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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


CICERO

(c. 106 — 43 B.C.)

 

ECLECTIC STOICISM

Marcus Tullius Cicero was born at Arpino in Italy and studied in Athens and Rhodes under a variety of philosophers of different schools, including especially the New Academy and the Stoics. Much of his life was spent in public service. He was a great orator and a skilful lawyer.

 

NATURE/ KNOWLEDGE/ RELIGION

[1] Cicero accepted the conclusions of the Sceptics in that he found himself unable to decide between the various philosophical positions he had studied. He was critical of the atomic theory [On the Nature of the Gods, II, 37] [a] and of determinism [b]. He also rejected the idea of certainty in knowledge, advocating probability [c]. Although generally agnostic he said that the existence of a providential God, whom he thought of in more personal terms than the 'God' of the early Stoics, might be proved from Nature [d]. Dismissive of any crude materialism, he believed in an immortal soul, albeit understood in terms of 'fiery matter' [Tusculan Disputations, I, 12 and 49] [e], but said that a popular religion, purged of superstition, should be encouraged in so far as it is to the benefit of the community [T.D., I, 26; IV, 33].

 

ETHICS/ POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

[2] Supposing scepticism to undermine morality, Cicero looked for certainty in the innate notions we derive from our nature [a] and about which, he said, there is general agreement. While he accepted that external goods may have ethical worth, he maintained that inner virtue is the best guarantee of happiness [b]. The wise man should try to eliminate any 'perturbation' (pathos) of the soul which might affect right reason [T.D. iv, 6 and 18] [c]. He rejected the doctrine of virtue as a mean between opposing feelings (pathe) [d] and emphasized practical as against speculative virtue. He also espoused the later Stoic ideal of cosmopolitanism and the brotherhood of man [On the Ends of Good and Evil, II, 14] [e].

The state is a moral community and should reflect the needs of its citizens: "the welfare of the people is the supreme law". Ideally the state should have a mixed constitution (it should not be uniquely democratic, monarchic, or oligarchic). But, a strong leader is required who will use his knowledge and skill to promote and preserve its well-being. Cicero considered the Roman republic as the best possible and as approximating to the Stoic 'law of nature' [see On Laws] [f].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Scholars are not in complete agreement as to whether Cicero was but a compiler of views of the main contemporary schools of philosophy (as he himself supposed), or whether additionally his writings represent an original and surprisingly coherent system of thought constructed from elements of at least some of these traditions. Either way, however, his significance lies in his transmission of Greek thought to later generations and his advocacy of philosophy as the source or practical knowledge which, together with the power of rhetoric, the humanist statesman can employ to bring about a liberal society.

 

READING

Cicero: De natura deorum (On the Nature of the Gods); see also, De divinatione (On Divination), De fato (On Fate), De finibus malorum et bonorum (On the Ends of Good and Evil), Tusculanae disputationes (Tusculan Disputations), De officiis (On Duties), De legibus (On Laws); Long and Sedley, op. cit, chs 56-67; 68-70. There are translations of On the Nature of the Gods, On Ends, and Tusculan Disputations in the Loeb Classical Library edition. See also Penguin editions of On the Nature of the Gods and Selected Works .

General

E. V. Arnold, Roman Stoicism.

T. Brennan, The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties and Fate.

J. M. Rist, Stoic Philosophy.

Introductory

H. A. M. Hunt, The Humanism of Cicero.

Collections of Articles

B. Inwood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics.

J. M. Rist (ed.), The Stoics.

.

CONNECTIONS

Cicero

 

[1a] Atomism

   Democritus

   Epicurus

[1a]

[2a]

 

[1b] Freedom and determinism/ fate

   Democritus

   Epicurus

   Carneades

   Posidonius

[1e CSa]

[2b]

[2c]

[3b]

 

[1c] Certainty and probability

   Epicurus

   Carneades

   Popper

[1a]

[1a 2b]

[1b c]

 

[1d] Existence of a providential God — proofs from Nature

   Chrysippus

   Carneades

   Posidonius

Locke

[3h]

[1b]

[1c 2a]

[2l]

 

[1e] Immortality of the soul (as 'fiery stuff')

   Democritus

Plato

   Epicurus

   Posidonius

Locke

[2c d]

[9b sec. 10]

[3c]

[3c d]

[2e]

 

[2a] Certainty in ethics: 'innate' notions/ consensus

   Plato

   Carneades

[11a e]

[1a 2b]

 

[2b] Inner virtue and happiness

   Plato

   Epicurus

   Carneades

   Posidonius

[11f g]

[4a]

[3a]

[4a]

 

[2c] Feelings and morality

   Plato

   Posidonius

[11b g]

[4a]

 

[2d] Virtue not as mean between feelings; imperturbability

   Aristotle

   Epicurus

   Spinoza

[19b]

[4b]

[5d]

 

[2e] Cosmopolitanism/ humanism

   Chrysippus

   Posidonius

[6f]

[4b]

 

[2f] The state as a moral community; Roman republic; 'law of nature'

   Posidonius

Augustine

Machiavelli

Locke

Hobbes
[via Grotius?]

[1c]

[9a]

[1b-d]

[7c]

[4d]