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Sensing the Heat: Definitions of Virtue in Heraclitus and Pythagoras
This paper examines Heraclitus’ definition of virtue in relation to his polemic against Pythagoras (B81; B129), probably a reaction to Pythagoras’ theories about the soul (Finkelberg 2013; cf. Zhmud 2017). Heraclitus’ concept of the “dryness” of the soul as the way of achieving/maintaining virtue aims to teach that the human body (B36; B117; B118; associated with wetness since birth) distracts us from virtuous conduct, a view that agrees with Platonic definitions of virtue (cf. Finkelberg 2013, 153, 155-156; Anagnostou-Laoutides and Payne 2020). Heraclitus’ position accords with his emphasis on fire as the essence of the world soul (Finkelberg 2018, 84-85; cf. Huffman 2013 on Philolaos’ notion of “central fire”). However, Pythagoras’ emphasis on moderation and his insistence on abstinence from wine as a major aspect of observing virtue (alongside numerous other dietary rules; Riedweg 2005, 108) rather supports Heraclitus’ psychic “dryness” (esp. vis-à-vis B117). Here, I argue that Heraclitus’ objections relate to the Pythagorean theory of metempsychosis. Heraclitean maxims urge people to sense the eternal fire that rules the world by being virtuous – their reward being that souls can become watchful guardians posthumously (B63). On the contrary, Pythagoras teaches a series of births which are likely to remove the soul further from its divine essence. Thus, Herodotus classifies Pythagorean methods alongside Bacchic and Orphic rites (4.95.3) which Heraclitus attacks (B14; B15). Virtue is for Heraclitus a solitary mental exercise away from mortality but becomes a collective celebration of re-embodiment in Pythagoras.
Friendship is a kind of virtue: Aristotle on sensing the good together
Aristotle devotes two books of the Nicomachean Ethics to friendship: no other topic has such a large space in his ethical works. This fact alone should indicate the crucial importance of this theme in his philosophical engagement. In books VIII and IX of the beforehand mentioned work, he analyzes the various forms through which friendship can be experienced. Of the many there listed, our attention will be driven onto perfect friendship, in particular on the one shared between excellent human beings, namely those who live according to the good. However, there is no precise definition of what the good is in Aristotle’s perspective. Hence, how it is possible for two friends to exercise the possibility so as the capacity to sense the good? What does it mean “sensing the good” for Aristotle? How do we, factually, sense it, especially together? Moreover, how did he conjugate Plato’s legacy — if he did — in this context? My presentation will focus on these issues, trying to emphasize why such a behavior could be called ‘virtuous.’
“Education is Not Like Sight into Blind Eyes”: Plato on Cultivating Virtue in Rep. 518b-519c
Perhaps the most famous image of Plato’s Republic is the Allegory of the Cave. Socrates more vividly illustrates the subtler distinctions in epistemic achievements and virtues from the immediately preceding Divided Line. The lesson of the allegory is clear: “education [παιδεία] is not what others profess it to be, saying that they put knowledge into the soul which was not already present, like putting sight into blind eyes” (518b). Rather, as Socrates goes on to explain, the allegory shows that education presupposes that students already have a power of thinking that, in the course of education, must be turned toward the right objects in the right ways. Education thus understood is like directing the visual attention of someone already capable of seeing. My paper is a sustained reflection on a distinction Socrates goes on to make: “The other so-called virtues of soul risk being something very like those of the body. For they are not present in us having existed previously, but they are introduced by habits and practices. But the virtue of wisdom [ἡ τοῦ φρονῆσαι] happens to be something entirely more divine, it seems; while its power is never destroyed, by its turning about comes to be useful and beneficial or useless and harmful” (518d-9a). As has been noted, this distinction seems to be what Aristotle will later call ethical and dianoetic virtue. I argue for three claims. First, Socrates is not denying that these “so-called virtues of soul” are virtues or even virtues of soul. Second, he is gesturing toward an account of how genuine virtues of soul might come to be by habituation and practice, which can be discerned from elsewhere in the Republic. Finally, I argue that Aristotle diverges from Plato’s Socrates in important but underappreciated ways on the cultivation of ethical and dianoetic virtues.
Reshaping the Philosophers’ Excellence: Plato’s ἀρετή between Socrates and the Presocratics
In the central books of the Republic, Plato outlines the true philosophers’ typical characteristics: in Book VI, he focuses in particular on their numerous – and superior – virtues. Philosophers are moderate, courageous, and they know no wickedness (R. 485d6-487a5). Furthermore, thanks to their “science” (ἐπιστήμη) of ideas, they are καλοὶ καὶ ἀγαθοί – the best condition a Greek man could achieve (489e5) – and θεῖοι, “divine men” (500d2). The various virtues they possess testify to their excellence and infallibility. Plato is renouncing the philosophical model embodied by his master: in fact, Socrates was an ‘incomplete’ philosopher, i.e. an individual perpetually in search of intellectual and moral perfection. Socrates tried to lead other men onto his same path of self-development: he was aware that he was not a perfect sage. On the contrary, the philosophers of the Republic are infallible individuals: they have already achieved both intellectual and moral excellence. In my opinion, in Book VI Plato has in mind another image for shaping the typical philosopher: Western Greek Presocratics such as Parmenides and Empedocles, i.e. men who are perfect and close to the gods thanks to the knowledge of the cosmic laws they have grasped. Plato introduces this ‘unfailing’ figure in the Republic in response to his master’s historical failure: philosophers could be accepted as the sole rulers by other citizens only by showing themselves as infallible men (500d1-500e4). In this way, the hostility and the prejudices towards philosophy could cease: Plato aims at destroying the stereotype of the useless philosopher (487c4-d5). The perfect city could thus be established with no opposition by “the many” (οἱ πολλοί). The purpose of my paper is to show that in the Republic Plato finally renounced the ἀρετή embodied by Socrates in favor of an older mode of excellence: the perfect sage, the Presocratic σοφός.
Άρετή Today: 21st c. norms of excellence
Classical Greek culture was imbued by the alembic of Homeric lore which held aretē as the essential quality of human excellence (cf. I. 1.224:15.64:: 20.411; 129; 1.140). The Choice of Herakles, as told by Xenophon (Mem. 2.1.21), implies that for Prodikos aretē was a markedly moral excellence. As Herakles contemplates how best to live two remarkable women appear. One, voluptuous and scantily clad to amplify allure, pushes forward and speaks. If you befriend me Herakles you will enjoy a pleasant and worry free life. Who are you? the young hero asks. I am called Eudaimonia (happiness), though my enemies call me Kakia (vice). Then the second figure, Aretē (virtue), speaks. Herakles, the virtuous way can lead you to do many noble deeds and live an honourable life: to be good by doing good. But know this, pursuing excellence obliges the courage to sustain effort. Kakia interrupts: Herakles, the way of aretē is slow and difficult; follow my easier path to happy pleasures. Aretē counters: Herakles, only those who labour to cultivate virtue can know the aretē which brings the poise of true happiness. Prodikos juxtaposes Eudaimonia and Aretē as Herakles’ choices. Either happy vice (kakia) or virtue’s (aretē) excellence can train his life. This contrast seemingly implies that the pursuit of happiness is vicious and of virtue excellent. Yet, Plato taught that “the happy are happy by acquisition of good things” (Symp. 205a), which axiomatically entailed cultivating virtue in order to become godlike, “ὁμοίωσις θεῷ” (Tht. 176bc). A difference, then, between Kakia’s happiness and Aretē’s virtue is the moral excellence of the “good things” that bring happiness. And that is the nub of my inquiry. Is the pursuit of “good things” and happiness in the 21st c. more persuaded by Kakia’s amorality or Aretē’s moral excellence? In an attempt to answer that I consider science’s departure from its philosophical parenthood and the concentration on econo-techno means to achieve the ends of apparent happiness. I then conclude that aretē today, as human excellence, is often organised by the hegemony of a normalised anodyne amorality that belittles the virtue of noble human purpose.
