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[153] My view, therefore, is that those duties are closer1 to Nature which depend upon the social instinct than those which depend upon knowledge; and this view can be confirmed by the following argument: (1) suppose that a wise man should be vouchsafed such a life that, with an abundance of everything pouring in upon him, he might in perfect peace study and ponder over everything that is worth knowing, still, if the solitude were so complete that he could never see a human being, he would die. And then, the foremost of all virtues is wisdom—what the Greeks call σοφία; for by prudence, which they call φρόνησις, we understand something else, namely, the practical knowledge of things to be sought for and of things to be avoided. (2) Again, that wisdom which I have given the foremost place is the knowledge of things human and divine, which is concerned also with the bonds of union between gods and men and the relations of man to man. If wisdom is the most important of the virtues, as it certainly is, it necessarily follows that that duty which is connected with the social obligation is the most important duty.2 And (3) service is better than mere theoretical knowledge, for the study and knowledge of the universe would somehow be lame and defective, were no practical results to follow. Such results, moreover, are best seen in the safeguarding of human interests. It is [p. 159] essential, then, to human society; and it should, therefore, be ranked above speculative knowledge.

1 Justice vs. Wisdom.

2 Cicero is guilty of a curious fallacy. If it follows from his premises, (1) some one virtue is the highest virtue, and (2) the duties derived from the highest virtue are the highest duties, and if (3) wisdom is the highest virtue, then it can only follow that the duties derived from wisdom are the highest duties. But Cicero throws in a fourth premise that the “bonds of union between gods and men and the relations of man to man” are derived from wisdom, and therewith side-tracks wisdom and gives the duties derived from the social instinct the place from which wisdom has been shunted. Cicero could not refrain from introducing a bit of theoretical speculation that has no value for his practical position—it actually prejudices it and confuses the reader.

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  • Cross-references in indexes to this page (5):
    • M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis: index, Greek
    • M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis: index, Justice
    • M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis: index, Philosophy
    • M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis: index, Society
    • M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis: index, Wisdom
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