Sunday, February 11, 2018

L. Junius Brutus and His Sons

Niccolò Machiavelli, Political Discourses upon the First Decad of Livy, Book III, Chapter III:

The rigour with which Brutus proceeded in maintaining the Liberties of Rome after he had recovered them, was absolutely requisite; though it was a very rare, if not an unparelleled action for a Father to sit in judgment upon his own Sons, and not only condemn them to death, but be present at their execution. Those however that are conservant in ancient History, well know that in any change of Government, either from Liberty to Slavery, or from Slavery to Liberty, it is necessary that some of those that are enemies to the ruling establishment should be punished in an examplary manner: for whoever converts a free State into a Tyranny, and does not cut off such men as Brutus; or a tyrannical Government into a Free State, and does not rid himself of such men as as his Sons, will not be able to support himself long.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Letter to Franquières:

This word virtue signifies strength. There is no virtue without struggle; there is none without victory. Virtue does not consist only in being just, but in being so by triumphing over one's passions, by ruling over one's own heart.... Brutus having his children die could be only just. But Brutus was a tender father; in order to do his duty he tore out his insides, and Brutus was victorious.

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments IV.I.22:

When the first Brutus led forth his own sons to a capital punishment, because they had conspired against the rising liberty of Rome, he sacrificed what, if he had consulted his own breast only, would appear to be the stronger to the weaker affection. Brutus ought naturally to have felt much more for the death of his own sons, than for all that probably Rome could have suffered from the want of so great an example. But he viewed them, not with the eyes of a father, but with those of a Roman citizen. He entered so thoroughly into the sentiments of this last character, that he paid no regard to that tie, by which he himself was connected with them; and to a Roman citizen, the sons even of Brutus seemed contemptible, when put into the balance with the smallest interest of Rome. In these and in all other cases of this kind, our admiration is not so much founded upon the utility, as upon the unexpected, and on that account the great, the noble, and exalted propriety of such actions.

John Stuart Mill, Essay on Bentham:

Every human action has three aspects: its moral aspect, or that of its right and wrong; its æsthetic aspect, or that of its beauty; its sympathetic aspect, or that of its loveableness. The first addresses itself to our reason and conscience; the second to our imagination; the third to our human fellow-feeling. According to the first, we approve or disapprove; according to the second, we admire or despise; according to the third, we love, pity, or dislike. The morality of an action depends on its foreseeable consequences; its beauty, and its loveableness, or the reverse, depend on the qualities which it is evidence of.... The action of Brutus in sentencing his sons was right, because it was executing a law essential to the freedom of his country, against persons of whose guilt there was no doubt: it was admirable, because it evinced a rare degree of patriotism, courage, and self-control; but there was nothing loveable in it; it affords either no presumption in regard to loveable qualities, or a presumption of their deficiency. If one of the sons had engaged in the conspiracy from affection for the other, his action would have been loveable, though neither moral nor admirable.

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