Honesta enim bonis viris, non occulta quaeruntur.

JaimeB

Civis Illustris
Honesta enim bonis viris, non occulta quaeruntur.

Good men seek not secrecy, but what is right.

—Cicero, De Officiis, iii, 8.9

Cicero teaches a lesson about ethical action here by recounting Plato's retelling of the myth of Gyges in The Republic: how Gyges used a ring that granted him invisibility to hide his evil deeds of seduction, murder, and the usurpation of the throne of Lydia. Glaucon argues in The Republic that men only do right to be seen as good, that morality is merely a social construct, and that any man would do evil if he could be certain that it could be done in perfect secrecy. Eventually, Socrates counters that a man who is not a slave to his passions and chooses to do the right even in secret remains in control of himself, and is therefore happy. The related Roman concept of virtus, that ethical choices are a matter of strength of will against the passions, is what probably lies behind Cicero's use of this example.

In our own culture today, many powerful and respected men secretly yield to their passions for power, wealth, and success by evil deeds they believe will remain in secret. The trouble with that is that secrets will out, and their true natures will eventually be revealed.

Do we do right only to seem just, or do we do it out of a true commitment to justice, even when justice may be opposed to our own interests?
 
Do we do right only to seem just, or do we do it out of a true commitment to justice, even when justice may be opposed to our own interests?[/COLOR][/FONT]
Even if we do something in the name of 'justice' we are still in a way, doing it for ourselves as the very idea of justice is to protect what we deem as right against what we deem as wrong, thus conforming to this concept may make you feel like you're doing the *right* thing but is it really a true commitment to anything other than a group preservation dynamic?

For instance, Brutus helped assassinate Caesar for the good of Rome and the republic. But was that justice or did Brutus give in to passion?

I don't know myself but I do feel certain that good or bad only exist in our mind and if that is indeed the case, then what are we to make of a concept like justice?
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
I think that everyone actually does everything they do for selfish motives, even if it doesn't seem so at first. When you don't expect a material return for your good action, you expect gratitude; when you expect neither of those, you at least expect to feel good with your conscience, so it's still a kind of personal interest. Even people who devote their lives to helping others, like, say, Mother Teresa, hope to feel good with their conscience, and if they're believers, they hope to gain heaven. Same for someone who sacrifices their life to save others, and they perhaps also hope to be considered heroes, even if only once dead... And even when you help someone (or an animal) because you feel sincerely sorry for their suffering, it's because you somehow put yourself in their place. So it's always the self.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
This reminds me of a story I've read (attributed here to St. Teresa of Avila, but it may be even older than that):

Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish mystic, saw an angel rushing towards her, carrying a torch and a bucket of water. “Where are you going with that torch and bucket?” she asked. "What will you do with them?”
“With the water,” the angel answered, “I will put out the fires of hell, and with the torch I will burn down the mansions of heaven; then we will see who really loves God.”
 

JaimeB

Civis Illustris
Even if we do something in the name of 'justice' we are still in a way, doing it for ourselves as the very idea of justice is to protect what we deem as right against what we deem as wrong, thus conforming to this concept may make you feel like you're doing the *right* thing but is it really a true commitment to anything other than a group preservation dynamic?

For instance, Brutus helped assassinate Caesar for the good of Rome and the republic. But was that justice or did Brutus give in to passion?

I don't know myself but I do feel certain that good or bad only exist in our mind and if that is indeed the case, then what are we to make of a concept like justice?
I believe that Socrates, at least, thought that those who used others to gain their self-interest were yielding to passions rather than pursuing virtue, which seems rather to demand justice for all. So he says to his accusers in Plato's Apology:

"For if you think that by killing men you can avoid the accuser censuring your lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves."

The appeal to self-examination as an alternative to "crushing others" implies a solution to the power relations which destroy equal justice. If the powerful would examine their consciences honestly and act out of virtue instead of only out of self-interest, much social evil would be avoided. In any case, Socrates's famous saying ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ ("an unexamined life is not a way of living for a human being") strongly suggests that he believes that even the powerful, if they reflected virtuously on their actions, would see that ethical behavior begins with a change of attitude within the self. Consequently, that change must take into account the interests not only of the self, but of others.

