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Stoicism and Eupatheia in Women's Writings of Early Modern England

This paper examines women’s engagement with Stoic ideas in early modern England (c. 1600–1700)It builds on recent literature in the field by demonstrating that there is a more positive gender-inclusive narrative to be told about Stoic philosophy in this time—one that neither excludes nor denigrates women’s specific concerns, but rather incorporates and responds to women’s lived experiences. To support this claim, the paper takes an interdisciplinary approach and examines several different genres of women’s writing in the period, including letters, poems, plays, educational texts, and moral essays. In these writings, it is argued, a distinctive conception of Stoic therapy emerges. Women embrace well-known aspects of the Stoic philosophy—such as living in agreement with nature, the importance of self-government, and the ideal of freedom from the passions—but they also allow room for the cultivation of eupatheiai or life-affirmative feelings, such as feelings of respect, affection, and good will toward other people.



Kant and Stoic Cosmopolitanism

In Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone, Kant posits a human duty to establish the “ethical commonwealth”, a social order to promote “the good in the human being” in the face of the moral corruption endemic in our communities.  The practical problem that the ethical commonwealth is meant to address has roots in Stoic accounts of human corruption; in light of this background, I explain how the ethical commonwealth is itself a reworking of the demanding cosmopolitan ideals of Stoic ethics.  For Kant, the duty at issue is not one that individuals have to other individuals, but rather one that the species, ostensibly as a corporate agent, has to itself.  Reasonably enough, Kant suggests that we can only work towards approximations of this arresting idea, and proposes a reformed “church” the best approximation, whereas some recent commentators propose secular models of friendship.  Although the friendship-based approximation has roots in the Roman Stoic Seneca (whom Kant read closely), and despite its independent philosophical appeal, I argue that this proposal misses the mark, and explore the possibility that Kant’s conception of the ethical commonwealth lies barely within the limits of intelligibility.


What’s Distinct and Right about Precautionary Moral Reasoning

When it comes to decisions of moral import, it is widely thought that a precautionary approach is warranted. In the practical policy setting, this may simply mean due diligence in representing and evaluating possible decision outcomes (accounting for more than just financial gains and losses, to begin with). This focus on outcome evaluation can be pursued at a more theoretical level too—we can distinguish more and less precautionary moral traditions in terms of how bad they deem the worst social outcomes, along some relevant dimension, compared to the more middling ones. I have considerable sympathy with this way of arguing for something distinct and right about precautionary moral reasoning. And I show that it can explain a range of intuitions. But it has nothing to do with uncertainty. Is there something further – even once moral value is settled – that is distinct and right about precautionary moral reasoning that has to do with uncertainty? Many appeal to (some ordinary kind of) risk-aversion. The problem, however, is that risk aversion is typically seen as permitted rather than required. And I contend that extant moral arguments for risk aversion are not compelling. I argue that only a more specific and radical form of risk aversion admits of a moral defence: risk aversion that is linked to a form of conservatism, or more generally the privileging of a salient reference point in decision-making.


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