A Partial Cure for the Political Epicurean: Plutarch’s Advice to the Statesman’s Friend

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
Author: Mark Shiffman
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Plutarch’s epistolary essay, That a Philosopher ought to Converse especially swith Men in Power, has been neglected because not recognized for what it is: an attempt to persuade an addressee attached to Epicurean principles that his attraction to political friendship should be honoured rather than eradicated. Rather than attack Epicureanism, Plutarch attempts to expand the horizons of a hedonic and utilitarian ethics so as to include noble benefaction on a political scale. This requires him to undermine the Epicurean insistence on restricting friendship to private like-minded circles, and to expand its hedonism into a political utilitarianism. Unlike Cicero’s De Finibus (a dialogue with a rising statesman), Plutarch’s letter offers an indirect critique, and preserves elements of Epicurean ethics suitable to the moderating influence a friend and advisor can exert on the statesman’s eros.

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