Argument by Thesis and Antithesis: Eleatic Metaphysics to Athenian Sophistry
Plato’s claims (in the Parmenides) that the historical Parmenides employed a style of argumentation that required examining the implications both: a) a thesis, and b) its antithesis. Gorgias is often taken to make use of such “Parmenidean-style” argumentation in his writings, as such a method is indeed found in both the “Palamedes” and the “Encomium of Helen.” Even more importantly, Gorgias also seems to be using this same method in the extant fragments of “On Not Being,” in which many think he advances a direct attack on Parmenides’ own metaphysical positions. The focus of this paper is to challenge this historical narrative. First, it will be argued that Plato’s own discussion of “Parmenidean” argumentation should not be taken as historically accurate; it is in fact a result of conflating Parmenides with later developments in Eleatic thought, as well as the use of such latter argumentation by the Sophists (Gorgias in particular). Having established this, it can further be argued that Gorgias is not in fact responding to Parmenides’ own views, or even his argumentative style. Rather, Gorgias has also been influenced by later Eleatics, and his works are better characterized as influenced by, or even attacking, those later thinkers. Overall, the paper will explicate how the argumentative style and substance, first developed for metaphysical speculations by Parmenides in Sicily, comes to be altered in substantive usage by later Eleatics, and is then taken up and transmuted yet again by Gorgias. By repurposing this methodology initially intended for metaphysical inquiry, turning it into a means of persuasion on all matters in an Athenian context, it becomes by default the only kind of αρετή Gorgian sophists could acknowledge.
What is the Good Life?: Reconciliatory Readings of Books I & X in the Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is a central text in the history of philosophy. However, this text offers interpretive challenges for scholars, one of which involves the difficulty of reconciling apparently conflicting accounts of the good life as found in Books I and X: the life of the statesman or the life of contemplation. I believe in the possibility of reconciliatory reading these two accounts of the good life, seeing that the respective lives of contemplation and practical action as connected in intimate ways. In this paper, I set out to demonstrate extant surface tensions between Books I and X, and I offer potential solutions for reconciling these two accounts of the good life. First, I offer brief summaries of the major themes in both of the books, drawing out the points of contention between the two. Second, I explore the extent to which the life of the statesman and the life of contemplation are actually in opposition to one another.
The Virtues of Cities
Today we tend to think of individual human beings as the paradigmatic bearers of virtues, but in ancient Greek thought virtues were also ascribed to human groups, including political communities such as cities. How can a city possess a virtue? What is the relationship between the virtue of a city and that of an individual? These questions are at the heart of Plato’s philosophy, as well as his political project in attempting to create an ideal city in Syracuse. I focus on Socrates’s attribution of justice to the kallipolis in Republic IV. Recent readers have worried that Socrates’s account of justice in the kallipolis leads to incoherence. In an influential article, Bernard Williams reads Socrates as holding (1) that a city is just if and only if its people are; and 2) that justice is essentially the same attribute in both cities and souls. Williams goes on to argue that the combination of (1) and (2) is incoherent. According to Williams, (1) reduces justice in cities to justice in souls; but then justice in cities cannot be precisely analogous to justice in souls, on pain of a regress. In response, I argue that the apparent incoherence is dispelled when we recognize that (1) is not Socrates’s primary account of justice in cities. Although Socrates may hold a version of (1), he does not give it the reductionist role presumed by Williams’s argument. Instead, he presents cities as bearers of justice in their own right, on account of their macro-level political structure. More generally, I argue that, rightly understood, Plato’s Socrates offers us a model for how to think about cities and other human groups can be bearers of virtues.
Arete and Leadership: Sextus Pompeius and Sicily
Leadership was one of the most important attributes of arete. By the 1st century BCE, arete had become deeply associated with Hellenistic monarchy as a number of sources contended that kings regularly displayed their arete through military prowess, respect for justice, and piety (Cairns 1989). For example, Diodorus Siculus argued that monarchies and ruler cults ritualized the veneration of leaders who displayed good qualities (Muntz 2017). Sextus Pompeius, working within a Greek cultural milieu, manipulated this view to his political advantage and styled himself as an ideal Hellenistic leader. There are various examples of Sextus displaying arete, such as his clemency towards the proscribed of 43 (Appian, Civil War, 4.6.36, 39; Dio, 47.12.1-3), his martial aptitude (Suetonius, Augustus, 16.3), and his strong sense of piety and justice (Appian, Civil War, 5.25 describes his actions as dikaiotera; RRC 477; 478). While these characteristics were also associated with the Roman concept of virtus (Balmaceda 2017), Sextus’ claim of divine descendance from the god Neptune was certainly more in line with arete and Hellenistic kingship (Chaniotis 2002; Welch 2012). By aligning himself with Hellenistic ideas about arete, Sextus enjoyed much support from the Greeks in Sicily, as many Sicilian cities were later punished by Octavian for their support and loyalty to him (Dio, 48.17.2-6). Additionally, archaeological evidence suggests that trade continued to flourish under Sextus’ rule and most likely improved as a result of his various blockades of Italy (Powell 2002). Just as the third century Hellenistic monarchs of Sicily had consciously cultivated connections with previous tyrants on the island in order to legitimise their reigns (Serrati 2008), so Sextus intentionally associated himself to those very monarchs for the purpose of solidifying his own rule. Therefore, despite his portrayal as a pirate warlord in later sources, contemporary evidence viewed the rule of Sextus Pompeius in Sicily as forming part of established Hellenistic tradition, with arete as a key component of successful leadership.
Penelope’s Apparent Violation of Female Aretē at Odyssey 23.218-24
Since Aristarchus, scholars have considered Penelope’s comparison of herself with Helen and apparent exoneration of her for adultery (Odyssey 23.218-24) inconsistent violations of female aretē to which she otherwise adheres. Consequently, most previous scholarship has (1) rejected these lines, or (2) emended them, or (3) explained them in terms of psychological realism. I believe that a better understanding can be gained by focusing on the unifying theme of knowledge throughout Penelope’s speech, rather than on adultery, as scholars have previously done, and by taking into consideration the typically Homeric concept of “double motivation.” By this approach, Penelope’s self-comparison with Helen appears entirely logical. At the same time, previous scholars are right that Penelope’s self-comparison with the world’s most notorious adulteress retains a tone of inappropriateness and violates female aretē. I account for this apparent inconcinnity by distinguishing between two different levels in Penelope’s speech, in accord with modern narratological approaches and Homeric neoanalysis. On one level, Penelope’s speech serves her own rhetorical goals, on another level the goals of Homer. Together these two levels suggest for Penelope alternate and mutually exclusive scenarios of loyalty and adultery. Previous scholars have misinterpreted Penelope’s speech in part, I believe, because they have failed to appreciate the interplay between these two narrative levels.
The Ethics of Litigation in Gorgias’ Palamedes
According to Meno, Gorgias refused to teach his students about arete. And yet, his mock-forensic speech The Defence of Palamedes shows a deep concern with such important ethical notions as time, dike, daring, and ‘public service’. Moreover, much of the rhetorical force of the speech stems from a contrast between Palamedes, an innocent man, and Odysseus, a malicious slanderer and cheat. The focus of the attack on Odysseus, found in two separate sections which precede and follow-on from the main argumentative section of the speech, relates to Odysseus’ indictment itself and, more specifically, its ‘epistemic’ basis. Odysseus, Palamedes argues, could have either known or suspected him to be guilty or he could have made up the charge altogether. Much of the argumentation relates to this basic disjunction in the form of an apagage. With these arguments, Palamedes seeks to prove, firstly, that Odysseus could not have known him to be guilty and, secondly, that any other basis for Odysseus’ indictment, whether belief or slander, is ethically problematic. A similar strategy is employed in Antiph. 1, where the prosecutor seeks to prove – also by an apagoge – that the defendant could not know that his mother is innocent and, moreover, that has broken important ethical norms in defending her.
