Catharina Vogt on philosophy at Rome


On reading Katharina Vogt, “Philosophy” (Online at Academia.edu), forthcoming in R. Gibson and C. Whitton (eds.), The Cambridge Critical Guide to Latin Studies (Cambridge University Press)...

Vogt’s essay casts an interesting look at philosophy from a Roman point of view. While philosophers have generally regarded Roman thinkers as mediocre epigones best used as sources for missing Greek thought, Vogt quite rightly points out that original philosophical theory was not the Romans’ aim. Instead-- even more so than the Hellenistic schools-- they sought philosophy only as a guide to practical living. Vogt elaborates a lucid and compelling picture of this ‘practical’ strain throughout the history of philosophy in ancient Rome, and her chapter opens a new understanding of the social role of philosophy in Rome.

What disturbs me is the inclusion of this essay in a “critical guide”. Philosophically, Vogt’s chapter is anything but critical. Rather, her aim is to reveal the values of the Romans themselves. One might describe it as a contribution to the sociology of philosophy. But their ‘practical’ bent is precisely a major fault in Roman philosophy. Panaetius had already purged Stoicism of anything that might be uncomfortable for Roman aristocrats like his patron. Musonius Rufus carefully tailored his teaching for paying followers with Roman values. Even Cicero makes it clear that he will not accept views which infringe upon conventional Roman values. The mos maiorum (and later, Christian dogma) always trumped free thinking. 
I certainly recommend her chapter, but I suggest that it be read in conjunction with Lucian’s contributions to the sociology of philosophy, especially On Salaried Posts in Great Houses.

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