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Cicero, De Officiis > De Officiis Week 3 - Book 2

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sorry to be late -- I was about to post last night when oops, the power went out (we were having a significant windstorm). So no computer, no Internet, and no posting here, but off to bed in the dark.

We now move to Book 2.

I did enjoy his comment that on the death of the Republic he did not "surrender myself to a life of sensual pleasure unbecoming to a philosopher." I read this as a dig at some who he thinks did react this way.

But in a way, perhaps we should be grateful to Caesar for turning Cicero away from public life to having the leisure to return to his interest in philosophy, and to write these texts for our benefit. Although I'm not quite sure that I see his writings as "mental enjoyment and relaxation." [Walsh, para 6]

Those asides aside, on to the text.

Book 1 focused itself mostly on what is honorable, or in the Walsh translation on “moral rectitude.” Now we turn to a fuller discussion of what is expedient, a term which I’m having trouble with since it seems to me that the meaning translated as expedient is not quite the common modern usage. Both Curtius and Walsh use that term, though in paragraph 10 Walsh uses “useful.” The Latin term is utilis, which Lewis and Short (the lexicon cited in the very useful Perseus site) defines as “useful, serviceable, beneficial, profitable, advantageous, expedient, to good purpose.”

I do have a question about Cicero’s assumption/statement/conclusion that whatever is morally right is also expedient/useful. Can there be things that are utilis that are not morally just? That’s one issue (among many) I think we need to address in this Book.

So, onward.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments Patrice wrote: "cicero seems to differ with machiavelli who said given a choice of love or respect the prince must choose respect. but cicero is talking about a free society. how does one lead a free society? it m..."

After reading Machiavelli's Discourses, I had the distinct impression that he would have much preferred an Italian state (or even a Florentine one) modeled on the virtues of Republican Rome.

On the flip side, he became very enamored with strongman Cesare Borgia, and chose to write out what would make someone a success if they wanted to rule as a despot. And, according to some accounts I've read, The Prince may also have been Machiavelli's attempt to worm his way back into the good graces of the Borgias.

At any rate--my take on Machiavelli is that he saw his advice in The Discourses as unlikely to be taken; The Prince, on the other hand, might have been pragmatically more useful, since despotism was more likely. But in all cases, Machiavelli (again, as I understand it) was mostly interested in finding a way for Italy to cease being the catspaw of Europe (mostly France and Spain), and if the model of Republican Rome (his preferred example) had little chance in creating a strong Italy, then he was willing to see it happen under the sway of a leader like Borgia.

So far in our reading, it seems to me as though Cicero would have been morally opposed to Machiavelli's pragmatic approach. I would say that Machiavelli was willing to accept actions he didn't necessarily favor in order to achieve the end result of a strong Italy. Especially in light of Cicero's opinions on the balance between moral and efficiency, I tend to think he would have seen Machiavelli's 'ends justify the means' as short-sighted.

message 3: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 531 comments Patrice wrote: "i think you are right. the prince was basically a job application. he was out of work. He wrote the other book about a republic but no one reads it. its interesting though that machiavelli must hav..."

Esse quam videre was what Sallust says of Cato in the CONSPIRACY OF CATILINE. He would rather be (virtuous) than seem so.

My overall reaction to ON DUTIES up to now is that it is sanctimonious and boring. Exactly the kind of handbook that Machiavelli thought there were too many of- the kind that had advice no one wanted. (Like an investment book that says "buy low, sell high.")

Of course this is the high pont.. the low point is Mike Brady saying "When you tell tales on others, you also tell a tale on yourself. And the tale you tell is that you're a teller of tales."

To which the response is, "Gee, dad, I never thought of it like that."

If I'm wide off the mark, I apologize. I'm behind in the reading, anyway. Maybe I'll use the long weekend to catch up.

But has anyone else thought that maybe Cicero's advice verges on the platitudinous?

message 4: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 139 comments . Honorable/ Useful.

I'm re-reading. Section 9 Cicero writes that honorable and beneficial cannot be severed. Indeed, "Nothing more destructive than this custom [separating them] could have been introduced into human life."

Pretty definitive statement.

Me, I keep seeing a practical bent to Ciscero.

Somewhere he says it wouldn't be honorable or virtuous to donate too much of one's wealth away, in effect, robbing one's own family/ descendants.

18 struck me. Virtue depends on three things. 1) true, clear understanding. 2) restraint so that one does not act on impulse.

But 3) I wrestle with. Our treatment of others."...with moderation" OK. To that point I'm still with Cicero. But he continues:

"in order that their support may secure for us the requirements of nature in full and ample measure; and if any disadvantage threatens to afflict us, we may, through the same men, advert it, and avenge ourselves on those who have attempted to harm us, inflicting such punishment as fairness and humanity allow."

I thought we spoke to others with moderation simply because they are our fellow human beings.

Is Ciscero right? Does it really come down to speaking to others with moderation because they might be useful to us in the future? Benefit?

Initially, i thought, "That can't be right."

But then, ;-) Christopher; -)... a platitude popped into my mind: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Is it a fairness issue? Or a benefit issue? Sure, maybe we never run into the same guy again, so, the man we spoke with moderately won't personally return the favor...but...if society as a whole adopts such a precept then we do benefit.

message 5: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 139 comments At 7 and 8. Mmm... yes, perhaps they sound like platitudes, because, as Patrice suggests, they came to us through him as his work was so very influential in western civilization.

Perhaps akin to saying of Shakespeare, "it's a bunch of cliches"...whereas it's he wrote things that others repeated until they became cliches.

message 6: by Adelle (last edited May 27, 2017 02:07PM) (new)

Adelle | 139 comments The sub-title of my side book is "The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician"... who sometimes made his living arguing cases.

