On Musonius Rufus and law suits.


In Musonius’ Lecture X, he makes the claim that a good philosopher ought never to levy a civil suit against another for personal injury.  This is because all of the things which the civil authority might bring to a plaintiff are indifferents; and no accused person has it in their power to take anything good from nor foist anything evil on a philosopher.

This level of commitment to intellectual integrity is not often seen.  While the questions of society, the state, and communities are very close to Stoicism, this is a particular poignant recommendation.  But did Musonius live up to his own advice?

In the year 70 CE, Musonius went to court and assisted in the conviction of Publius Egnatius Celer, a fellow Stoic.  Celer has betrayed Barea Soranus to his death during the reign of Nero; one of the three so-called Stoic Martyrs.  court

Is this a problem for the unity of Musonius’ teachings?

No.  Musonius’ suggestions that a philosopher avoid suits of personal injury is well-grounded in Stoicism, but so too is his participation in the Celer’s trial.  Musonius was seeking justice to a man betrayed.  Justice, being one of the four constituent parts of Virtue; his endeavor was thus in accord with his own teaching.

It seems that we can infer a difference in his thinking between the personal injury claims of civil or equity law; and the laws of the state (malum in se, if not malum prohibitum) and criminal law.

Granted, this is an interpretation between what we have of his teaching and the way he lived his life.  We have it from our sources that The Roman Socrates was especially known for practicing what he preached.  It is reasonable, then, I think, to infer this dichotomy between the civil and criminal law.

What are your thoughts?
– Is Musonius suggestions that philosophers expressly avoid personal injury suits relevant to our modern times; or is this a core aspect of how our society now dispenses justice?
– Do you think this dichotomy between civil and criminal law is well grounded, or is it splitting fine hairs?

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