Volume 10, 2007
Ancient and Modern Philosophy
Ethics in Late Antiquity
Away from Worldly Solicitations, towards Social Concern
Taking off from the observation that scholars have for too long maintained that late ancient philosophy has no ethical theory, the purpose of this paper is to
show that there is. indeed an ethics in late antiquity, and even that it is rich and consistent. I make a distinction between an ethical theory (about e.g. happiness and virtue) and its practical foundation in the philosophical curriculum of Neoplatonic schools. I focus on the curriculum, showing that the pedagogical focus of late ancient ethics is twofold: it aims to make people turn away from worldly ties, but nevertheless always retains social concern as a main preoccupation. To this end two different kinds of ethical tasks can be distinguished: (a) the purification of the soul who is starting her philosophical journey and (b) the generous testimony of the soul who has already experienced purification. The Platonic call for divinization of the soul [Theaetetus 176b) turns out to bear interesting parallels with late ancient ethics and, what is more, to provide its general framework.