigorous notion of autonomy. Here there is a striking contrast between Cicero and modern conceptions. The relevant text in De Officiis is perhaps this:
Huic veri videndi cupiditati adiuncta est appetitio quaedam principatus, ut nemini parere animus bene informatus a natura velit nisi praecipienti aut docenti aut utilitatis causa iuste et legitime imperanti; ex quo magnitudo animi exsistit humanarumque rerum contemptio (I 13).
As someone judiciously observed at the Mayweek Seminar, what Cicero here calls appetitio principatus, is what might be called an impulse for autonomy and true freedom. As rational creatures we properly wish to obey no individual (nemini), and no one person as simply giving orders, but rather someone who appeals to some rational consideration, for the relevant common good (utilitatis causa).

(By the way, Adkins seems to get this wrong in at least two respects in her translation:
In addition to this desire for seeing the truth, there is a kind of impulse towards pre-eminence, so that a spirit that is well trained by nature will not be willing to obey for its own benefit someone whose advice, teaching and commands are not just and lawful. Greatness of spirit and a disdain for human things arise as a result.
Surely utilitas here is not simply the agent's benefit; and surely too Cicero wishes to draw a distinction between reasonable private authority, based on appropriate precept or instruction, and reasonable public authority, which must be grounded in justice and law, and directed at the common good.)

Modern notions of autonomy-- since duty is taken to imply the right of another to coerce-- depend upon a restriction of the scope of duty: duty is limited to our acting from a 'moral point of view', or in accordance with laws selected from some viewpoint of reason (the 'original position'), or something similar. An individual when not acting from this viewpoint, say, in making decisions as regards private life, is therefore regarded as unconstrained in doing whatever he or she sees fit--unconstrained because there is no question of a publicly accessible viewpoint of reason, from which these actions may be evaluated.

But the classical notion, in contrast, depends upon an expansion of the scope of duty, so that it covers every thought, choice, action, and circumstance. That an action be reasonable, and that it be an officium, are one and the same. If our goal as rational creatures is to be entirely reasonable, then every aspect of a person's life should be an expression of officium. Moreover, there is no dualism between public and private reasonability, because an action by its nature is open to reasonable evaluation by others. (This is implicit in the correlative notions of splendor and gloria; also, in the affirmation of a shared human nature.)

The contrast is one between a limited visibility to coercive reason, and an unrestricted visibility to evaluative but non-coercive reason.

But is the classical notion of autonomy ultimately unsatisfactory as a vision of human freedom?--But why should it be, if there is no necessary connection between duty and coercion, and if it carries with it a rich enough concept of the common good, that law may presume to coerce only when directed at that, and even then only as an unfortunate expedient?

19 June 2006

Philebus in Dublin

Just received by e-mail:

International Plato Society

Call for Papers for the 2007 Meeting in Dublin on the Philebus

The Executive Committee of the IPS, at its meeting in Como, has fixed Monday, Oct. 2, 2006, as a deadline for the receipt of abstracts of papers to be considered for presentation at the July, 2007 meeting in Dublin on the Philebus. Such abstracts should not exceed 500 words, and should be presented on not more than two pages. Topics may concern any aspect of the dialogue itself, or of the history of its interpretation, ancient or modern. The privilege of submitting papers is confined to paid-up members of the Society.

The papers will be evaluated by the members of the committee over the following two months, and notifications will be sent out early in January 2007, well before the deadline for registration for the conference, which will probably be February 1.

Anyone wishing to submit a paper can apply for membership of the IPS by contacting Prof. John Dillon, School of Classics, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland and dillonj@tcd.ie and a membership form can be sent by attachment.

Brendan O'Byrne, Secretary to the President, IPS

Is it common to require membership for the mere submission of a paper? One might have thought that a good scheme for increasing membership in the society, if that were desired, would be to have open submission but the requirement of membership and paid dues for actually reading a paper in Dublin.

(I'm wondering, too, why the Program Committee of BACAP doesn't hold its meetings in Como!)

They Also Commit Injustice Who Only Stand and Wait

For Cicero it seems that the our recognition of our standing towards one another, as rational creatures who are part of the 'community of gods and men', is expressed by our refraining from harming one another.

