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In: The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology
Author: Jack Visnjic

Abstract

This chapter continues the quest for the Stoic method of calculating one’s kathêkon by collating what Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius say on the topic. What emerges is a remarkably rigorous, yet flexible, system that assigns to each individual in any given situation a custom-tailored duty based on that person’s natural, acquired, and chosen roles in life. While some scholars see “role ethics” as a late innovation of Epictetus (1st century AD), there is compelling evidence that roles are already crucial in the system of Panaetius (2nd century BC), if not earlier.

In: The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology
Author: Jack Visnjic

Abstract

This chapter tackles a major puzzle in Stoic ethics, namely how one is supposed to figure out one’s kathêkon/officium given that there are no fixed rules of conduct to rely on. If we look to the ancient sources for mention of a method or procedure for determining one’s duty, the word that stands out most is formula. Both Cicero and Seneca speak of a formula for finding one’s officium, though their respective formulations seem quite different from one another. This chapter offers a new interpretation of the passages in question, which reveals that the formulae of the two authors are actually composed of the same core doctrines.

In: The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology
In: The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology
Author: Jack Visnjic

Abstract

This chapter addresses the debate in the scholarship about whether kathêkonta are akin to rules of conduct or not. While the standard assumption for centuries has been that kathêkonta function like rules, recent scholarship has offered a “no-rules” interpretation of Stoic ethics. This chapter offers a new argument for why the Stoic system actually precludes the possibility of there being any fixed rules of conduct whatsoever. It also attempts to reconstruct the original classification scheme that the Stoics developed for classifying different types of duties.

In: The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology
Author: Jack Visnjic

Abstract

This chapter makes the case that Kant was more influenced by Stoic philosophy than has been widely recognized. For one, various pieces of evidence indicate that he encountered Stoic ideas, both directly and indirectly, at several stages of his career. Furthermore, it was Kant’s exposure to a new German translation of Cicero’s De Officiis (precisely on the topic of kathêkon/officium) in 1783 that provided the impetus for him to write his famous Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Kant was also likely influenced by Epictetus in his conceptions of the will and of practical reason.

In: The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology
Author: Jack Visnjic

Abstract

This chapter seeks to establish the precise meaning of “kathêkon.” A philological investigation makes clear that, before the Stoics adopted it, the word usually denoted something that was required or prescribed by decree, nature, or tradition. Moreover, it was this strongly normative usage of the word that the Stoics availed themselves of when they made it into an ethical term. Thus, the Stoic concept does not mean “appropriate action”—as is commonly believed—but rather “required/prescribed action.” This chapter also offers a new interpretation of the fanciful etymology of the word “kathêkon” offered by Zeno, which has hitherto puzzled scholars and defied explanation.

In: The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology
Author: Jack Visnjic

Abstract

This chapter compares the demands that kathêkon and Kantian duty place on our actions, respectively. With one notable exception, the demands of Kantian duty are generally included in the demands of kathêkon. However, the Stoic normative concept is broader in scope and more demanding. For the Stoics, one is never free from the demands of kathêkon, while for Kant, there are situations where duty is not at stake. Furthermore, the Stoic system is more flexible because, unlike the Kantian one, it does not require that duties be universalizable. In other words, the Stoic formula generates a unique kathêkon for every person at every instance that takes into account their personal nature and the situation they are in.

In: The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology
Author: Jack Visnjic
Did the ancient Greeks and Romans have a concept of moral duty? Jack Visnjic seeks to settle this long-standing controversy in The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology. According to the prevailing view, ancient ethical systems lacked any sense of moral obligation and were built instead around notions of virtue and human flourishing. Visnjic argues that, millennia before Kant, the Stoics already developed a robust notion of moral duty as well as a sophisticated deontological ethics. While most writings of the Stoics perished, their concept of duty lived on and eventually came to influence the modern notion. In fact, there are strong indications that Kant’s formulation of a new duty-based morality was inspired by his encounter with Stoic ideas.