Cicero – On Ends – Book 4
With these words he concluded. “A most faithful and lucid exposition, Cato,” said I, “considering the wide range of your subject and its obscurity. Clearly I must either give up all idea of replying, or must take time to think it over; it is no easy task to get a thorough grasp of a system so elaborate, even if erroneous (for on that point I do not yet venture to speak), but at all events so highly finished both in its first principles and in their working out.”
“You don’t say so!” replied Cato. “Do you suppose I am going to allow our suit to be adjourned, when I see you under this new law replying for the defense on the same day as your opponent concludes for the prosecution, and keeping your speech within a three hours’ limit? Though you will find your present case as shaky as any of those which you now and then succeed in pulling off. So tackle this one like the rest, particularly as the subject is familiar; others have handled it before, and so have you repeatedly, so that you can hardly be gravelled for lack of matter.”
“I protest,” I exclaimed, “I am not by way of challenging the Stoics lightly; not that I agree with them entirely, but modesty restrains me: there is so much in their teaching that I can hardly understand.”
“I admit,” he said, “that some parts are obscure, yet the Stoics do not affect an obscure style on purpose; the obscurity is inherent in the doctrines themselves.”
“How is it, then,” I replied, “that when the same doctrines are expounded by the Peripatetics, every word is intelligible?” “The same doctrines?” he cried. “Have I not said enough to show that the disagreement between the Stoics not Peripatetics is not a matter of words, but concerns the entire substance of their whole system?”
“O well, Cato,” I rejoined, “if you can prove that, you are welcome to claim me as a whole-hearted convert.” “I did think,” said he, “that I had said enough. So let us take this question first, if you like; or if you prefer another topic, we will take this later on.”
“Nay,” said I, “as to that matter I shall use my own discretion, unless this is an unfair stipulation, and deal with each subject as it comes up.”
“Have it your way,” he replied: “my plan would have been more suitable, but it is fair to let a man choose for himself.”
“My view, then, Cato,” I proceeded, “is this, that those old disciples of Plato, Speusippus, Aristotle and Xenocrates, and afterwards their pupils Polemo and Theophrastus, had developed a doctrine that left nothing to be desired either in fullness or finish, so that Zeno on becoming the pupil of Polemo had no reason for differing either from his master himself or from his master’s predecessors. The outline of their theory was as follows — but I should be glad if you would call attention to any point you may desire to correct without waiting while I deal with the whole of your discourse; for I think I shall have to place their entire system in conflict with the whole of yours. Well, these philosophers observed that we are so constituted as to have a natural aptitude for the recognized and standard virtues in general, I mean Justice, Temperance and the others of that class (all of which resemble the end of the arts, and differ only by excelling them in the material with which they work and in their treatment of it); they observed moreover that we pursue these virtues with a more lofty enthusiasm than we do the arts; and that we possess an implanted or rather an innate appetite for knowledge, and that we are naturally disposed towards social life with our fellow men and towards fellowship and community with the human race; and that these instincts are displayed most clearly in the most highly endowed natures. Accordingly they divided philosophy into three departments, a division that was retained, as we notice, by Zeno. One of these departments is the science that is held to give rules for the formation of moral character; this part, which is the foundation of our present discussion, I defer. For I shall consider later the question, what is the End of Goods. For the present I only say that the topic of what I think may fitly be entitled Civic Science (the adjective in Greek is politikos) was handled with authority and fullness by the early Peripatetics and Academics, who agreed in substance though they differed in terminology.
“What a vast amount they have written on politics and on jurisprudence! how many precepts of oratory they have left us in their treatises, and how many examples in their discourses! In the first place, even the topics that required close reasoning they handled in a neat and polished manner, employing now definition, now division; as indeed your school does also, but your style is rather out-at‑elbows, while theirs is noticeably elegant. Then, in themes demanding ornate and dignified treatment, however imposing, how brilliant is their diction! On Justice, Temperance, Courage, Friendship, on the conduct of life, the pursuit of wisdom, the career of the statesman, — no hair-splitting like that of the Stoics, no niggling minutiae, but the loftier passages studiously ornate, and the minor topics studiously plain and clear. As a result, think of their consolations, their exhortations, even their warnings and counsels, addressed to men of the highest eminence! In fact, their rhetorical exercises were twofold, like the nature of the subjects themselves. For every question for debate can be argued either on the general issue, ignoring the persons or circumstances involved, or, these also being taken into consideration, on a point of fact or of law or of nomenclature. They therefore practiced themselves in both kinds; and this training produced their remarkable fluency in each class of discussion.