But (as noted in the Mayweek seminar) here Cicero is rigorous and insists that we commit an injustice not merely when we directly injure another, but also when we refrain from protecting another from injury, when it was in our power to do so:

Sed iniustitiae genera duo sunt, unum eorum, qui inferunt, alterum eorum, qui ab iis, quibus infertur, si possunt, non propulsam iniuriam. Nam qui iniuste impetum in quempiam facit aut ira aut aliqua perturbatione incitatus, is quasi manus afferre videtur socio; qui autem non defendit nec obsistit, si potest, iniuriae, tam est in vitio, quam si parentes aut amicos aut patriam deserat. (I 23)

Of injustice there are two types: men may inflict injury; or else, when it is being inflicted upon others, they may fail to deflect it, even though they could. Anyone who makes an unjust attack on another, whether driven by anger or by some other agitation, seems to be laying hands, so to speak, upon a fellow. But also, the man who does not defend someone, or obstruct the injustice when he can, is at fault just as if he had abandoned his parents or his friends or his country.
It's remarkable that Cicero likens a failure to defend anyone ('who is my neighbor?'), to a failure to defend those closest to us; and he apparently regards our duty to defend as not made proportionately weaker or stronger, depending upon the closeness of our relation to the person under attack. Thus here, clearly, the 'impersonal point of view' is making a showing.

Or is it?--since I wonder whether Cicero didn't intend the qualifications, si possunt and si potest, to allow some wiggle room. After all, interventions have various degrees of risk, and someone might claim that he wasn't able to intervene on behalf of a stranger, because it was too risky to do so. ("I couldn't very well fight off so many attackers" might be an allowable defense for inaction if a stranger is under attack, but not a family member.) If so, then the equal claim that all of us have to be guarded against attack by any other is a theoretical ideal rather than an immediate, practical principle of action.

Duty and Coercion

I was looking in Mill's Utilitarianism for relationships of his discussion of justice to Cicero's, and found this remarkable passage:

For the truth is, that the idea of penal sanction, which is the essence of law, enters not only into the conception of injustice, but into that of any kind of wrong. We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow-creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience. This seems the real turning point of the distinction between morality and simple expediency. It is a part of the notion of Duty in every one of its forms, that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfil it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from a person, as one exacts a debt. Unless we think that it may be exacted from him, we do not call it his duty. Reasons of prudence, or the interest of other people, may militate against actually exacting it; but the person himself, it is clearly understood, would not be entitled to complain. There are other things, on the contrary, which we wish that people should do, which we like or admire them for doing, perhaps dislike or despise them for not doing, but yet admit that they are not bound to do; it is not a case of moral obligation; we do not blame them, that is, we do not think that they are proper objects of punishment. How we come by these ideas of deserving and not deserving punishment, will appear, perhaps, in the sequel; but I think there is no doubt that this distinction lies at the bottom of the notions of right and wrong; that we call any conduct wrong, or employ, instead, some other term of dislike or disparagement, according as we think that the person ought, or ought not, to be punished for it; and we say, it would be right, to do so and so, or merely that it would be desirable or laudable, according as we would wish to see the person whom it concerns, compelled, or only persuaded and exhorted, to act in that manner. (My emphasis.)
Now I don't think there is anything like this in Cicero. For Cicero, I believe, a duty is a sort of action which makes a claim on us, as having to be done, in virtue of our being rational creatures. It is a requirement of reason, which does not carry along with it, inevitably, any suggestion of coercion by another. (Compare: "Given that you have written, 'All horses are mammals', and 'All mammals are endothermic', the conclusion needing to be written is 'All horses are endothermic'." --But there is no thought here of our being ready to compel the person to write that conclusion. Rather, it seems that the use of compulsion here would be self-defeating; it would destroy what we were aiming to foster.)

Of course if duty carries along with it necessarily the condition that another may rightfully compel, then one will want to minimize the reach of duty, as Mill does in On Liberty. Here too is a contrast with Cicero, who rather wants considerations of officium to enter into everything that we do, every action and choice, since that serves to make our life more rational.

16 June 2006

The Impersonal and Personal Points of View

I've mentioned:

  • virtues as sources of officia and
  • splendor as a mark of virtue.
Another interesting theme, I thought, in the Mayweek seminar discussions on De Officiis, was that of the relationship between what might be called the 'impersonal' and 'personal' points of view in Cicero's ethics.

Cicero acknowledges the importance of the impersonal point of view, in his echoing the Stoic theme that duty involves our acting toward one another precisely in view of what sets us apart from non-rational animals: in our belonging to a universal community of rational beings, of 'gods and men', under Zeus.