Virtue Before Politics in Plato’s Laws
Book III of the Laws begins with an historical account of the origins of constitutions that includes a description of human life prior to the development of politics. Despite the primitive conditions that characterize this pre-political age, the Athenian holds the ethical characters of individuals living under them in rather high esteem, in that he states that they are more courageous, temperate, and “in all ways more just” than people who live in civilized times (679d-e). In this paper, I examine the conditions of the pre-political age and identify the factors that are responsible for these good characters. I consider some reasons for thinking that the good qualities of pre-political individuals are not genuine virtues, but then show that there are better reasons for seeing these qualities as genuine virtues and not inferior imitations. My claim is that the pre-political age is an age of divine rule, as all of its features, including those that are responsible for the ethical character of pre-political individuals, are the result of divine agency. Seen in this way, the pre-political age presents us with a familiar idea, one expressed by Socrates at the end of book IX of the Republic: that it is best for each individual to live a life ruled by divine reason, even if doing so requires one to become the slave of the “best” person, namely, one who has divine reason within himself (590c-d). By observing how many of the Cretan colony’s laws have the effect of recreating some of the conditions of pre-political life, I point out that the pre-political age can provide important guidance to the legislator seeking to instill virtue in citizens. I conclude by suggesting some of the ways in which the Athenian’s account of pre-political life may advance our understanding of many of Laws’ ethical themes
True and Popular Virtue in Plato’s Symposium
In the Phaedo and the Republic Plato’s Socrates distinguishes explicitly between popular (civic) virtue and true virtue, the former consisting of right actions done unreflectively out of habit alone, while the latter presupposing that the rightful actions undertaken rely on philosophical reflection. While scholars have often discussed the distinction between popular and true virtue articulated in the Phaedo and the Republic, not much has been said about the way this distinction emerges implicitly in the Symposium. My paper attempts to address this lacuna. At the apex of her instruction of Socrates, Diotima declares that the lover of Beauty alone will be able to give birth to true virtue, and no longer merely to images thereof (eidola arete, 212a). I take from here my cue for arguing that Diotima’s teaching about love proposes an understanding of true virtue, while the other guests have been praising merely popular virtue. I begin by showing how Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, Aristophanes, and Agathon respectively propose popular conceptions of courage, justice, moderation, piety, and wisdom respectively. In the next step I show how Diotima articulates the connection between the love of Beauty and true virtue. Finally, I signal a few novel nuances that the Symposium’s treatment of the distinction adds to what is witnessed in the Republic and the Phaedo. For one thing, Alcibiades proposes a level of virtue placed in between the lower grade popular virtue praised by the other symposiasts and the full true virtue, thereby suggesting a distinction with fine gradations within its range. For another, unlike the Phaedo and the Republic, the Symposium reveals also the connection between Beauty and virtue, thereby making headways towards acknowledging the interrelation of Forms.
Exploring the nature of virtue and the possibility of transmitting virtue in Plato’s Meno
Two themes that are relevant for modern society in Plato’s Meno are – the possibility of understanding excellence in virtue? and what is the best method of teaching virtue to the younger generation? Plato believes that there is such a thing as an excellent virtuous act and a superficial virtuous act. In this dialogue with Meno, he brings to the fore what are the qualities of an excellent virtuous act. Plato places true virtue on a pedestal. He looks at virtue as being above a superficial manifestation of wealth, power and the ability to get material needs. He warns that habits that are not accompanied by virtue, end up being vice even though they give the impression that they are virtuous acts. He thus calls on the need to examine each act and its resonance with other virtues so as to judge on its excellence. Socrates also tries to explore the question of how to teach virtue to the younger generations. He tries to explore the question of how we should educate in virtues. Plato is of the opinion that sometimes virtue is teachable and sometimes it is not. This paper will explore the qualities of an excellent virtuous act according to Plato and the possibility of transmitting virtue to the younger generations.
Aitor Luz Villafranca
Arete and royal theory in the speeches of Isocrates
The study of cultural values has been an important trend in Ancient Greece since the nineteenth century, with special attention to the concept of arete, as an articulator of culture. That is why we want to examine through this proposal a somewhat controversial cultural paradigm such as that of the power of a person in the 4th century BC and, more specifically, in the work of Isocrates. It is a proposal that fits in with the theme of the congress, because in trying to legitimize a figure like the king, which was difficult to accept in classical Greece, the Athenian speaker will assiduously employ and manipulate the concepts of virtue and shame. For this reason, we will first present an overview of the different passages of the treatment of the figure of the tyrant and the king through the passages of Isocrates, basically from the Cypriot speeches and in the works dedicated to Philip. In the first part, therefore, we will analyze the situation of the term arete and others linked to honor in relation to the legitimization of single-person power. In turn, we will make a diachronic analysis of different authors of the isocratic period (Plato, Xenophon and Socrates), who also legitimize the exercise of monarchical power by reinterpreting the past through the concepts of honor, in order to understand the dynamics of the period. However, in order to understand the construction of the image of the sovereign in the 4th century BC, it is important to know the evolution of the term arete since Homeric times throughout Greek literature, with the aim of explaining the use of this semantic field in the political theory of the classical period.
Aristotle on Virtue and the Highest Good in the Disrupted life of Priam
In suggesting that the individual living the practically virtuous, political life can seek the highest good of happiness (understood as the activity of contemplation) not just for his fellow citizens but for himself (1177b11-15), Aristotle makes an arresting claim that has not been discussed enough in the literature. For it seems to suggest that the hero of the good political life (such as Pericles or Priam) — who is usually contrasted with the exemplar of the private, philosophical one (1179a13-15) — is not restricted to a life of secondary happiness understood as the life of practical virtue. Two questions interest me in this context; one concerns the content of contemplation available in the practical life and its relation to the content available to the philosophical one. Second, how Aristotle handles the possibility of the disruption of the good life, which is considerable in the case of the political life, and its effect on contemplation. Here, I want to focus on the latter question by discussing what Aristotle says about blessedness and happiness in relation to the disrupted life of Priam in Book I, and his discussion of pleasure as completing activity that arises in relation to state of the subject and object of that activity in Book X. What I hope to show is that Aristotle’s views can accommodate disruption in the political life that impact the agent’s happiness in important ways that may at least in part be because of the effect of the disruption on the activities of contemplation. This in turn will allow me to speculate briefly on the content of contemplation in the political life before I conclude.
María J. Martín-Velasco
Arete as δύναμις in Pindar’s Epinician
In Rh1366a35 Aristotle defines the areté as «the faculty (δύναμις), of producing and preserving goods and of procuring many and great services» highlighting the sociological aspect of excellence. This definition contradicts that of the psychological type found in EN1105b30, where he expressly states that excellence is not a potentiality (οὐδὲ δυνάμεις εἰσίν), nor a passion (οὔθʼ αἱ κακίαι) but a way of being (λείπεται ἕξεις αὐτὰς εἶναι). This disagreement is attributable to an evolution of Aristotle’s thinking and to the fact that Aristotle adjusts the definitions to the nature and purpose of each treaty. In the case of Rhetoric he is more interested in highlighting the productive aspect of the arete and its impact on the social good than its psychological characterization and ethical impact. Pindar particularly stresses this «energetic» feature of arete. He understands it as the innate ability that the athlete possesses, due to his noble and divine origin, become real through the sporting triumph and that is made known and enlarged thanks to the poetic composition. The poem in turn also receives that energy and acquires a cosmological dimension, which exceeds its initial nature of being nothing more than a victory song. The conception of excellence as a potentiality also allows Pindar to incorporate himself as a poet in the whole of the celebration attributing himself a chief role, since it is the poetic composition that acts as a spring capable of actualize that creative power of the arete. And it is also in this productive sense of the arete in which Pindar finds a wide source for his creativity, with daring and very beautiful comparisons that we will analyze in this study.