This whole field Zeno and his successors were either unable or unwilling to discover; at all events they left it untouched. Cleanthes it is true wrote a treatise on rhetoric, and Chrysippus wrote one too, but what are they like? why, they furnish a complete manual for anyone whose ambition is to hold his tongue; you can judge then of their style, coining new words, discarding those approved by use. ‘But,’ you will say, ‘think how vast are the themes that they essay! for example, that this entire universe is our own town.’ You see the magnitude of a Stoic’s task, to convince an inhabitant of Circeii that the whole vast world is his own borough! ‘If so, he must rouse his audience to enthusiasm.’ What? a Stoic rouse enthusiasm? He is much more likely to extinguish any enthusiasm the student may have had to begin with. Even those brief maxims that you propounded, that the Wise Man alone is king, dictator, millionaire, — neatly rounded off no doubt as you put them: of course, for you learnt them from professors of rhetoric; — but how bald those very maxims, on the lips of the Stoics, when they talk about the potency of virtue, — virtue which they rate so highly that it can of itself, they say, confer happiness! Their meagre little syllogisms are mere pin‑pricks; they may convince the intellect, but they cannot convert the heart, and the hearer goes away no better than he came. What they say is possibly true, and certainly important; but the way in which they say it is wrong; it is far too petty.
“Next come Logic and Natural Science; for the problem of Ethics, as I said, we shall notice later, concentrating the whole force of the discussion upon its solution. In these two departments then, there was nothing that Zeno need have desired to alter; since all was in a most satisfactory state, and that in both departments. For in the subject of Logic, what had the ancients left undealt with? They defined a multitude of terms, and left treatises in Definition; of the kindred art of the Division of a thing into its parts they give practical examples, and lay down rules for the process; and the same with the Law of Contradictories, from which they arrived at genera and species within genera. Then, in Deductive reasoning, they start with what they term self-evident propositions; from these they proceed by rule, and finally the conclusion gives the inference valid in the particular case. Again, how many different forms of Deduction they distinguish, and how widely these differ from sophistical syllogisms! Think how almost solemnly they reiterate that we must not expect to find truth in sensation unaided by reason, nor in reason without sensation, and that we are not to divorce the one from the other! Was it not they who first laid down the rules that form the stock-in‑trade of professors of logic to‑day? Logic, no doubt, was very fully worked out Chrysippus, but much less was done in it by Zeno than by the older schools; and in some parts of the subject his work was no improvement on that of his predecessors, while other parts he neglected altogether. Of the two sciences which between them cover the whole field of reasoning and of oratory, one the Science of Topics and the other that of Logic, the latter has been handled by both Stoics and Peripatetics, but the former, though excellently taught by the Peripatetics, has not been touched by the Stoics at all. Of Topics, the store-chambers in which arguments are arranged ready for use, your school had not the faintest notion, whereas their predecessors propounded a regular technique and method. This science of Topics saves one from always having to drone out the same stock arguments on the same subjects without ever departing from one’s notebooks. For one who knows under what general heading a particular case comes, and how to lead up to it, will be able to bring out any argument however far out of sight it lies, and always take a line of his own in debate. The fact is that, although some men of genius attain to eloquence without a system, nevertheless science is a safer guide than nature. A poetic out‑pouring of language is one thing, the systematic and scientific marshalling of one’s matter is another.
