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Cicero’s Philosophical Works

Gilbert, Nathan; McConnell, Sean

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Sean McConnell


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.


Gilbert, N., & McConnell, S. (2021). Cicero’s Philosophical Works. In Classics. Oxford University Press.

Online Publication Date May 26, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Aug 3, 2022
Publicly Available Date Aug 5, 2022
Publisher Oxford University Press
Series Title Oxford Bibliographies
Book Title Classics


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