Thus Cicero says, strikingly, that 'the first office of justice' is not some principle such as 'do no harm' (e.g. the famous primum non nocere) but rather 'no one is to harm anyone unless provoked' (i.e. presumably, in self-defense):
Sed iustitiae primum munus est, ut ne cui quis noceat nisi lacessitus inuria (I 20).
In discussion during Mayweek I tried to minimize the significance of this in various ways. "Cicero says primum munus, which indicates, perhaps, that he has in mind the role of the lawgiver--it's the first 'office' or 'responsibility' of justice, that is, of law--and of course the first concern of a lawgiver should be to forbid harm generally, not simply to resolve for himself not to harm another. It would be absurd for a lawgiver to make a law, 'I should not harm anyone'."--But then it was urged that surely the burden of proof is on someone who holds that munus here has a sense different from officium, as Cicero often uses these interchangeably; and furthermore in the texts that follow immediately it seems that by iustitia he means the virtue, not the function of law.

"But, even so," I then argued, "is the scope of this prescription universal, or is it perhaps meant to hold only among members of the same polity?--since surely Cicero does not think that each state has the responsibility of seeing that no state harms any other." But then someone pointed out that later, in Book III, Cicero moves directly from affirming a more restricted principle of aid to fellow-citizens, to affirming an unrestricted duty which we have toward all human beings.

First, he gives what is perhaps meant as a political principle (that is, if we take utilitas universorum to mean only the political common good--which is unclear):
Ergo unum debet esse omnibus propositum, ut eadem sit utilitas unius cuiusque et universorum; quam si ad se quisque rapiet, dissolvetur omnis humana consortio.
Therefore all men should have this one object, that the benefit of each individual and the benefit of all together should be the same. If anyone arrogates it to himself, all human intercourse will be dissolved (III 26, Atkins translation).
But then, immediately following this, he asserts an unrestricted principle, appealing to what human beings are qua human:
Atque etiam, si hoc natura praescribit, ut homo homini, quicumque sit, ob eam ipsam causam, quod is homo sit, consultum velit, necesse est secundum eandem naturam omnium utilitatem esse communem.

Furthermore, if nature prescribes that one man should want to consider the interests of another, whoever he may be, for the very reason that he is a man, it is necessary, according to the same nature, that what is beneficial to all is something common (III 27).
So it must be granted, then, that Cicero affirms this kind of moral universalism.

But then what is the difficulty? The difficulty is that it is unclear how this universalism fits with his equal emphasis on the theme of oikeiwsis: that our affection toward others is the consequence of some process of familiarization, and that our bonds and responsibilities towards those closer to us, are consequently greater than those toward persons further away.

At first glance, these two ideas do not seem consistent: I have an equal responsibility toward all rational creatures; I have greater responsibilities toward friends and family than toward strangers.

This is of course an old chestnut. It is a problem that arises today especially with regard to modern variants of Kantianism. But how does Cicero deal with it? --More in a later post.

After Duty

A stray thought provoked by a stray observation. I picked up Modris Eksteins' Rites of Spring, a history of European culture from 1914-1945, about the changes produced by the Great War, and quite by chance opened to this paragraph:

If the war was reduced, certainly by 1916, to reflex responses, then the assumptions of the civilizations and cultures fighting the war were all-important. And here the crucial catchword for those assumptions was "duty" or devoir or Pflicht. After the gloss of heroism had worn off in the first month of the war, and as the war settled into the enervating phase of attrition, the concept of duty became the linchpin to the effort. As long as the word retained any semblance of meaning, spoken or unspoken, the war would continue. As long as soldiers could somehow relate their reflexes and instinctive behavior in moments of reflection to an underlying sense of responsibility, they would continue to fight, despite horror, weariness, and even despondency.
Of course it follows from this that, if "duty" had come to be thought of as meaningless, then the war would have ceased--which would have been a very good thing.

I note this because I think that the wars of the 20th c. have much to with why "duty" is not taken seriously in Europe and the U.S. (although one might speculate that the U.S. did not have anything like the reaction of Europe until Vietnam)--not that these considerations touch Cicero's discussion, in principle, since on his theory of a just war it is clear that the Great War would not have been just and thus not a field of "duty".

15 June 2006

Delusions of Delusions

If a review causes you to buy a book, is it a success? But suppose you want to consult the book because you cannot believe that it is as bad as the review would suggest?

There were lots of silly paragraphs in the review, just out in BMCR, of G.E.R. Lloyd's, Delusions of Invulnerability, such as these attempting to summarize the 'title track' chapter of the book:

Chapter 4. The delusions of invulnerability

The Greek preoccupation with the frailty of human life and the
capriciousness of the gods induced various proposed solutions,
including Plato's belief in immortality and ultimate justice, and the
Hellenistic schools' quest for peace of mind (ataraxia). But the
philosophers' disagreement on how to attain peace of mind left paganism
at an impasse, of which the Christians took advantage.

