Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Stoics: The Chrysippian Synthesis

THE STOICS NOT ONLY HAD a negative principle, the principle of apatheia, indifference to passions, but they also had a positive program that focused upon the Platonic four cardinal virtues, each ontologically  different, but all operationally connected so that if you had one you had all, and if you had all you had one.  For the Stoic, wisdom was the necessary and sufficient condition for acquiring moral virtue.  The Stoics therefore seemed to have adopted the Socratic formula that knowledge was virtue.

But there were different strands of thinking regarding the positive program.  Zeno, while maintaining the Platonic four-virtue schema, further described the interaction of these virtues as being interlaced.  Plutarch described Zeno's insight as being that the four virtues of prudence, courage, temperance, and justice "as being not separate yet other and different from each other."  Virtue for Zeno according to Plutarch "is on, though it seems to differ in its actions in relation to its disposition relative to things."  The four virtues which seems in practical application to be one, worked hand in glove, with prudence being the chief virtue.  Thus justice could be described as prudence in distribution of goods.  Temperance could be defined as prudence in choices regarding goods.  Courage could be defined as prudence in endurance of evils.  Effectively, then, Zeno could say that all virtue is prudence.  Houser, 24.


Chrysippus, while not rejecting the four-fold division of Plato and the operational unity of the virtues under the banner of prudence, yet believed that each virtue had its "peculiar quality."  The distinction between the virtues was real, not simply a distinction in the mind.  Chrysippus apparently expanded on the four-fold nomenclature since he was accused of building up a "swarm of virtues" both unusual and unknown."  Houser, 24.  Though Plutarch excoriated Chrysippus, Chrysippus' idea ultimately bore fruit.  As Houser expresses it:

[I]n truth, Chrysippus made a great contribution to virtue theory, by showing how to make room for more than Plato's four virtues, while keeping the four. He did so by inventing the distinction between four "primary" virtues and the other virtues "subordinate to them."

Houser, 24-25 (quoting Plutarch, De virtute morali, 440e-441d).

Ultimately, the Chrysippian taxonomy stuck.  It stuck because it had the merit of avoiding two extremes.  It avoided on the one hand the extreme of "too much reductionism, as found in Socrates, Plato, and Zeno," where the "four" virtues were really "one," the difference between them being almost virtual or nominal.  But Chrysippus also avoided the Aristotelian extreme where one had a "hodge-podge of virtues related only by prudence."  Houser, 25.  The Chrysippian model, therefore, took the insights of Aristotle and adapted them to the taxonomy of Plato and yielded a multiplicity of virtues, but all ordered under the four cardinal virtues.

It was this schema which ultimately became mainstream, and it would "come to dominate Stoicism and prove attractive to virtue theories from Cicero to Aquinas" and beyond.  Houser, 25.

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