Homer, Arete, and Sociopathy

An interesting suggestion in Alistair MacIntyre’s History of Ethics: Part of the problem for the Greek polis in the Periclean Age was that the culturally central image of human excellence was that of the Homeric hero, whose arete (“virtue”) consisted in being a brave, ruthless and successful fighter and plotter. But that sort of relentlessly self-assertive behavior, in the context of a political way of life, is sociopathy. Place Achilles in Athens, and you have Alkibiades.

If that’s right, it puts a different spin on the famous suggestion in Book II Republic that the city-in-speech being constructed will need to edit its Homer, or at least the version of Homer to be read by the young.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com