Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Political Views of Leonardo Bruni

Leonardo Bruni (1370 – 1444), the Renaissance humanist, historian and statesman points out that Rome attained great success in politics and culture as a self-governing republic, but as there was decline in republican values, Rome lost its liberty and became mired in chaos and corruption. (History of the Florentine People, by Leonardo Bruni, edited by James Hankins). Bruni believed that liberty makes virtue possible, and without virtue there can be no glory. In his 1428 oration in praise of Nanni Strozzi, Bruni says:
Praise of monarchy has something fictitious and shadowy about it, and lacks precision and solidity. Kings, the historian [Sallust] says, are more suspicious of the good than of the evil man, and are always fearful of another’s virtue. Nor is it very different under the rule of a few. Thus the only legitimate constitution of the commonwealth left is the popular one, in which liberty is real, in which legal equality is the same for all citizens, in which pursuit of the virtues may flourish without suspicion.
Bruni held that cities must be must be governed according to justice if they are to become glorious. He says that justice is impossible without liberty.  Here’s his comment on political system in 15th century Florence:
Therefore, under these magistracies this city has been governed with such diligence and competence that one could not find better discipline even in a household ruled by a solicitous father. As a result, no one here has ever suffered any harm, and no one has ever had to alienate property except when he wanted to. The judges, the magistrates are always on duty; the courts, even the highest tribunal is open. All classes of men can be brought to trial; laws are made prudently for the common good, and they are fashioned to help the citizens. There is no place on earth where there is greater justice open equally to every- one. Nowhere else does freedom grow so vigorously, and nowhere else are rich and poor alike treated with such equality. In this one can discern Florence’s great wisdom, perhaps greater than that of other cities. 
(Quoted in The Earthly Republic: Italian Humanists on Government and Society, edited by Benjamin G. Kohl and Ronald G. Witt)
A Republican constitution is must for safeguarding the freedom of the people, according to Bruni.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Cicero’s Influence on Kant’s Moral Theory

Christian Garve published his book Philosophical Remarks and Essays on Cicero’s Books on Duties in 1783. In the same year, Kant started working on his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. The Groundwork does not have any explicit references to Cicero, but Kant’s friend Johann Georg Hamann has said that the Groundwork is a conscious response to Garve’s interpretation of Cicero’s On Duties. Kant had read Cicero and he has remarked that true popularity in philosophy can only be achieved by reading and imitating Cicero.

In his article, published in Mind in 1939, Klaus Reich notes that Kant’s argument in Groundwork closely follows Cicero’s argument in On Duties; Kant's thinking on virtues (justice, wisdom, courage, and self-control) may have been inspired by Cicero’s list of virtues. Reich makes the case that Kant’s principle of morality is inspired by Cicero’s stoic values. Manfred Kuhen talks about the connection between Kant’s Groundwork and Garve’s Cicero in his essay, “Kant’s critical philosophy and its reception – the first five years (1781–1786)” (Chapter 18, The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy, Edited by Paul Guyer). Here’s an excerpt:

"Furthermore, Garve was important. He had dared to criticize Kant’s first Critique, and Kant was moved to criticize Garve in turn. Thus Hamann reported early in 1784 that Kant was working on a “counter-critique” of Garve. Though the title of the work was not determined yet, it was meant to become an attack not on Garve’s review but on Garve’s Cicero, constituting a kind of revenge. Hamann, who took great interest in literary feuds, was initially excited. But he was soon disappointed. For six weeks later he had to report that “the counter-critique of Garve’s Cicero had changed into a preliminary treatise on morals,” and that what he had wanted to call first “counter-critique” had become a predecessor (prodrome) to morals, although it was also to have “a relation to Garve.” The final version did not explicitly deal with Garve. It is significant, however, that Kant read Cicero in Garve’s translation, and that he carefully looked at Garve’s commentary while writing the Groundwork. Though he might have been more interested in Garve than in Cicero, the latter had a definite effect on his views concerning the foundations of moral philosophy. But several schol- ars have argued that Garve’s Cicero was actually important to Kant in dealing with fundamental moral issues.

