Civic Personae: Macintyre, Cicero and moral personality

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Alisdair ManIntyre's well-known criticism of modern moral philosophy contrasts what he sees as the moral vacuity of modern culture with a ‘classical tradition' in ethical thought depicted as restoring cohesion and coherence to social striving and ethical life. MacIntyre's stress on the culturally specific circumstances within which ethical imperatives derive their force provides a corrective to unworldly tendancies within post-Kantian moral philosophy, yet his ‘classical’ ethical landscape possesses an equally striking kind of unworldliness. His image of a life lived as an unbroken moral narrative is dependent on a picture of classical social existence viewed as an integrated whole, as opposed to the ethical ‘segmentation’ of modern social life. Here I question this image of a moral life without boundaries by reference to perhaps the most influential of all classical ethical texts, Cicero's De Officiis. I argue that Cicero's discussion of the virtues is marked by a strong sense of the demarcation of ethical spheres and statuses, and that what MacIntyre takes as the appropriate end-product of ethical ascesis is instead a highly exceptional heroic limit-case.

Keywords: Cicero; Ethics; MacIntyre; citizenship; personality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Western Sydney, Nepean, PO Box 10, Kingswood, NSW 2747, Australia.

Publication date: January 1, 1998

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