The discussion of China is brief, and largely negative. Classical
Chinese lacked Plato's dualism and obsession with the afterlife, and
disregarded any quest for invulnerable security as unrealistic. The Yin
and the Yang change, and the Sage adapts. The implied message (which is
probably true) is that delusions of invulnerability have been rather an
affliction of the West.
Plato believed in immortality, but was he obsessed with it? Could the restricted and even balanced way in which he introduces the theme in the Republic count as an 'obsession'? And what percent of the Dialogues do the pages of the Phaedo represent? (Is it Lloyd, or the reviewer, who thinks that to believe in something is to be obsessed with it?)

Also, what responsible scholar would want to say that Plato postulated an eternal soul--and therefore also the Forms--to find relief from uncertainties in life? (Or, if Plato did that, mustn't we all, necessarily, be doing something like that all the time--including the writers of the review, in writing it?)

I wonder if it is possible to posit invulnerability in one respect, without eo ipso allowing for vulnerability in another, and vice versa. For Plato, human beings are invulnerable to death, it is true, but that very invulnerability exposes them to vicissitudes and even judgment after death. A materialist takes pride, perhaps, in a brave acceptance of the vulnerability contained in human mortality, but that also makes him invulnerable to any accountability, after death, for any injustices during life that were unseen or went unpunished. (Or perhaps what Lloyd means is not invulnerability but rather certainty, and his book is another working out of Dewey's theme?)

Lloyd's book, I gather, covers China only up to the advent of Buddhism. But Buddhism teaches the avoidance of suffering through the extinction of desire--presumably a 'delusion of invulnerability' also. And Hinduism, important in the East if not in China, has so many evident similarities with Plato, that it is ridiculous to say that such 'delusions' are an 'affliction of the West'. (Should we add that Marxian scientific determinism, in the recent past embraced, apparently, by a billion persons in the 'East', is a paradigm of an ideology of 'invulnerability'?)

Nearly every paragraph in the review is equally unsubtle. But Lloyd I know is not. Which is why I went to Amazon and bought the book.

14 June 2006

Pied Beauty

I said in an earlier post that Cicero seems to hold what might be called an 'expressive' theory of morality: that virtues and virtuous actions somehow manifest something, and that it is apparently part of their being honestum and inherently desirable that they do so.

But what does it mean to manifest something? Presumably manifestation is a relation between something to be manifested (call it 'm'), and something that manifests (call it 'M'). Here are some possibilities:

1. Manifestation as actualization: M stands to m as actualization to potentiality. Aristotle seems to hold this view at NE IX.7 1168a1-5:

u(peragapw~si ga_r ou{toi ta_ oi0kei=a poih&mata, ste/rgontej w3sper te/kna. toiou&tw| dh_ e1oike kai\ to_ tw~n eu)ergetw~n: to_ ga_r eu} peponqo_j e1rgon e0sti\n au)tw~n: tou~to dh_ a)gapw~si ma~llon h2 to_ e1rgon to_n poih&santa. tou&tou d' ai1tion o3ti to_ ei]nai pa~sin ai9reto_n kai\ filhto&n, e0sme\n d' e0nergei/a| (tw|~ zh~n ga_r kai\ pra&ttein), e0nergei/a| de\ o( poih&saj to_ e1rgon e1sti pwj: ste/rgei dh_ to_ e1rgon, dio&ti kai\ to_ ei]nai.

The analogue in ethics: a virtuous action actualizes something that existed beforehand only potentially in the soul

2. Manifestation as adornment: M is a whole which includes m as part, and the remainder of M is congruent to m. Think of finding the right frame for a picture. One might think that the correct frame somehow complements the picture (sc. is appropriate in size, color, material), so that the framed picture therefore better 'manifests' the picture. The analogue in ethics: a virtuous action changes nothing, and does not affect the virtue of the agent, but it is somehow the congruent or appropriate ordering of things and actions, given the existence of that virtue.

3. Manifestation as enhancement: M is a whole which includes m as part, and the remainder of M is congruent to m, in such a way that M's qualities appear greater. Think again of finding the right frame for a picture, but now one looks for a frame that somehow 'brings out' --makes to appear greater --features that m would have anyway. The analogue in ethics: a virtuous action changes nothing, and does not affect the virtue of the agent, but it somehow makes that virtue seem greater than it otherwise would have seemed. (It is clear how this notion of kalon would play no role in Platonic ethics, at least.)

4. Manifestation as consistency: M is something distinct from m which is such that it enjoys some kind of consistency or harmony (it is something consentaneum) with m. The claim is that some things somehow fit together, and other things do not, and that if an action is one that 'fits' with a virtue, then that 'shows' that the virtue is present and therefore manifests the virtue. Think of how a warm hat shows that the person wearing it is cold.