"What was to be a mere textbook treatment of well-rehearsed issues became a much more programmatic treatise. It is therefore no accident that the terminology of the Groundwork turns out to be so similar to that of Cicero – that “will,” “dignity,” “autonomy,” “duty,” “virtue,” “freedom,” and several other central concepts play a similar foundational role in both Cicero and in Kant. One of the most interesting things about Cicero’s account in this context is that involves the claim that our own nature depends to a large extent on our social role. Sociability or communicability is for him the most important principle from which duty derives. This is clear from the very terms Cicero uses. “Honorableness” or “the honorable” are translations of “honestas” and “honestum.” Both have to do with the holding of an office or an honor. Duties are thus essentially related to one’s social standing. They are bound up with something that is public, part of the sphere of the res publica or the community. Duties make little sense outside society. They are not internal or subjective principles, but public demands on us. Insofar as some of these duties are based on sociability as such, some duties will be universal, but they remain duties we have as “citizens of the world.”"

Friday, February 9, 2018

A House for Mr. Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant purchased a house of his own at the age of 59 (on December 30, 1783). Renting a house meant occasional moves, at times at the insistence of the landlord, and Kant felt that a house of his own would grant him certain amount of security, especially in his declining years. In Kant: A Biography, (Chapter: “The All Crushing Critic of Metaphysics"), Manfred Kuhen has an account of Kant’s journey into his own house:
The house Kant bought had belonged to a portrait painter named Becker, who had recently died. Hippel, whose own property bordered on Becker's, was instrumental in the deal. He told Kant that the property was for sale, and he wrote to Kant on December 24, the day before Christmas, that he had found out that the house was not yet sold, and that if Kant were to make an offer, he would probably be successful. Kant acted right away. Indeed, he wrote down notes and questions about what had to be done on Hippel's very letter. Thus he asked whether there was only one stove in the house, where precisely the borderlines of the property lay, whether he should take out a wall between two smaller rooms and the room that was to become the lecture room, and when the house would be free. The answer to the last question was: "in March." Kant made notes about the costs of the necessary renovation on the back of a short letter, dated February 21, 1784. Work appears to have begun at that time….
Kant was able to move into his new house on May 22, 1784. He didn't like dining alone, and usually invited one or two table companions, whose number, on special occasions, could be increased to five or six. Johann Gottfried Hasse, Kant’s colleague at the University of Königsberg, was one of the frequent dinnertime guests. Kuhen offers an excerpt from Hasse’s idyllic vision of Kant’s house:
On coming closer to his house, everything announced a philosopher. The house was something of an antique. It stood in a street that could be walked but was not much used by carriages. Its back bordered on gardens and moats of the castle, as well as on the back buildings of the many hundred years old palace with its towers, its prisons and its owls. But spring and summer the surroundings were quite romantic. The only trouble was that he did not really enjoy them .. . but only saw them. Stepping into the house, one would notice the peaceful quiet. Had one not been convinced otherwise by the open kitchen, with the odors of food, a barking dog, or the meowing of a cat, the darlings of his female cook - she performed, as he put it, entire sermons for them - one might have thought the house was uninhabited. If one went up the stairs, one would have encountered the servant who was working on preparing the table. But if one went through the very simple, unadorned and somewhat smoky outbuilding into a greater room which represented the best room, but which was not luxurious. (What Nepos said of Attics: elegant, non magnifies, was quite true of Kant.) There was a sofa, some chairs, upholstered with linen, a glass cabinet with some porcelain, a secretary, which held his silver ware and his cash, and a thermometer. These were all the furnishings, which covered a part of the white walls. In this way, one reached through a very simple, even poor-looking, door a just as destitute sans-souci, into which one was invited by a glad "come in" as soon as one knocked. (How fast my heart beat, when this happened for the first time!) The entire room exuded simplicity and quiet isolation from the noises of the city and the world. Two common tables, a simple sofa, some chairs, including his study-seat, and a dresser, which left enough space in the middle of the room to get to the barometer and thermometer, which Kant consulted frequently. Here sat the thinker in his wooden chair, as if on a tripod…

