This volume is a collection of essays by various contributors in honor of the late Laurence Berns, Richard Hammond Elliot Tutor Emeritus at St. John's College, Annapolis. The essays address the literary, political, theological, and philosophical themes of his life's work as a scholar, teacher, and constant companion of the "great books.".
Bernard Williams turns not to philosophy, but to poetry--to archaic and fifth century Greece--as the source of the Greeks' ethical world. His declared aim is to understand the poets as poets, not as philosophers. At first blush this seems problematic. Can we take seriously the notion of a responsible moral agent in a world where the forces of supernatural necessity, fate, and luck make mortals seem like divine playthings? It is in this context, however, that Williams investigates the role of (...) tragedy and its place in Greek society, thus paying homage to his teacher at Oxford, Eric Dodds, author of The Greeks and the Irrational. Williams discusses specific agents in specific circumstances--Ajax bent on self-destruction, Oedipus ignorant of the pollution of his actions, Agamemnon in a fit of madness about to murder his daughter, Achilles fully aware of his chosen fate, and others--in order to display people who make decisions and act on them. He attempts to show that the foundations of our ethical views, rooted in conceptions of agency, responsibility, shame, and necessity, are already present in Homer, thus silencing the claim of certain modern moralists that the Homeric characters are childish and incapable of true morality. (shrink)
This remarkable study on courage breaks new ground in Platonic scholarship, looking to Plato, not the poets, for an inquiry into what counts as true heroism. Hitherto, among Plato scholars scant attention has been paid to courage on its own, apart from its connection to the other virtues. Hobbs, by contrast, makes courage her central theme, thereby elevating courage to a new order of prominence in the Platonic calculus of virtues.