One Virtue or Many?
The question to be explored in this paper is whether virtue (arête) is best defined as a whole or whether certain distinctions should be drawn among virtues prior to attempting to define them. Plato in the Meno attributes the latter strategy to Gorgias; however, he rejects this approach (72a-73c). He chooses to address the question “what is virtue?” Aristotle rejects the approach in the Meno in favor of one that takes gender and social role into account in the Politics (1260a20-31).
The temperance of a man and a woman are not, as Socrates maintained the same; the courage of a man is shown in commanding and of a woman in obeying. And this holds of all other virtues…
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle differentiates between moral and intellectual virtues and within each category he distinguishes a number of specific virtues. A moral virtue is by definition a disposition to choose a mean relative to the agent and the situation in which the agent finds him or herself; as a consequence, a moral virtue will differ in character and outcomes for agents occupying different gender and/or social positions. In this paper, we will examine the arguments for the Platonic approach focusing on universal maxims and the Aristotelian sensitivity to context including the social and gender roles of the agent. We will then consider which one, all things considered, is better. Since Gorgias and Aristotle take the gender and social status of the agent to be relevant to the definition of a virtue, this issue, too, will be addressed.
Christopher Moore (keynote speaker)
Debates about the virtue sôphrosunê in the fifth century
I reconstruct a fifth-century Hellenic debate about sôphrosunê. It parallels the familiar sophistic debates about justice and marks an innovation in Greek ethical thinking: attention to the nature of the virtues (aretai). At the beginning of the fifth century, Heraclitus called sôphronein the greatest virtue (B112) and linked it to knowing oneself (B116), both statements take an argumentative stance. By 418, sôphrosunê – as civically beneficial self-control – was the topic of the agôn of Aristophanes’ Clouds ΙΙ. Several decades later, Plato wrote the Charmides to retroject a debate about sôphrosunê onto the opening years of the Peloponnesian War. This background suggests looking for public reflection on a contested virtue during the so-called “Sophistic period.” So here I focus on the thinking about sôphrosunê in three figures: Critias, Antiphon, and Democritus. Critias, who vaunts sôphrosunê as an ultimate virtue (B6 DK), and probably as central to education (reconstructing from Xenophon’s Constitution of the Lacedaemonians), seems also to have defined the term and defended it (per Pl. Charm. 161b, 164d). Antiphon gives, in his own voice, several close analyses of the virtue, differentiating his account from others’ (B49/D57; B58/D55; B59/D56). Democritus discusses sôphrosunê in a number of the ethical fragments found in Stobaeus; their authenticity is supported by their fit with his naturalizing ethical view. The evident debates are fascinating. More significant is the shared notion of sôphrosunê each contestant holds. Sôphrosunê is the capacity to follow authoritative rules – to be guided by principles. This is far from the caricature of the virtue as mere control over bodily appetites (which we find in Aristotle and his latter-day followers). And it is rather more theoretically substantive than the polysemy found in Helen North’s and Adriaan Rademacker’s works.
Tekhne Politke: the art of promoting civic aretai in Plato’s Republic
The theme of arete and of whether or not it can be taught is a recurrent one in Plato’s early dialogues in which Socrates frequently presents an analogy between arete and tekhne. In Plato’s Protagoras, to explain the benefits of his practice, Protagoras argues that the sophists’ tekhne is an ancient one and, pressed by Socrates, agrees to name his practice “tekhne politike”. To answer Socrates’ objections to the contention that arete can be taught he presents a myth according to which human beings, due to their sense of shame and justice granted by Zeus, can be “taught” the fundamental civic aretai, namely temperance and justice. To substantiate his view, he offers a brief description of the traditional Greek education in his time and assigns to it, to the customs and to laws the power to “teach” the citizens the aforementioned aretai, although stressing the role of coercion in that process. Protagoras’ confidence that it would suffice to live in any civilized polis to acquire the civic aretai seems to be challenged by the more pessimistic view of the Republic, according to which only after a very profound intervention in traditional education and customs can one expect men to acquire and maintain the fundamental civic virtues as intrinsic dispositions. This intervention must be based on a deep knowledge of the human soul, of the forces at play in it and of how to intervene in it in order to promote the proper arrangement of its elements. An analysis of the education proposed by Socrates in the Republic through mousike and gymnastike will show that its provisions are intended to cause precise effects in each of the souls’ elements making the art of the legislator in the Republic a true tekhne politike which seek to promote the civic aretai.
Odysseus and Changing Conceptions of Areté during the Peloponnesian War
In Homer’s Iliad early on, Achilles and Ajax were embodiments of traditional heroic virtues. These ideals gave way to the wily cunning Odysseus who provided the stratagem that actually helped them win the war. Odysseus provided a new ideal that was revered down through the centuries until the Peloponnesian War. The way Odysseus was portrayed in plays written during the War, especially by Sophocles and Euripides, is of great interest. For, it has been said that whenever Odysseus made his appearance in plays, with the exception of Sophocles’ Ajax, someone suffered. This portrayal of Odysseus as a cunning deceiver, a villain and not a hero is remarkable, given how very influential his character was in shaping Greek self-understanding since the time of Homer. His strategic intelligence, his ability to face up to whatever happened and survive, his capacity to outwit a formidable enemy like the Cyclops have been held up as qualities that all Greeks aspired to. Athenians, in particular, seemed to model themselves on the qualities that Odysseus was most known for, and attributed their success precisely to those qualities. Yet, it seems evident that some Athenian playwrights began to rethink popular ideals and exemplars of manly virtue or Areté while prosecuting and finally losing the war. My project is to show how the Areté Odysseus represented became questioned and then reconceived during and then after the Peloponnesian War.
Aristotle opens his discussion of friendship (φιλία) (EN VIII & IX) with the claim that “friendship is either a virtue or involves virtue.” Nowhere in the ensuing text does he explicitly settle the matter, leaving the exact role of aretē in communal relations unclear. I argue that Aristotle considers two possible interpretations of the relation but sets them aside. Friendliness, the ability to handle appropriately those social occasions that might give pleasure or offense, is a virtue but it is not friendship (1126b12-25). And while friends are often the most appropriate beneficiaries of virtuous action (1169b11-16), Aristotle is more interested in the possibility for friends to share in the virtuous life actively and on an equal footing with the flourishing agent. I argue that Aristotle thinks friendship is most properly understood as a collaboration in shared virtuous activities (what he calls “living together,” συζῆν). These virtuous activities are equivalent to the eudaimonia that is the subject of the rest of the Ethics, only now it is eudaimonia considered from the communal perspective. I argue for this conclusion by showing how the criteria for eudaimonia noted in EN I – it is the most complete (τέλειον), choiceworthy (αἱρετὸν), and self-sufficient (αὔταρκες) – also attach to the shared virtuous activity that belongs to truly good friends. I further argue that these criteria enable us to distinguish virtue friendship from the lower forms of pleasure and utility friendships. To return to Aristotle’s opening disjunction, friendship is, then, not one virtue among others. Instead, it “involves virtue” in the same way that eudaimonia itself “involves virtue:” friendship, actively expressed, simply is the realization of aretē, though it is aretē realized communally.
