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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.


Accommodation and its Social Face


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.


Reasons and Caution in Moral Deliberation

Many think moral decisions should err on the safe side: that caution provides a moral reason for choice. Under what reading(s) of ‘caution’ is that convincing? If ‘caution’ stands for describing and valuing the consequences of actions in the morally right way, then it provides a moral reason for choice, but trivially so.  What about a more distinct version of ‘caution’– to do with decision making under uncertainty? The prime candidate is risk aversion. I argue, however, that risk aversion in the various ways it is ordinarily understood is not a convincing moral reason for choice. This has important implications for personal deliberations and public debate. I develop an alternative way to understand ‘caution’ under uncertainty as a moral reason for choice. It depends on there being an aspirational benchmark or reference point which rightly transforms the relative expected gains and losses of our actions.


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