By Lawrence C. Becker, Charlotte B. Becker
This newly revised and up-to-date version of A heritage of Western Ethics is a coherent and obtainable review of an important figures and influential principles of the historical past of ethics within the Western philosophical culture.
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Extra resources for A History of Western Ethics
Tranquillity is not perceived by the Roman Stoics as opting out of the world. To the contrary. It is that state of mind which issues in an ability to react and act well. Epictetus constantly directs his interlocutors to reflect on the limits of their autonomy, and to use that understanding as a basis for shaping their outlook: “Remembering the way the world is structured, one should proceed to educate oneself not in order to change the conditions…but in order that, things about us being as they are and as their nature is, we ourselves may keep our attitude in tune with what happens” (Discourses 1.
Thus the early medieval period lays the foundation for causistry, the examination of the casus conscientiae that is essential to determining equity, what the high middle ages will, following Aristotle, come to call epieikeia. A famous popular example is the legend of Gregory’s intercession for the pagan emperor Trajan, whose justice to a wronged widow so moved Gregory that his tears were accounted the equal of baptism and served to redeem the just Roman. Without ceasing to be an act of grace, God’s recognition of Trajan’s “baptism by tears” recalls Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23–33) and the notion that the just must be treated justly, wherever, and in whatever circumstances, they are found.
The Roman flavor emerges most clearly in Cicero’s focus on political well-being and improvement. ” In the same context he takes “government” to be the principal “use” of virtus, arguing that legislators, rather than philosophers, have been the effective sources of morality. ) In De legibus, however, he takes the analysis back a stage further, seeking justification for law in “philosophical” doctrines of human nature. Again drawing on Stoicism, he identifies law with the perfection of reason. ” “Natural” law—as represented in the perfection of reason—is to be contrasted with the particular edicts of a society, which are often arbitrary and unjust.