Teaching Epicurean ἀρετή in Western Greece: Philodemus on ὑπερηφανεία and μεγαλοψυχία
In the first century B.C., Magna Graecia’s former Greek colony of Neapolis (Naples) has been integrated in the Roman Republic. Yet, the city and its nearby bay are still attracting Greek intellectuals and Roman Hellenophiles alike. They are all drawn to this ancient Greek stronghold, which has grown into a sanctuary of Greek culture and philosophy within the Roman society. The Epicurean Philodemus of Gadara is one such Greek, who lives under the patronage of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesonius in the latter’s Herculanean villa. There he tries to make a life in accordance with Epicurus’ Greek doctrine possible for his mixed circle of Greek and Roman friends. One of the many works he writes for his students and friends is the multivolume work Περὶ κακιῶν καὶ τῶν ἀντικειμένων ἀρετῶν. In this work he vividly paints stereotypical pictures of people suffering from a certain vice, which he then contrasts with the Epicurean Sage’s corresponding virtue. Ideally, this setting-before-the-eyes of negative character sketches should deter Epicurean students from such κακίαι and spur them on towards the achievement of the Sage’s ἀρετή, which will help them reach a life of ἀταραξία and ἡδοναί. This paper will demonstrate how Philodemus employs his therapeutic technique of setting-before-the-eyes in De superbia (PHerc. 1008), when contrasting the vice of arrogance (ὑπερηφανεία) with the Sage’s virtue of ‘greatness of soul’ (μεγαλοψυχία). Of special interest is the way in which he tailors Greek doctrine to the specific context of the Roman aristocrats in his company. By giving due attention to the impact of contextual factors on the adaptation of philosophical doctrine, this paper will study Philodemian Epicureanism as part and parcel of the unique culture of the Greco-Roman melting-pot that Western Greece’s Neapolitan region has become in the first century B.C.
The Arete of Artisans & Laborers in Aristotle’s Politics
In the Politics, Aristotle writes that artisans and laborers are incapable of arete. This seems to be because such workers (a) lack a freedom from the dictates of and dependence on another, the servitude of wage-earning, and the brutality of hard, manual labor (all of which prevent the full actualization of arete), and (b) lack access to a liberal education, which develops the habits necessary for arete. This makes it sound as if what is thought to be Aristotle’s elitism regarding such workers could be fixed if only access to education were guaranteed for them (and the time necessary to engage in such an education) so that they might have the skills and character to be ‘their own men,’ still getting paid for their work, but without the lack of self-determination that seems, to our ears, to be the biggest impediment to arete in the Aristotelian sense. This is the line taken by a number of scholars who wish to defend or correct Aristotle on this issue, e.g., Mortimer Adler, Cary Nederman, and Moira Walsh. But this is to miss what is most significant about Aristotle’s views about artisans and laborers, and to gloss over his statement in I.13: that the artisan will “only attain arete in proportion as he becomes a slave.” It is not arbitrary circumstance that makes the laborer or artisan without arete, and it is not something that can be remedied by changing the number of hours he works, making the work less ‘brutal,’ providing access to education, or increasing wealth. Instead, Aristotle thinks that such a worker is incapable of arete because, unlike a slave, he is outside the structure of the family (and polis), and most significantly, takes money for his labor instead of being a ‘part of,’ and possession of a master.
The Purifying Virtues in Practice: Vegetarianism in the Neoplatonic School of Philosophy
It is well known from the extant literary sources that the Neoplatonists in late antiquity abstained from meat. It was the case of philosophers in the Neoplatonic school at Rome: Plotinus (244–269 CE), Amelius (244–268 CE), and Porphyry (270–305 CE), as well as in the Neoplatonic school at Athens: Plutarch (ca. 400–433), Hierocles (ca. 430 CE), Syrianus (433–437 CE), Proclus (437–485 CE), Marinus (485–ca. 495 CE), Isidore (ca. 500–ca. 515 CE), and Damascius (ca. 515–529 CE). In the present project, I intend to answer the question why the Neoplatonists were vegetarians and what was a philosophical explanation of this. The most plausible reason for vegetarianism among the later Neoplatonists should be linked, in my opinion, to the so called purifications (καθάρσεις) or the purifying virtues (αἱ καθαρτικαὶ ἀρεταί). Firstly, the doctrine of purification appears in the relation to the Neoplatonic classification of virtues, in which the purifying virtues take a central position between the lower classes of virtues (natural, moral, civic) and the higher ones (contemplative, paradigmatic, hieratic) (Iamblichus, On Virtues, in Damascius, Commentary on Plato’s Phaedo 1.138–51). According to Porphyry (Sententiae 32), the purifying virtues consist in abstention from “soul’s actions and feelings that are compatible with the body”, such as “desires for foods and drinks”. Secondly, the further subdivision of the purifying virtues into four sub-classes (the purifying self-control, the purifying courage, the purifying wisdom, the purifying justice) results in the idea that abstinence from killing animals, as respecting the animal rights, is the ultimate manifestation of the purifying justice (Iamblichus, Protrepticus 21; De vita Pythagorica 24.108). Thirdly, the purifying virtues that consist in abstention from foods and desires, lead to the apatheia of the soul (ἀπάθεια) and, subsequently, the assimilation to the god (θεῷ ὁμοιωθῆναι), which is the superior goal of philosophical life (Plotinus, Enneades 1.2; Hierocles, In aureum carmen, proem). Fourthly, practicing the purifying virtues helps the philosopher in liberating himself – or his own soul – from necessity of reincarnation that is imposed on every man’s soul (Marinus, Vita Procli 18–19).
Lidia Palumbo & Loredana Cardullo
L’areté e la dottrina delle aretai nei dialoghi di Platone e nella tradizione platonica
Nei dialoghi di Platone le parole cambiano significato a seconda dei personaggi che le usano e dei contesti in cui esse vengono usate. Nel Menone, per Menone, l’areté è l’insieme delle competenze che consentono all’individuo di primeggiare, soprattutto nell’ambito della vita politica e sociale. Questa concezione menoniana dell’areté è ciò che permette al lettore di comprendere chi è Menone. Menone parla con Socrate, il quale ha una concezione dell’areté diversa da quella di Menone. E anche in questo caso, per comprendere chi è, e che cosa rappresenta, il Socrate del Menone, dobbiamo guardare alla sua concezione dell’areté. Il termine assume poi negli altri dialoghi altri significati, ma è sempre collegato alla tensione degli enti a raggiungere la compiutezza della propria perfezione. Da questo punto di vista la nozione di areté si rivela preziosa per indagare un aspetto importante della filosofia di Platone che è quello che riguarda la tensione al divino. Nella tradizione platonica per realizzare l’assimilazione al divino prende corpo la dottrina delle aretai. Si analizzeranno passi da Plotino e Proclo per descrivere la significativa evoluzione che conosce la dottrina delle virtù nell’ambito del neoplatonismo; l’analisi considererà tale dottrina come un riflesso dell’evoluzione che il neoplatonismo conosce, nel passare da una scuola – quella di Plotino (Roma, III sec. d.C.) – che vede nella contemplazione e nelle virtù contemplative, e quindi nella pura filosofia e nell’intelletto, l’unico strumento per realizzare il ritorno (l’epistrophê) al Principio primo, ad un’altra scuola – quella di Proclo (Atene V sec.d.C.) – che considera oramai la filosofia insufficiente a consentire all’uomo il raggiungimento del divino, e le affianca la pratica magico-teurgica e le virtù corrispondenti. In questo cambiamento di paradigmi la dottrina delle virtù gioca un ruolo di primo piano, presentando interessanti variazioni sia rispetto alla tradizione platonica sia rispetto alla fase originaria del neoplatonismo, pur scandendo sempre il percorso formativo dell’uomo e configurandosi come un vero e proprio esercizio spirituale. Si porrà inoltre in assoluta evidenza come, nel cosiddetto “canone di Giamblico”, vale a dire in quello che è l’elenco dei dialoghi platonici che bisognava leggere nel cursus studiorum delle scuole neoplatoniche, ciascuno di quei dialoghi (dall’Alcibiade al Parmenide) contribuiva a fare acquisire un certo tipo di virtù, le quali, tutte insieme, costituivano una scala che dalla conoscenza di sé (gradino più basso) portava alla conoscenza del divino (gradino più elevato).
Parmenides’ Third Way of Thinking
I contend that the key to understanding the poem of Parmenides in its full unity and sophistication lies in a proper estimation of the nature and role of the so-called “third way” of thinking: namely, that “being and not being are the same and not the same.” (B.6) At first reading, the third way may appear not only superfluous, but also at odds with the earlier claim of Parmenides that the first two ways of thinking are the only ones that exist (B.4). With regard to the latter charge, I argue that an examination of the special status of the third way as a combination of the first two ways saves Parmenides from contradiction. With regard to the former charge, I argue that since the second way of thinking — “that a thing is not, and that it must needs not be” (B.2) — is, strictly speaking, completely unthinkable, it is the third way of thinking which, by blending the first and second ways together, allows the second way to be thought at all; it thus emerges for Parmenides as the primary — because actually thinkable — target of his polemic. In addition, our necessarily imperfect cognitive capacities render inevitable the slippage from the first into the third way of thinking. Indeed, the entire cosmological portion of his poem (DK B.8.51-19) should be understood, I claim, as a paradigmatic demonstration of the third way of thinking. Yet, even as the third way of thinking constitutes a path of error, it also preserves the seeds of the truth (to which we should aspire) inasmuch it makes use of the first way of thinking: “that a thing is, and that it is not for not being.” (B.2) For Parmenides, even falsehood itself is but an emanation of the truth.
Empedocles and Human Excellence
Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 4, 23 – 150.1) says that according to Empedocles the souls of the sages [τῶν σοφῶν τὰς ψυχάς] become gods. He quotes Empedocles, writing as follows [D39 LM = Fr. 146 K]:
At the end they become seers [μάντεις], hymn singers [ὑνμνοπόλοι], doctors [ἰητροί],
And leaders [πρόμοι] for humans on the earth,
And then they blossom up as gods, the greatest in honors [θεοί τιμῇσι φέριστοι].
We have excellent people there. Let us put Clement’s point into perspective. The verses of Empedocles are part of his belief in reincarnation and purification to get out of earthly reincarnations. In the language of the first centuries AD, the souls of the sages are the daimones, purified from the original fault, of which Empedocles speaks in his poem Katharmoi. Just before becoming blessed gods, the daimones would be wise men, namely seers, hymn singers, doctors and leaders (chiefs). Why just these four varieties of Human Excellence and not others? What do these men do to have the privilege of becoming gods? Undoubtedly, Empedocles, who advocates an ethic of purification, should be among these men. On closer examination, a doubt arises. What if these men, although honored, living in the time of growing Strife, with his honors, had not adopted the ethic of purification of Empedocles? We would like to believe that Empedocles as a poet will become a god, but how is it possible that all seers, all poets, and so on, enjoy the same privilege as Empedocles? The talk asks these types of questions and tries to answer them.
The ἀρετή of Scipio Africanus: Greek Virtue and Roman Politics in the 3rd Century BC.
Scipio Africanus is considered one of Rome’s most extraordinary generals and politicians, whose exploits, charisma, and innovative techniques for self-promotion enabled him to reach unparalleled prominence. However, the influence of Hellenistic culture on his image and identity has been greatly underestimated (Haywood 1933, Scullard 1930 and 1970, Gabriel 2008). Similarly, while the communication of Roman virtus as an equivalent of ἀρετή is often attributed to Cicero in the 1st Century BC, this must be considered as starting significantly earlier. The Cornelii Scipios had been presenting Greek virtues in their public presentation since the early 3rd Century BC, such as with the elogia of Scipio Barbatus in 280 BC. Scipio Africanus, educated with an appreciation for Greek philosophy and leadership, adopted ἀρετή as one of the defining characteristics of his identity. From the outset of his career he presented himself with the virtues of a Hellenistic king or hero, and the Roman populace responded with Hellenistic honours in return. Comparisons between the presentation of ἀρετή by Scipio and Alexander the Great and the Diadochi will be drawn to uncover the influence of Greek ideals in the Roman social and political spheres of the 3rd Century BC. This paper, then, seeks to re-examine the formation of Scipio Africanus’ public image by applying new insights to the powerful discourse of Greek virtue that he inherited, embodied, and exploited.
The W/rest of Virtue
This presentation will discuss three examples of what I call the “w/rest of virtue.” The first employs the term “euthyntēria,” from Ancient Greek architecture. The second revisits the scene of the festival of Artemis Bendis in Plato’s Republic I, and the third speaks of reverent apprenticeships. With these examples, I argue for an Ur-virtue; namely, piety (ὁσιὀτης), which is to other virtues as space is to the construction of geometrical figures. A preface entitled “Socrates’ haunting” frames the precarious boundaries between lecturing about virtue, versus training and teaching of virtue outside of academic discourse. The “euthyntēria” emerges from a ground-line and, as piety, functions as an intermediary between a dark unknown ground and a first clearing. Euthyntēria-piety allows space for the practice of, and subsequent ascent into, “realities which can be seen only by the soul” (Rep.VI.510d-511b). Faith is inherent in such ascents. The socio-political, legal, and mytho-religious network of the Artemis of Bendis Βενδίδεια introduces an event-space that develops critical reason from the w/rest of virtue. This scenographic gem displays how the w/rest of virtue emerges from this ground-line of human hope, knowledge, and action. Apprenticeships are the practice of the mimēsis of reverence (σέβας) to an anterior, historicized aporia that illuminates what we stand before as our petition to the very condition of the possibility of tradition (νομιμα). The pedagogical struggle in getting-to-know is similar to “athletic mimesis [that] teaches what it feels like to struggle heroically” (Reid, 2017:269). Only in this type of wrest can virtues receive a point of entry, and become taut/taught, not only as an aporetic endgame, but as the struggle with a fated heritage (tradition). Sources include Hegel, Bradley, Dobbs, Sheffield, Penner, Lefkowitz, Harden, Planeaux, Nails, Smith, Morgan, Mikalson, Vlastos, Wildberg, Reid, Roochnik, Sparshott, North, Pindar, Samons, and Gkaleas.
Plato and the Navy: Thalassocracy, Aretē, and the Corruption of Desire
Plato’s dialogues are full of references to the sea and the navy (R. 616b-c, Phd. 109c-d, Tht. 144b, Criti. 109c, Lg. 803a-b, R. 488, Grg. 519a). In these passages, he uses nautical metaphors to describe the structure of the cosmos, the role of the gods in human life, the purpose of education, the place of the philosopher in the democratic city, and the limitations of Athens’ former leaders. In other passages, his attitudes toward the sea and the navy are almost exclusively critical. In the Laws, for example, he treats both as insidious causes of the pleonexia afflicting the Athens of his day, and he suggests that “it would have done [the Athenians] more good to lose seven boys over and over again rather than get into bad habits by forming themselves into a navy” (Lg. 706b-c). How should we understand Plato’s nautical imagination and critique of the Athenian navy? Were they a byproduct of his travels in Western Greece, or did he turn against thalassocracy after the Social War rekindled concerns about Athens’ imperial ambitions? The point of this paper will be to understand Plato’s views in light of the 4th-century debates about the virtues and vices of sea power. To do this, I will compare the mixed messages of Plato’s Atlantis Myth with the arguments against thalassocracy in Isocrates’ On the Peace, which links naval empire with the corruption of desire and the erosion of aretē in the polis. In the end I will conclude that, for Plato, there was nothing to be gained from life by the sea, or from sea power: foreign trade inflames the appetites (Lg. 704d); training in the navy inhibits the cultivation of courage and other virtues (Lg. 706b-707c), and cities dependent on sea power are inclined toward democracy and imperialism, both of which lead to a city with “a fever” (R. 372e) and divine punishment for a decline in aretē (Criti. 121b).
Piety, Virtue, and Recollection in Plato’s Meno
The myth of reincarnation of the Meno urges us to be as pious as possible, since the soul is deathless and goes through successive lives. Piety helps secure a better future life. The themes of the myth include piety, purification, and atonement, and are connected to the question of the first part of the dialogue. This is the ethical lesson of the myth. Surprisingly however, Plato claims that the main lesson of the myth is epistemic — deathlessness is what makes it possible for the soul to recollect. In this paper, I explore possible relationships between the ethical and epistemic lessons of the myth. I propose to show the relationship between the Meno’s myth of reincarnation and the oracle story found in the Apology. Both accounts share common features: (1) they suggest that mythical and religious practices can be driving forces, either to begin or to continue a search for truth. (2) They are prefaced by an explanation of why we search. (3) They introduce a thought-experiment to verify the truth of some aspect of the myth. And finally, (4) they conclude with a radical reinterpretation of the proper philosophical meaning of the myth. According to the myth of the Meno, I argue, to engage in philosophical activity is akin to cultivating piety: it encourages us to pay proper attention to divine matters.
Sôphrosunê in the Republic and the Charmides
In Republic 4, Socrates investigates the virtue of sôphrosunê as part of the search for justice. He concludes that sôphrosunê, in both city and soul, is an agreement between the better and worse elements about which of them should rule and which should be ruled (432a, 442d). Sôphrosunê thus prevents faction and civil war and ensures that one’s appetitive desires remain acquiescent to the dictates of reason. Much of the scholarship on this passage has focused on the puzzling relationship between sôphrosunê and justice, which is likewise ascribed to all of the city/soul’s constituents and so looks like it may be redundant. Moreover, the slogan that Socrates uses to capture justice in the Republic – “doing one’s own things” (433b) – is identical to Critias’ initial characterization of sôphrosunê in the Charmides (161b). My paper takes up a different puzzle: How does the Republic’s account of sôphrosunê relate to the discussion in the Charmides, Plato’s most elaborate inquiry into the nature of that virtue? The Charmides strongly suggests that sôphrosunê is a kind of self-knowledge, yet the Republic construes it as a kind of harmony among elements with disparate functions. One solution would be to treat the Republic as expressing Plato’s considered view, superseding the aporetic explorations of the “early” Charmides. I offer reasons to reject such a “developmentalist” approach and propose a “unitarian” (or “dialectical”) alternative. On the political level, mere agreement about which classes should rule and be ruled will be fruitless, unless the citizens know to which class they truly belong. On the psychic level, a person must not only believe that her reason should guide her actions, but also know that her judgments are in fact rational. Thus, the Charmides implicitly challenges the Republic’s aristocratic view of sôphrosunê. I conclude by considering whether the two accounts are reconcilable.
The Prize of Aretē τὸ ἆθλον τῆς ἀρετῆς
The Western Greek historian Diodorus says the Western Greek athlete Milo led the Crotonites into battle wearing his six Olympic crowns as well as the lion skin and club of Herakles (12.10.1). This seems impossible since the six leafy crowns, even if they could be worn with the skin, would long-since have disintegrated. It is equally incredible that the Sybarites literally believed they were fighting Herakles. Diodorus must be referring to the symbolic power of the athlete’s crowns and his link to the hero, both of which, I argue, derive from ἀρετή. It was Herakles himself, according to Diodorus, who stipulated that the Olympic ἆθλον should be an olive crown “since he himself had conferred benefits upon the race of men without receiving any monetary reward.” He also says the hero won all the events at the inaugural Games unopposed, since no-one dared challenge his exceeding ἀρετή (4.14.2). In fact, Herakles is not associated with sport until the 5th century BCE, when Pindar first reports his founding of the Games (Ol. 10.45-63). Before that, the hero was famous only for his ἆθλα (labors), and this is what makes him the prototypical ἀθλητής. When we examine the pre-sport use of these terms, we realize that what gives the, ἆθλον, and ἀθλητής their value is precisely the ἀρετή cultivated though the ἆθλος. Herakles and the Homeric heroes earn intangible prizes, such as honor, glory, even apotheosis. Prizes in the Iliad’s funeral games are also linked to ἀρετή. This is why in Plato’s Phaedo (114c), Socrates describes the ἆθλον of virtue as “beautiful,” and why Aristotle calls happiness the ἀρετῆς ἆθλον (NE1099b). It was Milo’s ἀρετή that won the battle for the Crotonites in 511BC and it is ἀρετή that imbues athletics with value even today.
In several respects, magnanimity seems to hold a special place within the NE. This essay offers four reasons why Aristotle would make it the “central virtue” within his ethical scheme.
- Ethical object. In NE I.5, Aristotle distinguishes the common end of the political life, honor, from the true end, virtue. This distinction draws a moral line through various categories of ethical life—e.g. self, virtuous action, self-love, happiness—leading some scholars to characterize magnanimity as an achievement of “ethical egocentrism” and self-sufficiency (autarcheia). Magnanimity as ethical egocentrism identifies a core aspect of aretaic happiness.
- Ethical subject. A second reason concerns the self-concept, spiritedness (thumos), and Aristotle’s moral psychology. To illustrate this I discuss several examples, including Rosa Parks. In contrast to distorted ego psychologies, the great-souled person is not merely ego-centric and self-sufficient, but ego-liberating and self-giving, actualizing a better self and humanity.
- Ethical community. Here the focus is Pericles in Thucydides and Plutarch, where his magnanimity and wisdom shape a greatly enlarged self-concept, the ‘We’ of homonoia, mutual regard, and action that was Athens. This underscores the interwovenness of self-sufficiency with interdependency, shared speech, and collective action in a complete (teleios) life, how magnanimity can be both central and the “crown” of virtue.
- Ethical vision. This addresses Pericles’ Funeral Oration and Aristotle’s ruler-king of the best polity. Aristotle’s statesman creates occasions for festive life, involving music and poetry, including tragic poetry. In such interactive perception (sunaesthesis) and enlightenment (sungnosis), the citizen-friends of the best regime are united and educated in a mode of being-in-truth that is contemplative, interpersonal, and communal all at once. This is a life including contemplative happiness, though it falls short of the more complete life of philosophical friendship suggested by NE IX and X—which itself can only approximate, not attain, perfect happiness.
