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By Lawrence C. Becker, Charlotte B. Becker

This newly revised and up-to-date variation of A background of Western Ethics is a coherent and available review of an important figures and influential rules of the background of ethics within the Western philosophical culture.

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Zeno, however, was as concerned as Epicurus had been to investigate the position of human beings within the world at large, though he arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions. According to orthodox Stoicism, the physical world is a unitary living being, animated and organised throughout by a power that they termed god, or reason (logos), or divine “breath” (pneuma). The physical world is not an accident, but a necessary consequence of a superhuman intelligence that has designed it to be the best possible structure for its human inhabitants.

The term, like its English derivative “office,” signifies a person’s functions or roles, and the conduct appropriate to the execution of these. Romans who encountered Stoicism could readily adapt the Stoic concept of “proper functions” to their traditional view of propriety in the fulfilment of offices they had undertaken. In his De officiis (On Duties), which has already been mentioned, Cicero seeks to do three things: first, he expounds a series of appropriate actions, grounding these in the four cardinal virtues—wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice—which are represented as the perfections of human nature.

There he expounds and criticizes the ethics of the Hellenistic schools, thus translating these doctrines into Latin and providing precious information on what would otherwise be lost. Here too Cicero’s Roman identity shows through, but this work is less distinctive of Roman ethics than two earlier essays he wrote, De republica (The Republic) and De legibus (On Laws). In both of these books, whose titles are modeled on Plato (c. ), Cicero produces his own blend of Greek ethics and Roman values. The Roman flavor emerges most clearly in Cicero’s focus on political well-being and improvement.

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