“Much the same may be said about Natural Philosophy, which is pursued both by the Peripatetics and by your school, and that not merely for the two objects, recognized by Epicurus, of banishing superstition and the fear of death. Besides these benefits, the study of the heavenly phenomena bestows a power of self-control that arises from the perception of the consummate restraint and order that obtain even among the gods; also loftiness of mind is inspired by contemplating the creations and actions of the gods, and justice by realizing the will, design and purpose of the Supreme Lord and Ruler to whose nature we are told by philosophers that the True Reason and Supreme Law are conformed. The study of Natural Philosophy also affords the inexhaustible pleasure of acquiring knowledge, the sole pursuit which can afford an honourable and elevated occupation for the hours of leisure left when business has been finished. Now in the whole of this branch of philosophy, on most of the important points the Stoics followed the Peripatetics, maintaining that the gods exist and that the world is composed of the four elements. Then, coming to the very difficult question, whether we are to believe in the existence of a fifth substance, as the source of reason and intellect, and also the connected further question which element constitutes the soul, Zeno declared this substance to be fire; next, as to some details, but only a few, he diverged from his predecessors, but on the main question he agreed that the universe as a whole and its chief parts are governed by a divine mind and substance. In point of fullness, however, and fertility of treatment we will find the Stoics meagre, whereas the Peripatetics are copious in the extreme. What stores of facts they observed and recorded about the classification, reproduction, morphology and life-history of animals of every kind! and again about plants! How copious and wide in range their explanations of the causes and demonstrations of the mode of different natural phenomena! and all these stores supply them with numerous and conclusive arguments to explain the nature of each particular thing. So far then, as far as I at least can understand the case, there appears to have been no reason for the change of name; that Zeno was not prepared to follow the Peripatetics in every detail did not alter the fact that he had sprung from them. For my own part I consider Epicurus also, at all events in natural philosophy, simply a pupil of Democritus. He makes a few modifications, or indeed a good many; but on most points, and unquestionably the most important, he merely echoes his master. Your leaders do the same, yet neglect to acknowledge their full debt to the original discoverers.
“But leaving this let us now, if you please, turn to Ethics. On the subject of the Chief Good, which is the keystone of philosophy, what precise contribution did Zeno make to justify his disagreeing with his ancestors, the originators of the doctrine? Under this head you, Cato, gave a careful exposition of the Stoics’ conception of this ‘End of Goods,’ and of the meaning they attached to the term; still I also will restate it, to enable us to detect, if we can, what exactly was the novel element contributed by Zeno. Preceding thinkers, and among them most explicitly Polemo, had explained the Chief Good as being ‘to live in accordance with nature.’ This formula receives from the Stoics three interpretations. The first runs thus, ‘to live in the light of a knowledge of the natural sequence of causation.’ This conception of the End they declare to be identical with Zeno’s, being an explanation of your phrase ‘to live in agreement with nature.’ Their second interpretation is that it means the same as ‘to live in the performance of all, or most, of one’s intermediate duties.’ The Chief Good as thus expounded is not the same as that of the preceding interpretation. That is ‘right action’ (as you rendered katorthōma), and can be achieved only by the Wise Man, but this belongs to duty merely inchoate, so to speak, and not perfect, which may sometimes be attained by the foolish. Again, the third interpretation of the formula is ‘to live in the enjoyment of all, or of the greatest, of those things which are in accordance with nature.’ This does not depend solely on our own conduct, for it involves two factors, first a mode of life enjoying virtue, secondly a supply of the things which are in accordance with nature but which are not within our control. But the Chief Good as understood in the third and last interpretation, and life passed on the basis of the Chief Good, being inseparably coupled with virtue, lie within the reach of the Wise Man alone; and this is the account of the End of Goods, as we read in the writings of the Stoics themselves, which was given by Xenocrates and Aristotle. They therefore describe the primary constitution of nature, which was your starting point also, more or less in the following terms.
