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René de Nicolay *22

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A native of Paris, I first came to Princeton as a visiting student in 2015, to work with Prof. Melissa Lane on the Platonic background of Cicero’s concept of licence (licentia). This turned out to be a lovely rabbit hole. As I couldn’t dream of finding better support in my work than at Princeton, I thought I might as well stay a little longer. I am now a fourth-year graduate student in Classics and in the Classical Philosophy Program. My dissertation, entitled The Origins of Licence: Excessive Freedom in Ancient Political Philosophy, traces the answers that three philosophers working in a continuous tradition (Plato, Aristotle and Cicero) gave to a series of related questions: why do people hold mistaken opinions about the value and content of political freedom, especially in democratic societies? What exactly are these erroneous conceptions? What consequences do they have on the fate of political communities? The approach I take is mainly philosophical, but it is also informed by a study of the historical context in which these three authors lived, as well as by more recent reflections in political theory about the value of political freedom.

Versions of two dissertation chapters are forthcoming: one in Polis, on ’Shameless Freedom in Plato’s Laws’ and the other one in Classical Philology, entitled ‘Licentia: Cicero on the Suicide of Political Communities.’

I must confess that I'm fascinated by how philosophers from Antiquity to our days responded to the ancient political experience. Even when they were staunch anti-democrats (as most of them were), I believe they can provide us with tools to think about the issues our democracies face.

Before coming to Princeton, I studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, getting my degrees from the Sorbonne and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes.