On Audacity

I’m prepping to teach Cicero’s Cataline orations, which are a set of four speeches he delivered in condemnation Cataline, a man who plotted to overthrow the Roman republic. One of the most striking notes in Cicero’s speeches is that he continually accuses Cataline of audacia. Cicero clearly considers the charge of audacia as being a condemnation or an evil in itself, but the usage of the term even in Cicero’s own Latin is slightly more ambigious.

After mulling over a few translations, it became clear that audacia falls perfectly into English as “audacity”. The translation is not a problem, it’s the thing that audacia names that is ambiguous. When we say “I can’t believe he had the audacity to say___” it’s understood that something offensive goes in the blank; but the same negative connotation isn’t present when one speaks of “the audacity of hope”.

Audacity is boldness or daring that does not regard a principle or limitation. On the one hand, this includes those times when we just “go for it”, or just charge forward and hope for the best. There is something attractive to those who can do this. Life is essentially self-motion defined against the limitation of nature, and so all audacity is charismatic, even superhuman. But there is the danger: the charisma generates admirers who affirm the audacity, but to keep being loved for audacity requires one to disregard more and more limits. This seems to be exactly what corrupted Cataline.  When we define ourselves by audacity we can’t exist without continually doing more and more things that others would not do, and this sort of escalation simply can’t avoid the offending a principle that makes us simply vicious.

Audacity crosses over and corrupts many different groups. Leaders of criminal gangs require an audacity beyond the criminals they lead. Art – at least much of the art of the last 100 years – is continually fascinated with “breaking the rules”. Consumer culture uses a continuous rhetoric of audacity: “bold” and “revolutionary” are continually presented as essentially good – viz. we’re all supposed to rush out and buy 5 blade razors when we are told they are a “revolution in shaving”.


  1. Peter said,

    July 28, 2010 at 6:08 am

    Hey James, I have a logic question for you. Is ‘universal’ said univocally or “per prius et posterius” of the five predicables?

    Albert says “per prius et posterius” (see his opera omnia, vol. 1, p. 39, where he explicitly takes up this question). I think Boethius agrees with this, and some mention “older philosophers” such as ‘Cantenum’ (whoever that is). Fonseca too, I think, agrees with this.

    On the other hand, the Thomists that I have looked at are either somewhat silent on this question, or they claim that St. Thomas’s opinion is that universale is predicated univocally of all of them. They usually cite a work “De Universalibus”, c. 2. I’m not sure what work they are referring to. I think they mean the Summa Totius Logicae Aristotelis (Trac. 1, c. 2), but I’m not sure, and it doesn’t appear to be an authentic work of St. Thomas anyway.

    The second citation they sometimes give is from Contra Gentiles I 32. St. Thomas says there that “omne quod praedicatur univoce, vel est genus, vel species. . .” About this it is said: “Quibus [verbis] declarat genus, species . . . univoce participare rationem praedicabilis…; proindeque sunt quinque praedicabilia sive universalia univoca.” But is that right? It seems to be a correlative question: can things be said univocally (in this case the predicables) if that which is said of them (in this case ‘universale’) is not?

  2. July 28, 2010 at 6:59 am

    I’d want to take a day or so to mull over this, but my gut reaction is to say that there is a homegeneity among all five of them that gives them a univocal character. My middle term would be that second intentions, as such, are homogeneous in a way similar to how mathematicals are. This is not to say that we can form one common genus for all genera, of course; but I think the difference might be whether we are considering the second intention so far as it is grounded on the first (which it always is), or as prescinding from this connection. One place to start would be an article that F A Cunningham wrote for the Modern Schoolman a few decades ago about Thomist theories of abstraction. I have it around here somewhere. Another point of departure might be the (infamous?) text on the three kinds of analogy in the Sentences, where St. Thomas says that body is univocal to the logician and analogous to the natural scientist (secundum esse). The unity of the five predicables might be seen as the same sort of thing.

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