Cicero, bust in the Capituline Museums, Rome (photo by the Author)
When one is immersed into a particular philosophy or point of view it is always a good idea to hear some vigorous critique of it. This will help us maintain a critical attitude toward our own beliefs, and as a bonus it will allow us to practice the virtue of temperance, since people are apt to get seriously irritated when their positions are critiqued by others!
That’s why I went through the painful exercise of reading Frank McLynn’s (unfair, in my mind) blasting of Stoicism in his biography of Marcus Aurelius (on the same book, see also here, here, and here). It is now time to look at a more serious, and much more ancient, attack on the Stoics, the one articulated by Cicero in book IV of his De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (On the Ends of Goods and Evils).
Let us continue our discussion of book III of Cicero’s De Finibus, which is organized around a dialogue between Cicero and Cato, where Cato explains the basics of Stoicism to his friend.
Beginning around #41, Cato launches into an explanation of some major differences between the Peripatetics (followers of Aristotle) and the Stoics. And these differences are both important and still relevant to anyone interested in practicing virtue ethics in modern times.
In preparation for Stoic Camp New York 2015 I have been going over parts of Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (On the Ends of Goods and Evils). Its five books make up a commentary on rival philosophical schools, where Cicero argues against Epicureanism (books I and II), has Marcus Porcius Cato explain to him Stoic philosophy (book III), raises objections to Stoicism (book IV), and discusses and criticizes in dialogue form the Academics and their doctrines (book V). In this multi-part essay I will focus on book III, where Cato explains to Cicero the basics of Stoicism.