5. Manifestation as expression: here we simply take verbal expression as a primitive and say that M stands to m in much the same way that the verbal formulation of a thought (whatever that is) stands to the thought.

My tendency has been to interpret Ciceronian splendor in sense 5., because De Officiis opens by, in effect, demoting philosophy to a species of oratory; also, the work places so much stress on the importance of rational persuasion over force, that I am disposed to think that, for Cicero, a life of virtue simply is a matter of living a life with a certain persuasive force.

13 June 2006

Virtutis Splendor

Another theme in De Officiis worth considering is 'splendor': Cicero speaks of virtue itself, and virtuous actions, as having splendor and claritas.

A virtue is brilliant (praeclarus); it shows itself (cernitur) and shines forth (lucet). What does this mean? Is this a mere figure of speech, a rhetorician's emphasis? Or does does this theme have some technical, substantive, or deep significance? (If it doesn't, why does Cicero keep adverting to it?)

Here are some examples which show this; I could give dozens of others:

  • The virtue of justice has splendor, and, by implication, all the other virtues have it as well: virtutis splendor maximus (I 20).
  • According to Cicero, the more difficult an action that shows greatness of spirit, the more brilliant it is: Sed quo difficilius, hoc praeclarius (I 64).
  • Greatness of spirit is something that one wants to declare or express: nec enim aliter aut regi civitas aut declarari animi magnitudo potest (I 72).
  • When what we deliberate about becomes murky, then we should suspect that we have strayed from an equitable and just course, since this simply shines out: Aequitas enim lucet ipsa per se, dubitatio cogitationem significat iniuriae. (I 31)
  • The virtue of decorum expresses, in the body, an ordering of the soul, which implies a subjection to reason: …ex quo elucebit omnis constantia omnisque moderatio (I 102).
Now there are at least three interesting questions here:
1. What does this talk of 'brilliance' mean? What does it mean for a virtuous action to be expressive, and how does this contribute to its quality of being an honorable good (honestum)? (Is there a link here, perhaps, to recent 'expressive' theories of practical reason--as e.g. Liz Anderson's work?)
2. Why does Cicero regard this as so important--what role does this notion play in his understanding of ethics?
3. What are its antecedents?

12 June 2006

References in the Nicomachean Ethics

I've been working on a comprehensive study of the references in the Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics (forward or backward in the same work, or to other works).

About how many such references would you guess that there are in the ten books assigned to the Nicomachean Ethics? (Answer in the comments feature.)

A. about 20
B. about 40
C. about 80
D. about 100
E. about 200

Method in Ethics

I raised the question in an earlier post of how Cicero thinks that virtues are sources of duties. As I indicated, he states this and presumes that it is almost obvious, throughout De Officiis. He is not a systematic philosopher himself, of course, and we won't find any further or explicit explanation of what he means.

And yet this raises, I think, an interesting question about method in ethics and moral philosophy. What I wish to suggest is that Cicero's text should serve as an authority for moral philosophy. To indicate what I mean by this, I will draw some contrasts.

I don't have the book with me, but if I remember correctly, in Sen and Williams, Utilitarianism and Beyond, Tim Scanlon begins his essay, "Contractualism and Utilitarianism", by saying something like: it's interesting how much moral philosophy resembles mathematics--one simply sits back, reflects on moral judgments, and thinks creatively to identify an adequate formal structure. --Well, it is unnecessary to identify this view with Scanlon's essay, since we are all familiar with it. Especially after the large-scale migration of analytic philosophers from the area of philosophical logical to the field of practical morality, it has been common to think of moral philosophy as the mere exercise of analytical skill.

Rawls (to take another example) of course draws a comparison with natural science and offers the method of reflective equilibrium: in moral philosophy we collect 'considered judgments' and use these like data points, formulating more general principles which account for them. (Yes, of course, these need to be placed in 'wide reflective equilibrium' with other views.)

But the method of 'moral authorities' (as I shall call it) rather proceeds as follows: we judge that Cicero himself (the man, not his particular, 'considered judgments') is a moral authority; we examine what he writes or says; and we pose the question, What would one need to believe--how would one have to see things--in order to reason naturally in the way that Cicero does? And then one's answer to this question provides the starting point for reflection in moral philosophy (which indeed could take various forms: systematization; looking for 'foundations'; clarification; articulation of principles; etc.).

The difference between the 'method of moral authorities', and the approach I ascribed to Scanlon, is that the method I propose can be carried out only by someone whose moral character and sensibility is sufficiently developed, first, to indentify moral authorities correctly, and then to understand what they are saying (insofar as they may be met in understanding--that is, to 'have a sense' what they are saying) . That is, there is a requirement of a certain moral maturity and (if I may use the term) wisdom, on the part of the person who employs it. Mere cleverness will not be sufficient, although it will be necessary. Similarly, simply thinking creatively will not be sufficient, but rather life experience, and a certain kind of moral achievement as shown in deeds, will be necessary as well.