“Every natural organism aims at being its own preserver, so as to secure its safety and also its preservation true to its specific type. With this object, they declare, man has called in the aid of the arts also to assist nature; and chief among them is counted the art of living, which helps him to guard the gifts that nature has bestowed and to obtain those that are lacking. They further divided the nature of man into soul and body. Each of these parts they pronounced to be desirable for its own sake, and consequently they said that the virtues also of each were desirable for their own sakes; at the same time they extolled the soul as infinitely surpassing the body in worth, and accordingly placed the virtues also of the mind above the goods of the body. But they held that wisdom is the guardian and protectress of the whole man, as being the comrade and helper of nature, and so they said that the function of wisdom, as protecting a being that consisted of a mind and a body, was to assist and preserve him in respect of both. After thus laying the first broad foundations of the theory, they went on to work it out in greater detail. The goods of the body, they held, required no particular explanation, but the goods of the soul they investigated with more elaboration, finding in the first place that in them lay the germs of Justice; and they were the first of any philosophers to teach that the love of parents for their offspring is a provision of nature; and that nature, so they pointed out, has ordained the union of men and women in marriage, which is prior in order of time, and is the root of all the family affections.
Starting from these first principles they traced out the origin and growth of all the virtues. From the same source was developed loftiness of mind, which could render us proof against the assaults of fortune, because the things that matter were under the control of the Wise Man; whereas to the vicissitudes and blows of fortune a life directed by the precepts of the old philosophers could easily rise superior. Again, from the elements given by nature arose certain lofty excellences, springing partly from the contemplation of the secrets of nature, since the mind possessed an innate love of knowledge, whence also resulted the passion for argument and for discussion; and also, since man is the only animal endowed with a sense of modesty and shame, with a desire for intercourse and society with his fellows, and with a scrupulous care in all his words and actions to avoid any conduct that is not honourable and seemly, from these beginnings or germs, as I called them before, of nature’s bestowal, were developed Temperance, Self-control, Justice and moral virtue generally in full flower and perfection.
“There, Cato,” I said, “is the scheme of the philosophers of whom I am speaking. Having put it before you, I should be glad to learn what reason Zeno had for seceding from this old‑established system. Which precisely of their doctrines did he think unsatisfactory: the doctrine that every organism instinctively seeks its own preservation? or that every animal has an affection for itself, prompting it to desire its own continuance safe and unimpaired in its specific type? or that, since the End of every art is some essential natural requirement, the same must be affirmed as regards the art of life as a whole? or that, as we consist of soul and body, these and also the virtues of these are to be taken for their own sakes? Or again, did he take exception to the ascription of such pre‑eminence to the virtues of the soul? or to what they say about prudence and knowledge, about the sense of human fellowship, or about temperance, self-control, magnanimity, and moral virtue in general? No, the Stoics will admit that all of these doctrines are admirable, and that Zeno’s reason for secession did not lie here. As I understand, they will accuse the ancients of certain grave errors in other matters, which that ardent seeker after truth found himself quite unable to tolerate. What, he asked, could have been more insufferably foolish and perverse than to take good health, freedom from all pain, or soundness of eyesight and of the other senses, and class them as goods, instead of saying that there was nothing whatever to choose between these things and their opposites? According to him, all these things which the ancients called good, were not good, but ‘preferred’; and so also with bodily excellences, it was foolish of the ancients to call them ‘desirable for their own sakes’; they were not ‘desirable’ but ‘worth taking’; and in short, speaking generally, a life bountifully supplied with all the other things in accordance with nature, in addition to virtue, was not ‘more desirable,’ but only ‘more worth taking’ than a life of virtue and virtue alone; and although virtue of itself can render life as happy as it is possible for it to be, yet there are some things that Wise Men lack at the very moment of supreme happiness; and accordingly they do their best to protect themselves from pain, disease and infirmity.
“What acuteness of intellect! What a satisfactory reason for the creation of a new philosophy! But proceed further; for we now come to the doctrine, of which you gave such a masterly summary, that all men’s folly, injustice and other vices are alike and all sins are equal; and that those who by nature and training have made considerable progress towards virtue, unless they have actually attained to it, are utterly miserable, and there is nothing whatever to choose between their existence and that of the wickedest of mankind, so that the great and famous Plato, supposing he was not a Wise Man, lived a no better and no happier life than any unprincipled scoundrel. And this, if you please, is your revised and corrected version of the old philosophy, a version that could not possibly be produced in public life, in the law‑courts, in the senate! For who could tolerate such a way of speaking in one who claimed to be an authority on wise and moral conduct? Who would allow him to alter the names of things, and while really holding the same opinions as everyone else, to impose different names on things to which he attaches the same meanings as other people, just altering the terms while leaving the ideas themselves untouched? Could an advocate wind up his defense of a client by declaring that exile and confiscation of property are not evils? that they are ‘to be rejected,’ but not ‘to be shunned’? that it is not a judge’s duty to show mercy? Or supposing him to be addressing a meeting of the people; Hannibal is at the gates and has flung a javelin over the city walls; could he say that captivity, enslavement, death, loss of country are no evils? Could the senate, decreeing a triumph to Africanus, use the formula, ‘whereas by reason of his valour,’ or ‘good fortune,’ if no one but the Wise Man can truly be said to possess either valour or good fortune? What sort of philosophy then is this, which speaks the ordinary language in public, but in its treatises employs an idiom of its own? and that though the doctrines which the Stoics express in their own peculiar terms contain no actual novelty the ideas remain the same, though clothed in another dress. Why, what difference does it make whether you call wealth, power, health ‘goods,’ or ‘things preferred,’ when he who calls them goods assigns no more value to them than you who style exactly the same things ‘preferred’? This is why so eminent and high-minded an authority as Panaetius, a worthy member of the famous circle of Scipio and Laelius, in his epistle to Quintus Tubero on the endurance of pain, has nowhere made what ought to have been his most effective point, if it could be shown to be true, namely that pain is not an evil; instead he defines its nature and properties, estimates the degree of its divergence from nature, and lastly prescribes the method by which it is to be endured. So that by his vote, seeing that he was a Stoic, your terminological fatuities seem to me to stand condemned.
“But I want to come to closer quarters, Cato, with the actual system as you stated it; so let us press the matter home, and compare the doctrines you have just enunciated with those which I think superior to yours. Let us then take for granted the tenets that you hold in common with the ancients, but discuss, if you are willing, those about which there is dispute.”
“Oh,” said he, “I am quite willing for the debate to go deeper; to be pressed home, as you phrase it. The arguments you have so far put forward are of the popular order; but I look to you to give me something more out of the common.”
“What, do you look to me?” said I. “But all the same I will do my best, and if I am short of matter, I shall not shrink from the arguments you are pleased to call popular. But let it be granted to begin with, that we have an affection for ourselves, and that the earliest impulse bestowed upon us by nature is a desire for self-preservation. On this we are agreed; and the implication is that we must study what we ourselves are, in order to keep ourselves true to our proper character. We are then human beings, consisting of soul and body, and these of a certain kind. These we are bound to esteem, as our earliest natural instinct demands, and out of these we must construct our End, our Chief and Ultimate Good. And, if our premises are correct, this End must be pronounced to consist in the attainment of the largest number of the most important of the things in accordance with nature. This then was the conception of the end that they upheld; the supreme Good they believed to be the thing which I have described at some length, but which they more briefly expressed by the formula ‘life according to nature.’
“Now then let us call upon your leaders, or better upon yourself (for who is more qualified to speak for your school?) to explain this: how in the world do you contrive, starting from the same first principles, to reach the conclusion that the Chief Good is morality of life? — for that is equivalent to your ‘life in agreement with virtue’ or ‘life in harmony with nature.’ By what means or at what point did you suddenly discard the body, and all those things which are in accordance with nature but out of our control, and lastly duty itself? My question then is, how comes it that so many things that Nature strongly recommends have been suddenly abandoned by Wisdom? Even if we were not seeking the Chief Good of man but of some living creature that consisted solely of a mind (let us allow ourselves to imagine such a creature, in order to facilitate our discovery of the truth), even so that mind would not accept this End of yours. For such a being would ask for health and freedom from pain, and would also desire its own preservation, and set up as its End to live according to nature, which means, as I said, to possess either all or most and the most important of the things which are in accordance with nature. In fact you may construct a living creature of any sort you like, but even if it be devoid of a body like our imaginary being, nevertheless its mind will be bound to possess certain attributes analogous to those of the body, and consequently it will be impossible to set up for it an end of Goods on any other lines than those which I have laid down. Chrysippus, on the other hand, in his survey of the different species of living things states that in some the body is the principal part, in others the mind, while there are some that are equally endowed in respect of either; and then he proceeds to discuss what constitutes the ultimate good proper to each species. Man he so classified as to make the mind the principal part in him; and yet he so defined man’s End as to make it appear, not that he is principally mind, but that he consists of nothing else. But the only case in which it would be correct to place the Chief Good in virtue alone is if there existed a creature consisting solely of pure intellect, with the further proviso that this intellect possessed nothing of its own that was in accordance with nature, as bodily health is. But it is impossible even to imagine a self-consistent picture of what such a creature would be like.