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

On Cicero’s Access To The Works Of Aristotle

In his essay, “Cicero on Aristotle and Aristotelians,” Walter Nicgorski says that Cicero had more of Aristotle’s work available to him than most people before and after Cicero’s lifetime. Nicgorski points out that Cicero lived at the juncture of time and place when and where the Aristotelian corpus of Andronicus was being compiled and made available to scholars. According to Nicgorski, Cicero’s writings support the idea that he consulted Aristotle’s non-popular works (commentarios) which were then being recovered and assembled.nHere’s an excerpt from Nicgorski’s essay:

"In the reference to these works at De Finibus v. 12, Cicero actually uses the Greek cognate (ἐξωτερικόν) for “exoteric” to describe the popular works which are contrasted with those (limatius) “more carefully composed” commentarii, usually translated as “notebooks”. In this passage, Cicero reveals that the distinction between the exoteric works and the notebooks is one which the Peripatetics themselves make, that it is a distinction which applies to various works of the school, not simply to Aristotle’s writings, and that he is sufficiently familiar with both the exoteric writings and the notebooks to comment on the appearance of inconsistency between them with respect to content.

"Cicero did not, it seems, know with assurance that our Nicomachean Ethics and Politics were works of Aristotle. Cicero cites neither of these works directly, though he mentions the Nicomachean Ethics and shows himself aware that this work is attributed to Aristotle; he himself is inclined to think it was authored by Aristotle’s son Nicomachus. Though the scholarly consensus is that Cicero did not know our Politics, there is a possibility, as the late Elizabeth Rawson suggests, that he knew the Politics or much of it as the work of Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor as head of the Peripatetic school. Whether or not Cicero did give close attention to the texts of the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics or encountered their teachings in other sources, his work shows the impact of such teachings and appears largely consistent with them. The teaching of the Ethics is quite clearly reflected in De Finibus, especially in Book II where Cicero speaks in his own persona, and the De Finibus is a book that Cicero regards as his most important and that treats the topic which he holds to be foundational to all philosophy. Quite directly Cicero associates what he does in De Re Publica and De Legibus with the tradition of political inquiry in which Aristotle and his school are perceived as distinguishing themselves. Could not the Politics or some version of it be what Cicero has in mind when he so credits the Peripatetic heritage in political philosophy?"

Cicero saw Aristotle as a follower of the Platonic and Socratic traditions. In De Officiis, he says, “[M]y philosophical writings differing very little from Peripatetic teachings, for both I and those men wish to follow in the socratic and Platonic tradition..."

Friday, February 2, 2018

Publication of Spinoza’s Ethics

In his essay, “The Textual History of Spinoza’s Ethics” (Chapter 1, The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza’s Ethics), Piet Steenbakkers offers an account of the process by which Spinoza’s ethics got published. Spinoza died in The Hague on 21st February, 1677, and within a matter days his publisher received a writing box containing Spinoza’s unpublished writings and correspondence. Spinoza’s friends divided the editorial work among themselves, and within nine months of his demise, in December 1977, the manuscripts got published under the title B.d.S. Opera Posthuma, which contains his major works, including Ethica. The Dutch translation of B.d.S. Opera Posthuma was published in the same period.

Here’s an excerpt from Steenbakkers’s essay:

"Publishing the Ethics was a precarious undertaking. Spinoza himself put the manuscript away in 1675, and when his friends did publish it in the Opera Posthuma, they took safety measures to cover their activities. The book appeared without the publisher’s name (Rieuwertsz), without mentioning the place of publication (Amsterdam), and with the philosopher’s name abbreviated to ‘B.d.S.’ In the correspondence, references to people who were still alive were generally avoided and many factual allusions were discreetly suppressed. This covertness makes it difficult to determine who the editors were and what they did with the manuscripts they had at their disposal."