The difference between the 'method of moral authorities', and Rawls' approach, is that the unit of observation (so to speak) is not the individual moral judgment, but rather the entire moral personality (as it were) of the person one takes as an authority. Furthermore, one's reflection on that authority's character or moral personality needs to be somehow congruent with, or natural to, that person's own reflections. (In reflective equilibrium, the principles one proposes, to make sense of separate considered judgments, may be quite different from those that were, or might have been, entertained by those who formulated those judgments.) One's goal in reading (say) Cicero, is to become Ciceronian, in outlook and sensibility.

It follows, too, that the 'method of moral authorities' does not yield results that can be, as it were, transferred without effort. It leads to few, if any, conclusions that can simply be passed on to others, to save labor and effort. Rather, each person needs to develop the right sort of understanding on his own, through effort and growth in moral understanding.

Also, there is a kind of transitivity in application of the 'method of moral authority': someone who applies it well, to the extent that he applies it well, himself becomes an authority, equal to that of the person whose moral character he is explaining. This is the way I conceive of what used to be the common practice in American colleges, of the college president delivering, for seniors, as a kind of capstone, the only course on moral philosophy that they would take. The president's lectures would take the form of reflection on authoritative texts; it would be understood that he had standing to do so, given his experience and proved practical wisdom, in his successful administration of the college; and his lectures would accordingly take on something of the weight of the tradition he was attempting to explain.

09 June 2006

BACAP Program 2006-7

I'm pleased to announce the program for the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy for the academic year 2006-7.


14 September, at Boston University
Raphael Woolf (King’s College, London)
“Misology and Truth”
commentary by James Wood (Boston University)

5 October, at Brown University
Pierre-Marie Morel (Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne)
“The Epicurean
commentary by David Konstan (Brown)

19 October, at Holy Cross College
Henry Teloh (Vanderbilt)
“Rhetoric in the Gorgias and Phaedrus
commentary by David Roochnik (Boston University)

9 November, at Boston College
Francisco Gonzalez (Skidmore)
“Plato’s Question of Truth, vis-à-vis Heidegger’s Doctrine”
commentary by Gary Gurtler (Boston College)

7 December, at Clark University
Matt Evans (NYU)
“Plato’s Anti-Hedonism”

commentary by Verity Harte (Yale)


8 February, at Dartmouth College
Katja Vogt (Columbia)
“The Good Is Benefit: On the Stoic Definition of the Good”

commentary by Stephen Menn (McGill)

22 March, at Brown University
Rachana Kamtekar (Arizona)
“The Powers of Plato’s Tripartite Psychology”

commentary by Martha Nussbaum (Harvard, visiting)

12 April, at Boston College
Günter Figal (Freiburg)
“On the Formation of Concepts”

commentary by Dennis Schmidt (Penn. State)

08 June 2006

Virtues as Sources of Duties (Officia)

I want to begin raising a series of questions about the philosophy of Cicero's De Officiis--today, what Cicero means in saying that a virtue is a source of duties (officia). That he holds this is clear; also, that he takes it to be obviously true; and yet what he might mean by it is unclear.

First, that he holds it:

Quae quattuor quamquam inter se colligata atque implicata sunt, tamen ex singulis certa officiorum genera nascuntur...(I.15)
"Although these four [sc. wisdom, justice, greatness of spirit, moderation] are connected and interwoven, still it is in each one considered singly that certain definite kinds of moral duties have their origin..." (Loeb translation)

Ac de primo quidem officii fonte diximus. (I.19)
"With this we close the discussion of the first source of duty."

Intelligendum autem est, cum proposita sunt genera quattuor, e quibus honestas officiumque manaret, splendidissimum videri, quod animo magno elatoque humanasque res despiciente factum sit. (I.61)
"We must realize, however, that while we have set down four cardinal virtues from which as sources moral rectitude and moral duty emanate, that achievement is most glorious in the eyes of the world which is won with a spirit great, exalted, and superior to the vicissitudes of earthly life."
But what can this mean? Suppose we say: Cicero thinks that a virtue is a kind of knowledge (scientia), and he thinks that a virtue is a source of duties in the way that knowledge can serve as a source of things. But this seems wrong, because knowledge would presumably be a source, or origin, of actions of certain sorts ('the things that a knowledgeable person does') rather than duties. It would be strange to say, for instance, that a physician's knowledge is the source of 'duties of a physician'. (Perhaps through knowledge he recognizes those duties.)

