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 12, 2012

Cicero: The Cardinal Virtues and their Subparts

CICERO HAS NEVER BEEN regarded as a philosophical innovator; rather, he was a philosophical conservative: a traditionalist who handed down, we may assume quite faithfully, the teachings of the Stoics which he regarded as important, especially in his early works, which is where we should place his De inventione.

We might expect Cicero then faithfully to hand down the Stoic teaching of the four cardinal virtues, and he does not disappoint.  He also appends to the four cardinal virtues, the Chryppian sub-parts that were ordered underneath these four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.  The entire virtue taxonomy of Cicero is of course under the umbrella of living in agreement with the law of nature, a law which is ultimately founded upon a cosmic reason.

Cicero defines prudence using the characteristic Stoic categories of the morally good, the morally evil, and the morally indifferent.  "Prudence is knowledge of things that are good or bad or neither.  Its parts are memory, understanding, and foresight."  Prudentia est rerum bonarum et malarum neutrarumque scientia.  Partes eius: memoria, itnelligentia, providentia.  De inv., 2.160.

Justice for Cicero is "the habit of mind (habitus animi) that preserves the common utility while also giving to each what is his due."  Jusititia est habitus animi communi utilitate conservata suam cuique tribuens dignitatem.     De inv., 2.160.  Justice, of course, is the most extrinsic of the virtues since it is concerned with those other than the subject: the common good or the private good of another person.  Yet even here , in the most extrinsic of the virtues, we find the characteristic Stoic interiorization of virtue.  While concerned with externals, the focus is on the interior disposition, the habitus animi, of the virtuous person.  "In this way, the traditional Platonic and Aristotelian matter of Cicero's definition--concern for the common good and the private good of others--is given a Stoic form."  Houser, 27.

Cicero further explores justice and finds species or sub-parts of justice.  However, he divides these into to general categories depending upon whether the "law of nature" (ius naturae) or the "law of custom" (consuetudine ius) is involved.

Under the rubric of the law of nature, Cicero finds six sub-parts or species of justice: religion (religio), piety (pietas), consideration (gratias), retribution (vindicatione), honor (observantia), and truth (veritas). These sub-parts will be adopted and developed by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Under the rubric of the law of custom, Cicero finds three sub-parts: agreements (pactum), equity (par), and written judgments (iudicatum).  The notion of equity will be used by St. Thomas Aquinas, but the other two sub-parts--agreements and written judgments--are too legally-focused for St. Thomas Aquinas to be concerned with.

Houdon's Cicero inveighing against Cataline. 1803. Louvre Museum

Courage or fortitude is next.  Courage is defined as the "considered undertaking of dangers and endurance of hardships."  Fortitudo est considerata periculorum susceptio et laborum perpersio.  De inv., 2.163.  To some extent, the Ciceronian notion of fortitude is broader than the Aristotelian notion of fortitude.  The latter saw it as resolve in the face of death.  The sub-parts of fortitude or courage are identified by Cicero as magnificence (magnanimitas), confidence (fidentia), patience (patientia), and perserverance (constantia).*

Temperance Cicero defines as the "domination of reason over desire and over other incorrect inclinations of the mind, domination that is firm and attains the mean."  Temperantia est rationis in libidinem atque in alios non rectos impetus animi firma et moderata dominatio.  De inv., 2.164.  Here is the characteristic Stoic ratio or logos.  An interesting feature of the definition is that we have here not the "political" rule of Plato of reason over the passion, but more of a "tyrannical" rule of reason over passion.  Reason dominates over desire and passion in the Stoic view of things.**  Another interesting feature is the broadening of this virtue relative to the Aristotelian notion.  While Aristotle limited temperance to sex and nutrition, Cicero clearly extends it to cover any potentially improper inclination (libido).  Cicero does, however, adopt the Aristotelian notion of "mean."

Three subordinate virtues are identified by Cicero as being ordered under temperance: continence (continentia), clemency (clementia), and modesty (modestia).  Clemency is defined as "sympathy of the higher ranks for the lower," and "it seems a peculiarly Roman virtue and original with Cicero."  Houser, 29.  On the other hand, the other two notions, continence and modesty, are clearly Stoic in origin.  We find these for example, in Stobaeus, Plutarch, and Diogenes Laertius.

For Cicero, continence is defined as "that by which cupidity is ruled by the governance of good counsel."  Continentia est per quam cupiditas consili guvernatione regitur. De inv., 2.164.  The extent of continence is, of course, directly tied to the understanding of what cupidity comprehends.  If cupidity is understood to be limited to nutritional or sexual desires (as was largely understood to be the case by the medieval schoolmen, then continence will likewise be limited by this understanding).  It appears that Cicero had a broader notion of continence than was later to be the case with the scholastic understanding of the term, which limited it to nutritional and sexual desires.

Cicero was again not an original thinker.  "Cicero himself tended toward syncretism."  Houser,30.  But he was the link or bridge as it were between the original Greek Stoic thinkers and the later medieval thinkers.  "The main challenge for the scholastic masters was to try to bring a millenium-old Stoick skeleton present in lists of virtues they found in old books like Cicero's."  Houser, 30.
*Houser observes: "Cicero's definition of magnificence shows he actaully had magnanimity in mind, and with this emendation the list of virtues subordinate to courage is thoroughly Stoic, and all four will be adopted by Philip [the Chancellor], Albert [the Great], and Aquinas."  Houser, 28.
**The Stoic conception of the passions and desires as being slave to reason is, of course, totally the opposite of Hume's famous formulation that reason is the slave to the passions.

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