Gender and the Ritual Lament: Women as the Arbiters of Arete and Virtus
Arete could be displayed in multiple places and instances; however, at its essence, the term was most associated with martial courage. Battle was therefore the primary area in which males in ancient Greece displayed their arete. Although the term is inherently masculine, women played a vital role in influencing a male to perform his civic duty by service in war. Armed conflict in both ancient Greece and Rome was framed as one party taking vengeance upon another for a perceived wrong, and this framing meant that the war was just and in harmony with the divine cosmos. Via the act of ritual lamentation, women called upon men to take revenge through warfare. Lamentation was a ritualised female mourning tradition which regularly took place at funerals and for which there is strong evidence in both Greek and Latin literature. The lamentation was not just undertaken to honour the deceased, but more importantly, it was directed at the living male members of society and served as a demand that these men take up arms and display their arete in order to avenge the wrongs perpetrated by an enemy. A similar process can be found in ancient Rome, where women regularly performed lamentations in order to induce Roman males to take revenge by demonstrating their virtus in war. This not only spurred a society’s males into martial action, but also afforded women a voice in the normally masculine spheres of political decision-making and warfare. In demanding vengeance and armed displays of courage, women in ancient Greece and Rome played a necessary role in arete and virtus, acting as the arbiters of masculinity.
The wind-god Boreas was honored in Athens after a storm of mythic proportions destroyed massive numbers of Persian ships. Advised to invoke their son-in-law to avert the Persian onslaught, the Athenians called upon the god who had carried off Oreithyia, daughter of an early Athenian king. Afterwards, Herodotus reports, they credited their salvation to this couple’s intervention. This historically significant storm dominates discussions of Boreas and Oreithyia in scholarship today, and the appearance of Boreas abducting Oreithyia on Athenian vases beginning in the second quarter of the fifth century may well be due to the historic event. Indeed the Athenian colony at Thurii gave Boreas citizenship and a house. The image of Boreas and Oreithyia appears also through a different lens. A fourth-century grave in Pharsalos contained a gilt bronze hydria depicting the winged god lifting this girl he has chosen as his bride. In the vessel, with the ashes of the deceased, was a gold tablet giving the deceased, “parched with thirst,” directions to refreshing water in Hades and words needed to gain access to it, a special guarantee to a deserving soul. This soul’s reward brings to mind the setting of Plato’s Phaedrus, and Socrates and Phaedrus walking barefoot in the Ilissos to a flowering plane-tree. Even before they reach their fragrant stopping place, they talk of the area’s association with the divine: this is where Boreas is said to have seized Oreithyia, daughter of the king of Athens, as indicated by an altar honoring the wind god. This first reference to Boreas and the object of his love begins a suggestive theme that resounds variously throughout this mythologically rich dialogue. By examining the iconographic range of this image, I hope to better understand its connection to Plato’s discussion of the soul.
Human and Ecological Aretē in Archaic Sicily: Why the Syracusans valued Skilled Labor over Land
This talk will explore competing ideas about human and ecological aretē in archaic Sicily, and show why the Syracusans came to value the aretē of skilled labor over the aretē of fertile land. In antiquity, Sicily’s natural landscape was known for its excellence and cultivability: poets and prose authors praised the region for its ecological virtue (e.g. Pind. Nem. 1.13-16; Thuc. 6.20.4; Cic. Verr. 2.2.2; Diod. 23.1.1). Syrakousai, for example, was more than twice as cultivable as Attica: though under half the size of Attica at the end of the Archaic period, it could actually sustain a much larger population. Yet for over a century, the Syracusans regularly gave away land they confiscated in eastern Sicily to their Kalabrian allies and Peloponnesian mercenaries without asking for agricultural rents in return. It remains unclear why, if Sicilian land was so good, the Syracusans gave it away so regularly. I argue that, by the beginning of the fifth century, Syrakousai remained an underpopulated “frontier economy,” which meant that there was more available land than people to work it. Since there was already plenty of good land around Syracuse, they learned that the land they confiscated beyond it was expendable. What they lacked was the skilled labor to compete with their rivals in eastern Sicily and beyond. To explain this trend, I begin by exploring the “archaic origins” of the Syracusan agricultural economy, a time when Syracusan society was fluid and elites became immensely wealthy exchanging agricultural surpluses for imported manufactured goods. Next, I show how the archaic frontier economy was good for creating agricultural surpluses, but not good for creating a competitive economy. Finally, I present archaeological and ecological data from Naxos (depopulated in 403 BCE) to show how the Syracusans willingly gave away good land so they could relocate skilled labor.
The Moral Exercises of Epictetus
The Stoic Epictetus was well known for the practical orientation of his philosophical program. His ethical theory, as put out in the Discourses and Handbook, describes not just the nature of virtue, but also how we are best to go about cultivating virtue in ourselves. In service of the goal of cultivating virtue, Epictetus lists a variety of moral exercises to be practiced by the student of Stoicism outside of the classroom. The aim of this paper is to examine three of these exercises, and propose their function in cultivating virtue. The paper is divided into three parts. The first section explains Epictetus’ view that moral improvement consists of coming making correct judgements about the moral value of objects in the world. The second section argues that Epictetus thinks we fail to make correct judgements because of one of two reasons: (1) Precipitancy, which is when we make a judgement without applying the theory. (2) Weakness, which is when we fail in our application of theory because passion interferes with our reasoning. The third section argues that the moral exercises of Epictetus are ways to prevent the phenomena of Precipitancy and Weakness. They are tools to ensure that the agent reasons as well as possible, and is as likely as possible to make correct judgements. Three exercises are discussed in support of this claim: (A) Critical Assent, which prevents precipitancy by ensuring that all assents to impressions are intentional. (B) Repetition, which prevents precipitancy by ensuring that the relevant standard of judgement is accessible to the agent when reasoning requires it. (C) Abstinence, which prevents weakness by removing the agent from objects which trigger passions, and then slowly reintroducing these objects at a rate which the agent can handle.
David Carl Wilson
The Excellence of Rulers
Agathocles ruled brutally as tyrant of Syracuse from 317 to 289 BCE, and it is unlikely that he was ever described without irony as a man of arête. Almost two millennia later, however, Machiavelli uses Agathocles as an exemplar of “cruelty used well,” and thus, he says, as an exemplar of virtù —the Italian translation, of course, of the Latin translation of the Greek arête. Machiavelli is quick to make clear that it is not the cruelty that makes Agathocles virtuous; it is, rather, that he used it so well. Virtue, it seems, has thus become (for Machiavelli, at least) an instrumental rather than a moral concept. And yet, it could be argued that virtue is always an instrumental concept; it is excellence, but excellence with respect to the achievement of some telos or other. For Aristotle, the telos is eudaimonia. For Machiavelli (in the Agathocles case and elsewhere throughout The Prince) it is, well, something having to do with successful political leadership. In this paper, I inquire into whether the ancients use the concept of virtue in a special way, with a customized telos, when applied to a ruler. I clarify, to the extent possible, the telos that Machiavelli himself has in mind. And I think through the philosophical implications.
Virtue is the Art of Being Human
According to Plato and Aristotle human virtue (or arête) is like an art or a craft (a techne). To be an excellent person is like being a skilled craftsman or an expert artist in important respects. Aristotle draws on this analogy in his famous ergon (function or work) argument:
For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor or any artist, and, in general for all things that have function (ergon) and an action (praxis), the good and the well is thought to reside in the function, so would it seem to be for a human being, if he has a function. Have the carpenter, then, and the shoemaker certain functions and actions, and a human being none—is he by nature idle (argon)? (EN 1.7. 1097b25-30)
In this crucially important argument Aristotle uses the analogy between arts and virtue to establish that there is a human good, a kind of work or activity that constitutes human excellence. Commentators agree that the human work or activity is practical and theoretical reasoning. But they are more divided on the extent and significance of Aristotle’s analogy between virtue and the arts or crafts. I argue here that the similarities are deep and broad; they include how we become virtuous/artistic; the role of understanding (or giving an account) in the arts and the virtues, and the deeply contextual nature of both the arts and the virtues. Given these significant similarities it is fair to say that—for Aristotle– virtue is the art of being human.