An Aristotelian might agree that virtues are sources of duties insofar as a virtue is defined in terms of an ideal. For instance: define courage in terms of its extreme manifestation (in hand-to-hand combat, feeling reasonable degrees of fear and confidence, and holding one's position nonetheless), and then say that we have a 'duty' to do anything that helps us attain to this, or carry out some approximation or analogue of this. But: (i) it would be strange to say that, when we reason in this way, the virtue is the source of the duty; also (ii) Cicero, working within a Stoic framework, does not wish to define virtues in terms of ideals of this sort.

It might make sense to say that a virtue is a source of duties, if we take a virtue to be an inclination or impulse (a rational impulse, which Cicero refers to as a ratio): an action is an officium, then, if it somehow advances that impulse. (This is what it would be to 'follow nature' in that respect.) But then: paradoxically, everyone has the virtues (because everyone, in being a human, has these rational impulses). Also, it would still be unclear why, or how, a certain kind of action constitutes 'advancing' an impulse.

I don't think it helps to say that Cicero is merely following Panaetius in this (if he is), since Cicero himself seems to think of this as evident, not something he takes on the authority of someone else. Also, it's not clear that it is helpful to appeal to Stoic ethics generally, because, again, what one wants to know is the manner of Cicero's derivation of duties from the virtues: that virtues are sources of duties is the organizing principle of De Officiis.

But what does this mean?

More Philosophy on a Mountaintop

"Chocorua is as interesting a peak as any to remember. You may be jogging along steadily for a day before you get round it and leave it behind, first seeing it on the north, then northwest, then west, and at last southwesterly, ever stern, rugged and inaccessible, and omnipresent. It was seen from Gilmanton to Conway, and from Moultonboro was the ruling feature."

Henry David Thoreau, journal entry, July 6, 1858

Here's my picture of the cone summit:

And here's a wonderful painting of the mountain, from Thoreau's time, by Aaron Draper Shattuck:

07 June 2006

Must We Mean What We Say?

I raised a question yesterday about this sentence from De Officiis I:

Ex quo intellegi potest nullum bellum esse iustum, nisi quod aut rebus repetitis geratur aut denuntiatum ante sit et indictum.
Cicero, I think, meant to write the sentence in this way, and it conveys what he meant to say. Thus, whether the sentence is 'correct Latin' is beside the point. ("Just because Cicero can do it does not mean that you can do it", as my first Latin teacher, Gail Rickert, used to say.)

To see this, consider the following:

1. A universal generalization often has the force of a claim of necessity. (The reason is that it can ask us to look beyond the mere generalization, to the reason for it.) For instance, to say "No human being ever flies" has the force of "It is impossible for a human being to fly." In the same way, nullum bellum esse iustum has the sense "It is not possible that a war be just...".

2. Frequently, when we give a list of necessary conditions, this carries with it the implicature that those conditions, although each necessary, are jointly sufficient. For instance, suppose someone asks for directions, and I say to him, "To get to the post office, you must turn right, then travel two blocks, then turn left, and then travel two more blocks". Each thing I mention is, strictly, a necessary condition of his getting to the post office. Yet in giving the list I mean to supply conditions which, taken together, suffice to get him there. (The reason is that a list is naturally taken to be complete.)

Now apply these things to what Cicero wants to say. He believes (we should presume) that each of the conditions of the fetial code is a necessary condition for the justice of the war. But he does not believe that they are jointly sufficient--because he thinks that there are other conditions, too, that must be met, if a war is to be just. Thus he wants to mention all three conditions, but without suggesting that those conditions are jointly sufficient for the justice of a war. He would not succeed in doing this if he wrote (say) bellum non iustum habetur, nisi de rebus repetitis et denuntiatum et indictum. And so he puts the apodosis in a quasi-modal form (nullum bellum iustum), and he writes the protasis in a way that invites us to consider each condition as working separately (aut...aut...).

That is why in Rep. he puts nisi in front of each condition, which suggests that he is simply giving conditions, each one of which is a necessary condition:
...nullum bellum iustum habetur nisi denuntiatum nisi indictum nisi de rebus repetitis.
(Consider here that it is natural in translation to supply 'or' rather than 'and' for each nisi: "No war may be regarded as just if there is no announcement, or if there is no formal declaration, or if there is no demand for satisfaction.")

And thus in De Officiis he uses aut...aut..., to draw us to think of the conditions as impediments singillatim: "No war even has the possibility of being just, if it fails to be the case that (nisi quod) there is a demand for satisfaction, or an announcement and declaration beforehand".