“If on the contrary they urge that certain things are so extremely small that they are eclipsed and lost sight of altogether, we too admit this; Epicurus also says the same of pleasure, that the smallest pleasures are often eclipsed and disappear. But things so important, permanent and numerous as the bodily advantages in question are not in this category. On the one hand therefore, with things so small as to be eclipsed from view, we are often bound to admit that it makes no difference to us whether we have them or not (just as, to take your illustration, it makes no difference if you light a lamp in the sunshine, or add sixpence to the wealth of Croesus); while on the other hand, with things which are not so completely eclipsed, it may nevertheless be the case that any difference they do make is not very great (thus, if a man who has lived ten years enjoyably were given an additional month of equally enjoyable life, the addition to his enjoyment, being of some value, would be a good thing, but yet the refusal of the addition does not forthwith annihilate his happiness). Now bodily goods resemble rather the latter sort of things. For they contribute something worth an effort to obtain; so that I think psometimes that the Stoics must be joking when they say that, as between a life of virtue and a life virtue plus an oil‑flask or a flesh-brush, the Wise Man will prefer the life with those additions, but yet will not be any happier because of them. Pray does this illustration really hold good? is it not rather to be dismissed with a laugh than seriously refuted? Who would not richly deserve to be laughed at if he troubled about having or not having an oil‑flask? But rid a man of bodily deformity or agonies of pain, and you earn his deepest gratitude; even the Wise Man, if a tyrant sent him to the rack, would not wear the same look as if he had lost his oil‑flask; he would feel that he had a severe and searching ordeal before him, and seeing that he was about to encounter the supreme antagonist, pain, would summon up all his principles of courage and endurance to fortify him against that severe and searching struggle aforesaid. — Again, the question is not whether such and such a good is so trifling as to be a sort as to contribute to the sum total. In the life of pleasure of which we spoke, one pleasure is lost to sight among the many; but all the same, small as it is, it is a part of the life that is based upon pleasure. A halfpenny is lost to sight amid the riches of Croesus; still it forms part of those riches. Hence the circumstances according to nature, as we call them, may be unnoticed in a life of happiness, only you must allow that they are parts of that happiness.
