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This article examines Cicero’s teaching on natural right in books 1-3 of De republica. He presents four distinct positions there. First and second, there are the stark view insincerely advanced by Philus against natural law and the equally stark view of Laelius in favor of it. In books 1 and 3 Scipio takes a third, more subtle position: He agrees with Laelius that natural law exists; but, unlike Laelius, he does not rely on a god as the foundation of natural law, and he suggests that the greatest use of virtue is suprapolitical knowledge of what is eternal. Scipio leads us to reflect whether natural law requires a theological foundation. In the prefaces to books 1 and 3, Cicero takes a fourth approach: His claim that the greatest use of virtue is governance seems to be
incompatible with Scipio’s account of natural law; he may come close to openly rejecting natural law in its entirety; he appears to agree with Philus’s claim that wisdom points toward increasing resources, a claim that supports the acquisition of empire. Thus Cicero causes us to ask this question: if the greatest use of virtue is governance, does the governance occur for the benefit of the governors or the governed? Cicero the skeptic intends to leave us asking questions rather than satisfied with definite answers.
Montesquieu wrote his “Discourse on Cicero,” as he says, “in my youth.”1 His biographer put the date of composition around 1717, when Montesquieu was twenty-eight and began writing the Persian Letters. 2 The brief work has never been well known, as it was not even published until 1892.3 One might be tempted to think that this obscurity is deserved: Montesquieu’s own footnote, attached to the manuscript years later, indicates his dissatisfaction with the work. In fact, however, the essay has important implications for thinking about both Cicero and Montesquieu. I shall begin
with the latter.
Although Dewey rejects the traditional ancient and modern ways of attempting to find a standard of rightness in nature, he is not the sort of anti-traditional philosopher one would suppose he is from reading Rorty's account of him. This article first explains how Dewey's defense of democratic government rests on the core of his metaphysics. Then it contrasts Dewey's and Rorty's political teachings; Dewey finds infeasible the kind of fragmentation of private and public conduct that Rorty sanctions. Finally, it returns to Dewey's fundamental article of faith, that the experimental method is the method of successful inquiry, to suggest further exploration of the relation between philosophy and faith, on the grounds that he fails to explore it adequately.
For Dewey education is the growth of mental powers, where “growth” has no fixed content but involves the increasing harmonization of individuals with society. That harmonization must respect the uniqueness of each person and his capacity for intelligence. Education aims to develop a model democratic society, which Dewey sees as similar to an ideal community of scientific inquirers. That comparison is highly questionable, however. Dewey's curricular emphases include science, geography, history, literature, and fine arts, the last two of which promote a greater appreciation for all of human life—provided society is not too separated into classes. Related to social division is what he considers the false problems of epistemology, with its separation between mind and world. But Dewey's failure to think more rigorously about the relation of philosophy to science makes his philosophy a poor bulwark against postmodernism.
In my recent book, John Dewey: America's Philosopher of Democracy, I argue that John Dewey fails to give sufficient consideration to the problem of tyranny of the majority and even that his political thought contributes to that problem.’ By tyranny of the majority I mean the undue control by the majority of people in a society over the thoughts and actions of dissenters, whether exercised by legal or informal means. Here I follow Alexis de Tocqueville, who famously gave us the phrase along with an analysis that was in places general and in other places specific to the United States of America.