Reason as Form, Emotion as Matter. Plutarchus‘ Theory of Moral Virtue in De virtute morali

David Machek

The paper presents a critical analysis of Plutarch’s moral theory in his treatise De Virtute Morali in its historical context. The analysis is framed and motivated by a particular philosophical question of a more general relevance: what challenges must be faced by a theory construed in order to prove a substantial difference between reason and the emotions as two sources of human motivation? Plutarch’s anti-Stoic polemic in De virtute morali is an example of such a theory. Part I offers a reconstruction of Plutarch’s theory, with a special emphasis on how it develops and eventually diverges from the Aristotelian framework. Part II argues that, paradoxically, Plutarch’s theory comes rather close to the Stoic teachings it seeks to refute. This is partly due to its failure to offer a viable alternative to Aristotle’s model of the relation between the rational and the irrational, and partly due to its implicit adopting of several Stoic assumptions about human action. In conclusion, the author outlines on the basis of several hints undeveloped in the text a more promising strategy that was available to Plutarch.