Classics for All Reviews

By Richard Sorabji

OUP (2014) h/b 265pp £22.50 (ISBN 9780199685547)

S. provides a wide-ranging survey of moral conscience throughout the whole Western tradition right up to the present day, beginning with the Greeks. He explains that the word conscience itself comes from a Latin translation of the Greek term suneidenai, which was used originally to mean sharing knowledge with oneself. To understand this metaphor you need to imagine that you are two people, the one with a secret and the one who shares that secret. This first gets a foothold in classical Athenian drama with the case of Orestes, and was developed by the Romans who placed more emphasis on knowing one’s merits rather than one’s defects. Thus the focus on split personality associated with modern Freudianism is there at the very birth of the concept.

S. goes on to describe in learned detail the process whereby this originally…

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