In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cicero’s Philosophical Works

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • De Oratore (On the Orator)
  • De Re Publica (Republic or On the Commonwealth)
  • De Legibus (On the Laws)
  • Paradoxa Stoicorum (Stoic Paradoxes)
  • Hortensius
  • Consolatio
  • Academica
  • De Finibus (On Ends)
  • Tusculan Disputations
  • De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods)
  • De Divinatione (On Divination)
  • De Fato (On Fate)
  • Cato Maior De Senectute (On Old Age)
  • Laelius de Amicitia (On Friendship)
  • De Gloria (On Glory) and Other Lost Philosophical Works
  • De Officiis (On Duties)
  • Philosophy in Letters and Speeches
  • Cicero as Translator

Classics Cicero’s Philosophical Works
by
Nathan Gilbert, Sean McConnell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0361

Introduction

Cicero (106–43 BCE) was a Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher. As well as speeches, letters, and rhetorical treatises, Cicero wrote numerous philosophical works. These can be divided into two periods—those written before the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great (pre-49 BCE), and those written during and after it (46 BCE onward). Those written before are in dialogue form and the central topics are political: the ideal orator (De Oratore), the best citizen and the best state (De Re Publica), the best laws (De Legibus). Those following are predominately part of an ambitious project to bring philosophy to Rome in a systematic fashion; they are also mainly in dialogue form. Cicero composed an exhortation to philosophy (Hortensius), followed by books on epistemology (Academica, Lucullus) and works on broadly ethical concerns—the nature of good and evil (De Finibus); honor and glory (De Gloria); old age and friendship (De Senectute, De Amicitia); the soul, death, and suffering (Tusculans); consolation (Consolatio); the nature of the gods, divination, and providence (De Natura Deorum, De Divinatione, De Fato). Cicero’s final philosophical work is the De Officiis, presented as a letter to his son. Philosophy also figures prominently throughout Cicero’s letters, speeches, and rhetorical works. Indeed, it should be noted that Cicero felt his rhetorical works Orator and Brutus should be included in his philosophical corpus (Div. 2.4). There are two schools of thought on the novelty and value of Cicero’s philosophical works: (1) he is essentially just repackaging Greek material in Latin, offering renditions of existing ideas that are invaluable for saving much of the lost tradition of Hellenistic philosophy; (2) he is doing something more than that, developing distinctive philosophical contributions of his own. Most recent studies stress the innovative elements of Cicero’s philosophical thinking. Cicero’s own philosophical convictions are varied. Stoicism figures largely, as does his sympathy with Plato, Aristotle, and the Academic and Peripatetic traditions that follow them. He is strongly anti-Epicurean in both periods of his philosophical activity. Most scholars maintain that he is a pragmatic and flexible Academic skeptic, who weighs both sides of every argument and gives his assent to whatever he finds most compelling given the particular circumstances. Ostensibly a lack of political opportunity motivated Cicero to write philosophy. In the prefaces to his philosophical works he insists that it is not an escape from politics, but an intervention in it by other means.

General Overviews

Woolf 2015 is an excellent and accessible introduction to Cicero’s philosophical thought for the general reader. MacKendrick 1989 offers useful plot summaries of each work. The papers in Powell 1995 cover a wide range of topics and are suited for the more advanced reader. Lévy 1992 is an important but challenging book-length treatment of Cicero’s philosophical contributions, in French. Baraz 2012 and Gildenhard 2007 explore the tension between politics and philosophy. Schofield 2009 is excellent on Cicero’s use of the dialogue form. Bishop 2019 focuses on Cicero’s efforts to present Latin equivalents of the Greek philosophical classics. May 2002 contains a number of papers that examine how Cicero’s rhetorical treatises relate to his philosophical works.

  • Baraz, Y. 2012. A written republic: Cicero’s philosophical politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691153322.001.0001

    On philosophy as intervention in politics; good study of prefaces.

  • Bishop, C. 2019. Cicero, Greek learning, and the making of a Roman classic. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198829423.001.0001

    Literary focus, chapter on Cicero composing philosophical dialogue as the new Plato in a new Latin canon of classics.

  • Gildenhard, I. 2007. Paideia Romana: Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Philological Society.

    On Cicero’s use of philosophy as intervention in politics and Roman society; ostensibly a case-study but much of general relevance.

  • Lévy, C. 1992. Cicero Academicus. Recherches sur les Académiques et sur la philosophie de Cicerón. Rome: École Française.

    Derivative versus innovative contributions debated at much length; very comprehensive in providing intellectual background; promotes Academic skeptic viewpoint as consistent throughout; long and in French—a challenging book.

  • MacKendrick, P. 1989. The philosophical books of Cicero. London: Duckworth.

    A systematic summary of each of Cicero’s philosophical works; quite idiosyncratic and controversial in many details, and to be used with caution; but still a good starting point.

  • May, J., ed. 2002. Brill’s companion to Cicero: Oratory and rhetoric. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    A broad overview of Cicero’s oratorical theory and practice, with chapters on individual speeches, rhetorical treatises, their relationship with philosophy, and a very valuable bibliography for these and related matters.

  • Powell, J. G. F., ed. 1995. Cicero the Philosopher. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Volume seeking to bring Cicero’s philosophical achievements back into focus; quite advanced but a good range of papers.

  • Schofield, M. 2009. Ciceronian dialogue. In The end of dialogue in Antiquity. Edited by S. Goldhill, 63–84. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511575464.005

    The distinctive style of Cicero’s dialogues, contrasted favorably with Plato; relationship between skeptical Academic approach and the dialogue form.

  • Woolf, R. 2015. Cicero: The philosophy of a Roman Sceptic. London and New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315724850

    The Academic skeptic angle pushed hard; detailed arguments for Cicero’s philosophical relevance for the contemporary analytic philosopher.

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