Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Finamore, John F

First Committee Member

Gibson, Craig A

Second Committee Member

Dilley, Paul

Third Committee Member

Storey, Glenn

Fourth Committee Member

Swanson, Carrie


This dissertation concerns two aspects of Plutarch’s ethics that have received relatively little attention: the link between his metaphysics and ethics, and Plutarch’s use of diatribe, a rhetorical style primarily associated with Stoics and Cynics, as a means of targeting a wider audience of educated elite for his philosophy. I argue that Plutarch’s De virtute morali links his ethics with his understanding of Platonic metaphysics. De virtute morali also serves as model for Plutarch’s ethical treatises on specific topics. I analyze the following works: De curiositate, De garrulitate, De vitando aere alieno, De vitioso pudore, and De superstitione. In these, Plutarch identifies a vicious behavior (κρίσις) and suggests methods of self-training to eliminate the vicious behavior (ἄσκησις). Self-training always involves the subordination of emotions to reason (μετριοπάθεια), rather than the elimination of emotions (άπάθεια) advocated by the Stoics. Plutarch uses diatribe, in which the author adopts a conversational tone and addresses the reader in second person, both in κρίσις and ἄσκησις, as well as in his arguments against Stoic άπάθεια. Since Stoicism was the most popular philosophical adherence among educated elites during the time when Plutarch began to write, I argue that Plutarch adopts rhetoric associated with the Stoics as a means of promoting Platonism, and himself as its interpreter, in a culture where intellectuals required the patronage of the educated elite for their personal livelihood and the livelihood of their schools.

Public Abstract

This dissertation examines five practical ethical works by Plutarch of Chaeronea (c. 50 CE–c.120 CE): On Talkativeness, On Curiosity, On Avoiding Borrowing Money, On Excessive Modesty, and On Superstition. In each work Plutarch explains the problems associated with the vice in the title and proposes a self-training regimen for overcoming the vicious behavior. Plutarch’s diagnoses of and cures for these vicious behaviors are based on his belief (following Plato and Aristotle) that the human soul has a rational part and irrational part that work in opposition to each other. Vicious behavior arises when the rational part loses control of the irrational. Plutarch’s regimens are designed to put the rational part of the soul back in control to restore virtue. I argue that Plutarch gives an abstract account of the process of putting reason in control of the soul in his treatise On Moral Virtue, and that the five practical ethical works show that abstract process in specific cases. I argue that On Moral Virtue links Plutarch’s practical and theoretical philosophy: the ordering of one’s soul under the control of reason mirrors the creator god’s ordering of the cosmos. I also argue that On Moral Virtue and the five practical ethical works are linked by Plutarch’s use of the diatribe, a rhetorical style associated with the Cynic and Stoic philosophical schools. Plutarch’s innovation is to appropriate this style from rival philosophical schools and use it to argue for Platonic ethics. I argue he does this to promote Platonism to a wider audience.


publicabstract, Diatribe, Ethics, Platonism, Plutarch, Stoicism


vii, 119 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 112-119).


Copyright 2015 Aaron Burns

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