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Taking virtue seriously

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  1. The difference between Epicurus and the other Greek ethical theorists.
  2. Pleasures and pains do not always guide one's actions.
  3. How is it possible to reconcile the tenet with the claim that Epicurean theory takes virtue seriously?
  4. Is living virtuously sufficient or necessary for living pleasantly?
  5. Epicurean ethical theory does it face up to the Ciceronian charge?

In the present paper I will examine Cicero's charge in De Finibus that Epicurean theory does not, as it were, take virtue seriously. I will then lay out two Epicurean responses to Cicero's objection. I will show that the first response ? that Epicurean theory may both take virtue seriously and maintain its hedonistic core ? fails as both a descriptive claim and as a normative claim. I will then explain how the second response ? that virtue is a necessary and sufficient condition for living pleasantly ? undermines the main thesis of Epicurean theory. I will end with two thought experiments that aim to show that, furthermore, the assertion of the second response is false.

[...] If Cicero's examples are sound, then it follows from either of these formulations that pleasure and pain cannot be the sole guide to our pursuits or avoidances. The implication is that there must then exist something distinct from pleasure and pain that is able to and does guide our actions, namely virtue. Thus more important than the empirical point that pleasures and pains do not always guide one's actions is Cicero's normative complaint that Epicureanism does not take virtue seriously. That this complaint is implicit in Cicero's examples becomes clear with Torquatus's response to Cicero's objections. [...]


[...] Cicero and Torquatus's distinguished forebears] performed those undoubtedly illustrious deeds for a reason, their reason was not virtue for its own sake. dragged the chain from the enemy's neck.? Indeed, and so to protect himself from death. he incurred great danger.? Indeed, but in full view of his army. ?What did he gain from Glory and esteem, which are the firmest safeguards of a secure life. sentenced his son to death.? If he did so without a reason, I would not wish to be descended from someone so harsh and cruel; but if he was bringing pain upon himself as a consequence of the need to preserve the authority of military command, and to maintain army discipline at a critical time of war by spreading fear of punishment, then he was providing for the security of his fellow citizens, and thereby as he was well aware for his own. [...]


[...] I do not address these because temperance and justice involve restraint, whereas courage and wisdom involve positive action. Thus the Epicurean may claim that Marcus must act with courage and gain wisdom in order to live pleasantly. However, this does not rebuff the fact that it seems as though Marcus need not act with temperance and justice in order to live pleasantly. Outside of this response, I see just two ways that the Epicurean might counter the argument, neither of them satisfactory. [...]

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