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[7arg] Of the obedience of children to their parents; and quotations on this subject from the writings of the philosophers, in which it is inquired whether all a father's commands should be obeyed.

IT is a frequent subject of discussion with philosophers, whether a father should always be obeyed, whatever the nature of his commands. As to this question writers On Duty, both Greeks and our own countrymen, have stated that there are three opinions to be noticed and considered, and these they have differentiated with great acuteness The first is, that all a father's commands must be obeyed; the second, that in some he is to be obeyed, in others not; the third, that it is not necessary to yield to and obey one's father in anything.

Since at first sight this last opinion is altogether shameful, I shall begin by stating what has been said on that point. “A father's command,” they say, “is either right or wrong. If it is right, it is not to be obeyed because it is his order, but the thing must be done because it is right that it be done. If his command is wrong, surely that should on no account be done which ought not to be done.” Thus they arrive at the conclusion that a father's command should never be obeyed. But I have neither heard that this view has met with approval —for it is a mere quibble, both silly and foolish, as I shall presently show—nor can the opinion which we stated first, that all a father's commands are to be obeyed, be regarded as true and acceptable. For what if he shall command treason to one's country, a mother's murder, or some other base or impious [p. 145] deed? The intermediate view, therefore, has seemed best and safest, that some commands are to be obeyed and others not. But yet they say that commands which ought not to be obeyed must nevertheless be declined gently and respectfully, without excessive aversion or bitter recrimination, and rather left undone than spurned.

But that conclusion from which it is inferred, as has been said above, that a father is never to be obeyed, is faulty, and may be refuted and disposed of as follows: All human actions are, as learned men have decided, either honourable or base. Whatever is inherently right or honourable, such as keeping faith, defending one's country, loving one's friend's, ought to be done whether a father commands it or not; but whatever is of the opposite nature, and is base and altogether evil, should not be done even at a father's order. Actions, however, which lie between these, and are called by the Greeks now μέσα, or “neutral,” and now ἀδιάφορα, or “indifferent,” such as going to war, tilling the fields, seeking office, pleading causes, marrying a wife, going when ordered, coming when called; since these and similar actions are in themselves neither honourable nor base, but are to be approved or disapproved exactly according to the manner in which we perform them: for this reason they believe that in every kind of action of this description a father should be obeyed; as for instance, if he should order his son to marry a wife or to plead for the accused. For since each of these acts, in its actual nature and of itself, is neither honourable nor base, if a father should command it, he ought to be obeyed. But if he should order his son to [p. 147] marry a woman of ill repute, infamous and criminal, or to speak in defence of a Catiline, a Tubulus, 1 or a Publius Clodius, of course he ought not to be obeyed, since by the addition of a certain degree of evil these acts cease to be inherently neutral and indifferent. Hence the premise of those who say that “the commands of a father are either honourable or base” is incomplete, and it cannot be considered what the Greeks call “sound and regular disjunctive proposition.” For that disjunctive premise lacks the third member, “or are neither honourable nor base.” If this be added, the conclusion cannot be drawn that a father's command must never be obeyed.

1 Catiline and Clodius are too notorious to require comment. L. Hostilius Tubulus, praetor in 142 B. C., accepted bribes when presiding at a trial for murder. Cic., De Nal. Deorum i. 63 and elsewhere, cites him as an example of iniquity.

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load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
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  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LEX
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), MATRIMO´NIUM
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (1):
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