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Changing our minds: Democritus on what is up to us

  • Author(s): Johnson, Monte Ransome
  • et al.
Abstract

In this essay, I develop a positive interpretation of Democritus’ theory of agency and responsibility, building on previous studies that have already gone far in demonstrating his innovativeness and importance to the history and philosophy of these concepts. The interpretation will be defended by a synthesis of several familiar ethical fragments and maxims presented in the framework of an ancient problem that, unlike the problem of free will and determinism, Democritus almost certainly did confront: the problem of the causes of human goodness and success.I will argue that Democritus’ account of the virtues and success is naturally interpreted as an intellectualist one. His focus on our intellectual powers as the source of our own agency and cause of our success led him to remarkable breakthroughs in moral psychology, including the development of a kind of cognitive-behavioral therapy for stress and anxiety, and the proposal of an autonomous source of moral sanction.

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