05 June 2006

Necessary Conditions for a Just War

I'm off to climb a mountain today (Mt. Chocorua, in southeast New Hampshire), so I only have time to post something brief, a small question about language. Today I'll pose the question, and tomorrow I'll give a possible solution.

In Cicero's discussion of ius ad bellum in De Officiis, he refers to the sacred 'fetial' code of Rome, and says the following:

Ex quo intellegi potest nullum bellum esse inustum, nisi quod aut rebus repetitis geratur aut denuntiatum ante sit et indictum (I. 36).
That is, he mentions three conditions, but he groups them thus: R or (D and I).

The problem is, there is independent evidence that all of these conditions were necessary conditions, in the fetial code, for a war's being just. Also, in his own De Republica, Cicero writes as if he believes that as well (I quote from memory, but the sentence is more or less the following):
...nullum bellum iustum habetur, nisi rebus repetitis, nisi denuntiatum, nisi indictum.
If we rule out that Cicero changed his mind about the interpretation of the code, then it may look as though he was just sloppy in De Officiis (after all, it was written in ten days), and that he wrote 'or' when he meant 'and.'

This is the view taken by Miriam Griffin, the editor of the Cambridge Text. The translation (by Margaret Atkins) reads with literal correctness as follows: "From this we can grasp that no war is just unless it is waged after a formal demand for restoration, or unless it has been formally announced and declared beforehand." But Griffin explains in her note:
The old Roman practice was for the priesthood of the fetiales to deliver an ultimatum to the enemy demanding compensation for his alleged oppression. If no satisfaction was forthcoming, a threat of war was announced and war was then formally declared by the Roman assembly. C.'s 'or' here is inexact: he means all three conditions to apply (cf. Rep. III.23 and 25).
Yet I wonder if we need to regard Cicero's language as inexact. Nisi quod means 'unless', which can be understood, equivalently, as 'if not'. But then suppose that the negation, the 'not' , gets distributed across the alternative, aut ... aut.... Then, by DeMorgan's law (that not-P or not-Q is equivalent to not (P and Q)), it becomes equivalent to the negation of a conjunction.

That is, not-R or not-(D and I)) is equivalent to not: (R and D and I), which is what we wanted. We simply need to distribute the negation, understood from nisi, across the alternation.

I posed this solution to two Latinists at the Mayweek seminar. The one said: "That sounds right to me. The scope of negation is notoriously flexible in ordinary language, in Latin as in English." (He had in mind such sentences, familiar to logicians, as "Everything that glitters is not gold", which means, precisely, "Not everything that glitters is gold.") The other said to me: "Nope. Won't work. Some things you just can't do. That just isn't allowed in Latin."

I cannot decide this myself, and I would not wish to have to weigh these authorities against each other. I'll suppose then, for the time being, that this solution won't work, and I'll propose an alternative solution tomorrow.

(Yes, I know, this is not the most serious difficulty in the world. But it has been bothering me, and, as I said, I don't have time today for anything more.)

Pleasant Devoirs

What ailment is such that one can become quickly cured of it, so long as one never recovers from it?

Answer: Jetlag.

Thus I'm in good shape now, precisely because I continued suffering from it all last week. That, however, did little to diminish for me the excellence of the Mayweek Seminar, on Cicero De Officiis, book I, with sessions led by such luminaries as Chris Gill, Tony Long, Malcolm Schofield, David Sedley, and the editor of the Cambridge Text of that work, Miriam Griffin.

I was also instructed to hear presentations by Charles Brittain, with his impressive mastery of the texts; George Boys-Stone, speaking apte on decorum; and Robert Wardy, who offered a characteristically brilliant and witty recapitulation of the week's proceedings.

Renee Brouwer (Utrecht), Myles Burnyeat, Luca Castagnoli, Janet Coleman (LSE), Nick Denyer, Ingo Gildenhard (KCL), Myrto Hatzimichali, Geoffrey Lloyd, and Alex Long, among others, also participated.

Brad Inwood generously led a fascinating ad hoc session on assorted difficulties and texts.

The entire week was marked not simply by a devotion to learning, but also by the collegiality, graciousness, and spirit of friendship which, as is widely known, are notes of the Cambridge Faculty of Classics.

It might have seemed in advance that De Officiis I would be of interest for such reasons as would appeal more to a classicist than a philosopher: the project of delineating the extent and manner of Cicero's reliance on Panaetius; or discerning the significance of references to recent Roman history. (There were, surprisingly, few difficulties in the text itself, or in Cicero's language, which were worthy of common consideration.) And yet the book raised a variety of interesting philosophical questions, some of which I'll discuss in subequent posts.