Much later, Kant talks of the Categorical Imperative in terms of viewing people as ends in themselves, rather than as mere means for the benefit of another. I think Socrates might recognize adopting this point of view as "improving ourselves."
 

Christian Alexander

Active Member
Cool to see this post, I just read through the De Officiis again recently.

Of course "good and bad" only exist in the mind.. Or more correctly, conceptions of "right and wrong" are components of any given particular cultural worldview, not really innate. But oftentimes, especially in cases of laws I'd think, the idea of what bears the "better and worse" can be imposed upon the aesthetics of right/wrong -- for example, its better that people aren't indiscriminately killing each other in a community. Punishment, (which as Cicero himself says in his de officiis, isn't productive as an outlet for anger, but as a preventative measure both to the inflicted and to others as an example), enforces this, which hopes to prevent it. So, if wild killing of other members of the community makes the strength and well-being of the community worse, the prevention by law makes the law the course for the "better" (which is, the good health of the community) -- and so the law protects the better interests, and is deemed what is "right".
(Justice, on the level of "law", should be the maintaining of peace and prosperity within human society. "Justice", when used as a term on the level of human interaction, is what is deemed "appropriate/fair" according to variable circumstances.)

In order to say that it is 'wrong' (philosophically at least, so here we're not counting the powers of 'tradition', which oftentimes neither need nor ask for logical explanation) we have to bring in an anchor to tie the argument down..... Cicero would say something like, "unprovoked murder strains and even wholly severs the sacred bond of human society. Thus acting against Humanity, it must be a wrong", etc...

[Note though, he never really says killing itself is wrong, either. He says more than once in the de officiis, things to be condemned like "harm another man unprovoked", "cowardly murder", and so on. SURELY such an idea, one that allows killing or harm into its form of justice, would seem obscene to us nowadays! — Or at least it does in the contorted form of humanism which has been imposed upon us.... So, what is right? Whatever you were either raised to say is right in your specific cultural context, or perhaps what you taught yourself as you grew older (which inevitably would yet be influenced by the worldview you were exposed to). Either way, I think you'd be hard pressed to prove that so many of the things we call "right/wrong" are by nature hardwired into us. The paths which prove better or worse, certainly. The titles of 'right/wrong' can be imposed upon them; but the fact that, at the end of the day, people can't really fight against their given worldview without something else to use in change or replacement or comparison, shows that it is more a tool, than an emotion, so to speak, itself.]

Nevertheless, it is hard to shake off the feeling when we're discussing the concept of "correct/wrong" proper, that it is more a matter of traditional value, which isn't meant to be questioned or apologized for with logical defense. The logical apologies are more often reserved on the personal level (i.e., that the individual proposes its own logic if need be, praxis being emphasized on the whole, and belief or explanation being, as I said, on the personal level.) On this level, "correct/wrong" could technically have nothing to do with 'morality' as we see it. A look at Epicurus shows these types of idea well; his school taught that the Gods were immortal, blissful beings which had little to no interest or investment in humankind or the world; but why should Men still acknowledge their religion and rites then, if their efforts to the Gods (and, one may say, in any ancestral worship as well since Epicurus believed the self wholly perished at death) were vain and worthless? And what type of 'do ut des' relationship can exist in this? And yet the Epicurean school upheld that tradition should be followed, as if it were not so.. because it was the correct thing to do. Whether Epicurus was a sort of hard atheist and was merely covering his tracks or not is irrelevant to the example; the point is the sentiment and the way he expressed it to those around him. Much of Indo-European branch paganisms were what we'd now call orthopraxic overall, as opposed to orthodoxic; hence the freedom with which people in the ancient world were allowed to think of the gods and whatever, as long as the practice of the religion itself was upheld.
So, again, what is "right"?...
 
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