Cicero: The Republic and The Laws

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Cicero. The Republic and the Laws ed. By Niall Rudd. New York: Oxford, 1997.

Thesis: Nature has given to mankind a desire to defend the well-being of the community (R1.1). 

The “republic” is the “property of the public,” and the “public” is defined as a legal gathering. It comes together because men want to defend and form communities (1.39).  Cicero turns to Aristotle’s discussion of the 3 types of government and their corresponding virtues and vices. Monarchy is the best type of government, but it has a precarious nature (1.54ff). 

Philus gives the standard rejection to natural law: there is no “justice” because men often prefer to enact injustice and different countries have different customs.  As Scipio begins his response, we have to navigate some difficulties in the text. Laelius is speaking that “law in the proper sense is right reason in harmony with nature” (III.33). 

In Book IV Cicero gives a scathing rebuke of Greek “male love,” for lack of a more delicate phrase.

What is the purpose of life?  Religious worship, rearing a family, and participating in the community.  This is impossible without a well-ordered state (5.7).

Mind, Body, Soul

“You are not mortal, but only that body of yours.  You are not the person presented by your physical appearance” (6.26). A man’s true self is his mind.

>>Whatever is in constant motion is eternal. There must be something that moves others but itself is not moved. Cicero then makes the (albeit not very clear) inference that minds possess this property. His reasoning is that inanimate matter can’t move itself but must be moved.  Only a mind can do this. 

The Laws

The nature of justice must be deduced from the nature of man (L. 1.17). Law is the highest reason and enjoins what “ought” to be done.  If Cicero can make this argument work, then he just did an end-run around the “is-ought” problem.

Reason is a “middle term” between God and man (1.23). If you share in reason (i.e., participate in that reason which is connected to God), then you share in law.  If you share in law, you share in justice. This mutual sharing is a single universe of God and man.

Law is an “eternal force” and natural law is “coeval with God” (L 2.8-10).  So far that sounds like medieval and classical natural law theory. Cicero then goes pantheist: universal nature possesses intelligence (16).  His argument makes sense: law is embedded in nature because nature is able to reason. This overcomes the “is-ought” problem but at a very high cost.


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