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Title: The Origins of Licence: Excessive Freedom in Ancient Political Philosophy
Authors: de Nicolay, René
Advisors: LaneEl Murr, MelissaDimitri
Contributors: Classics Department
Keywords: Aristote
Subjects: Philosophy
Classical literature
Political science
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: The present dissertation studies the criticisms levelled by Plato, Aristotle and Cicero against the relationship to political freedom that, in their views, characterizes the democratic societies of their times. The three philosophers have in common an ethical conception of politics, in which the city's primary purpose is to inculcate virtue in the citizens. Their historical situations are also similar, as all three of them lived at times when democratic movements made their demands loudly heard. For Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, such political movements make it impossible for the city to accomplish its task, insofar as they advocate the maximal extension of popular and individual freedom.The dissertation aims first at recovering the arguments put forward by Plato, Aristotle and Cicero against the democrats' wrong-headed desire for freedom. This requires examining the conceptions of freedom that these philosophers themselves endorse. The thesis therefore aims at understanding the criteria by which Plato, Aristotle and Cicero distinguished between just and unjust forms of political freedom. These criteria are all part of the ethical conception of freedom that unites these three philosophers, but they vary between them. For Plato in the Republic, for example, democratic freedom is excessive insofar as it gives free rein to "non- necessary" desires, incapable of satisfying human beings as virtue would. For the same Plato, in the Laws, political freedom is excessive when it is based on an unreasonable claim to self-rule, which makes democratic citizens reluctant to submit to any form of authority. For Aristotle, democrats are wrong to believe that power should be distributed on any other basis than political virtue; in particular, that the possession of a free legal status (as opposed to a slavery) gives one a title to rule. For Cicero, finally, political liberty has an important place in the mixed regime he defends, insofar as the power of the people and the rights of individuals are a guarantee of good government; it becomes excessive when the political elite decides to grant the people more liberty than the mixed regime requires, thus pushing the citizens to demand ever more independence from magistrates and laws. Next to this work of analytical clarification, the dissertation's second task is to recover the diagnosis Plato, Aristotle and Cicero made of the misguided love of freedom that, in their eyes, characterizes democratic claims. If the democrats' mistakes are to be dispelled, their genesis 3 must first be uncovered. This requires grasping the way in which the political conditions of the democratic regime influence the soul of the citizens, giving rise to an irrational attachment to freedom. In the Gorgias, Plato attacks the democratic regime and Athenian imperialism, which flatter the people and renounce to educate them. In the Republic, Plato shows how democracy, while initially offering freedom to its citizens as a means to satisfy their desires, ends up making them consider freedom as an overriding end in itself. The Laws blames a musical revolution for filling the citizens' souls with arrogance, to the point of believing that they can govern themselves in everything. Aristotle sees in the pride of the democratic citizens for their free status the cause of their fetishism of political freedom. Cicero, finally, holds the elite responsible for the permissiveness he captures using the term licentia: the people make excessive demands for freedom only because the elite has set a deleterious example by taking or granting unwarranted permissions. Ultimately, the dissertation wishes to offer a genealogy of our concept of licence, ending by showing how Cicero captured, with the term licentia, Platonic and Aristotelian reflections on democracy's tendency to cherish freedom excessively. Even if we disagree with these philosophers' opposition to democracy, we should understand it to gain analytical insight into a crucial political concept.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Classics

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