I had to smile at section 29.
It was so like modern politicians with their "Let me be clear"s and "It's plain to see"s.


"Since, then [implying that he is going to be basing his "it follows" on logic]

it's obvious that the power of goodwill is great, and that of fear feeble, [then]...yada yada yada.

Except despite Cicero's long passage on why it is better to be loved than feared, he has NOT made it obvious to me.

message 7: by David (new)

David | 2681 comments Adelle wrote: "Except despite Cicero's long passage on why it is better to be loved than feared, he has NOT made it obvious to me."

Starting with this:
[2.23]. . .Ennius said it well with these lines:
What they fear, they hate. A man hates another, and wishes him to perish.
He then proceeds to provide plenty of examples, the Tyrant Julius Caesar, Dionysius, Alexander of Pherae, Phalaris, Demetrius, the Spartans, Sulla and his nephew, that make it seem pretty obvious by [2.29}. Whether he left out counter examples by omission or their absence though, I can't say.

message 8: by Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (last edited May 28, 2017 08:03AM) (new)

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments I got to para 43 this morning and I thought this was worth tossing into the discussion. Giving an example of seeking glory through pretense, Cicero gives the example of Tiberious Bracchus, who he says will be honored as long as the memory of Rome endures, 'but his sons were not approved by patriots while they lived, and since they are dead they are numbered among those whose murder was justifiable.'

I don't bring this up as a precursor to an argument of whether there is ever a case where murder is justifiable; that's not a discussion I'm even interested in. The reason I do bring it up is because obviously Cicero thought it was. Much of the discussion around the book has been what Cicero's relation to our own society is, or what philosophical groundwork an essay like Du Officiis constructs. But I think it's important to note that a man who brings up justifiable murder as glibly as he does may have a different mindset than we do.

That probably all goes without saying, but it did strike me as I read it.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments This too (if I'm not overloading with my comments) gives an indication of the mind of Cicero:

(From para 73) "That speech [of Phillippus] deserves unqualified condemnation, for it favoured an equal distribution of property; and what more ruinous policy than that could be conceived? For the chief purpose in the establishment of constitutional state and municipal governments was that individual property rights might be secured. For although it was by Nature's guidance that men were drawn together into communities, it was in the hope of safeguarding their possessions that they sought the protection of cities."

I thought this was interesting. Personally, I agree with it, though I know not everyone does. This book in particular seems full of subtle shades of difference between how the Romans might have seen proper conduct, and how we do.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments Patrice wrote: "i agree that there are very subtle shades of difference but this point? it sounds perfectly modern to me. certainly in the united states. we fought a war, in part, over property rights. no taxation..."

I feel as though property rights are a fragile thing--without wanting to import too many political arguments into the discussion, I do feel as though there are groups in America dedicated to ameliorating the idea of private property--look at Cicero's horror of property tax, which we accept as a fairly standard taxation measure.

The larger point for me is that book 2 seems to highlight many different points where Cicero sees the world fundamentally different than we do--or as we may if we continue to drift in the direction we have been.

message 11: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments I find it unremarkable to think that some people deserve to be assassinated, or that the world would be better off it they were. However, being willing to do it oneself is a different thing. Some will have moral scruples--like not being willing to play God.

message 12: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Patrice wrote: "seems hes following platos lead that "the good" is always the best for men although they may not see this. this is hard to understand in everyday life as the just seem to suffer and the unjust prosper. but, at least to me, hes saying dont be fooled, what is honorable will also be useful in the end. its a tough sell but i have seen truth in this, if only for peace of mind, eudaemonia, personal happiness.

This was my take on it also. And I love your comparisons to Machiavelli!

message 13: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Christopher wrote: "But has anyone else thought that maybe Cicero's advice verges on the platitudinous? "

Absolutely. Like Patrice, I keep wondering why. But from some of the comments he makes, he seems to think a good portion of the blame for the fall of the Republic was on educated land owners?? So maybe these ideas were not common ( or at least followed) then. As Patrice points out, he was spreading Greek ideas in Latin.

I also guess that even if they are a homily, it doesn't negate their truth or usefulness, right?

I wondered, if you asked a huge portion of the population in America if they follow a moral code similar to this how the majority would answer? My gut says the majority would answer that, yes, they do. But when I look around it isn't what I see. I am guessing that Cicero looked around and saw something similar and felt compelled to write?

message 14: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Patrice wrote: "cicero seems to differ with machiavelli who said given a choice of love or respect the prince must choose respect. but cicero is talking about a free society. how does one lead a free society? it m..."

I noticed p. 29 is somewhat to your point about the differences between C and M:

And so in Rome only the walls of her houses remain standing-and even they wait now in fear of the most unspeakable crimes-but our republic we have lost for ever. But to return to my subject: it is while we have preferred to be the object of fear rather than of love and affection, that all these misfortunes have fallen upon us.

I am not quite sure who he means by "we" (the masses? Public office holders?). And when he says they were the "object of fear", does he mean that they themselves were afraid or that the rulers were afraid (making "them" the objects of fear)? Or maybe it's just late and I'm not thinking straight. lol Either way, Cicero seems to think that fear, in some way, led to the fall.

message 15: by David (new)

David | 2681 comments Genni wrote: "Cicero seems to think that fear, in some way, led to the fall."

I think the sentiment here is along the same lines as Franklin's, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." implying their own fears opened the doors to dictatorship, i.e., Ceasar, and Sulla before him and the loss of the Republic.

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