“Yet if, as you and we are bound to agree, there does exist a certain natural instinct to desire the things in accordance with nature, the right procedure is to add together all these things in one definite total. This point established, it will then be open to us to investigate at our leisure your questions about the importance of the separate items, and the value of their respective contributions to happiness, and about that eclipse, as you call it, of the things so small as to be almost or quite imperceptible. Then what of a point on which no disagreement exists? I mean this: no one will dispute that the supreme and final End, the thing ultimately desirable, is analogous for all natural species alike. For love of self is inherent in every species; since what species exists that ever abandons itself or any part of itself, or any habit or faculty of any such part, or any of the things, whether processes or states, that are in accordance with its nature? What species ever forgot its own original constitution? Assuredly there is not one that does not retain its own proper faculty from start to finish. How then came it about that, of all the existing species, mankind alone should relinquish man’s nature, forget the body, and find its Chief Good not in the whole man but in a part of man? How moreover is the axiom to be retained, admitted as it is even by the Stoics and accepted universally, that the End which is the subject of our inquiry is analogous for all species? For the analogy to hold, every other species also would have to find its End in that part of the organism which in that particular species is the highest part; since that, as we have seen, is how the Stoics conceive the End of man. Why then do you hesitate to alter your conception of the primary instincts to correspond? Instead of saying that every animal from the moment of its birth is devoted to love of itself and engrossed in preserving itself, why do you not rather say that every animal is devoted to the best part of itself and engrossed in protecting that alone, and that every other species is solely engaged in preserving the part that is respectively best in each? But in what sense is one part the best, if nothing beside it is good at all? While if on the contrary other things also are desirable, why does not the supremely desirable thing consist in the attainment of all, or of the greatest possible number and the most important, of these things? A Pheidias can start to make a statue from the beginning and carry it to completion, or he can take one rough-hewn by someone else and finish that. The latter case typifies the work of Wisdom. She did not create man herself, but took him over in the rough from Nature; her business is to finish the statue that Nature began, keeping her eyes on Nature meanwhile. What sort of thing then is man as rough-hewn by Nature? and what is the function and the task of Wisdom? what is it that needs to be consummated by her finishing touch? If it is a creature consisting solely of a certain operation of the intellect, that is, reason, its highest good must be activity in accordance with virtue since virtue is reason’s consummation. If it is nothing but a body, the chief things will be health, freedom from pain, beauty and the rest. But as a matter of fact the creature whose Chief Good we are seeking is man. Surely then our course is to inquire what has been achieved in the whole of man’s nature. All are agreed that the duty and function of Wisdom is entirely centred in the work of perfecting man; but then some thinkers (for you must not imagine that I am tilting at the Stoics only) produce theories which place the Chief Good in the class of things entirely outside our control, as though they were discussing some creature devoid of a mind; while others on the contrary ignore everything but mind, just as if man had no body; and that though even the mind is not an empty, impalpable something (a conception to me unintelligible), but belongs to a certain kind of material substance, and therefore even the mind is not satisfied with virtue alone, but desires freedom from pain. In fact, with each school alike it is just as if they should ignore the left side of their bodies and protect the right, or, in the mind, like Erillus, recognize cognition but leave the practical faculty out of account. They pick and choose, pass over a great deal and fasten on a single aspect; so all their systems are one‑sided. The full and perfect philosophy was that which, investigating the Chief Good of man, left no part either of his mind or body uncared‑for. Whereas your friends, Cato, on the strength of the fact, which we all admit, that virtue is man’s highest and supreme excellence and that the Wise Man is the perfect and consummate type of humanity, try to dazzle our mental vision with virtue’s radiance. Every animal, for instance the horse, or the dog, has some supreme good quality, yet at the same time they require to have health and freedom from pain; similarly therefore in man that consummation you speak of attains its chief glory in what is his chief excellence, namely virtue. This being so, I feel you do not take sufficient pains to study Nature’s method of procedure. With the growing corn, no doubt, her way is to guide its development from blade to ear, and then discard the blade as of no value; but she does not do the same with man, when she has developed in him the faculty of reason. For she continually superadds fresh faculties without abandoning her previous gifts. Thus she added to sensation reason, and after creating reason did not discard sensation. Suppose the art of viticulture, whose function is to bring the vine with all its parts into the most thriving condition — at least let us assume it to be so (for we may invent an imaginary case, as you are fond of doing, for purposes of illustration); suppose then the art of viticulture were a faculty residing in the vine itself, this faculty would doubtless desire every condition requisite for the health of the vine as before, but would rank itself above all the other parts of the vine, and would consider itself the noblest element in the vine’s organism. Similarly when an animal organism has acquired the faculty of sensation, this faculty protects the organism, it is true, but also protects itself; but when reason has been superadded, this is placed in such a position of dominance that all those primary gifts of nature are placed under its protection. Accordingly each never abandons its task of safeguarding the earlier elements; its business is by controlling these to steer the whole course of life; so that I cannot sufficiently marvel at the inconsistency of your teachers. Natural desire, which they term hormē, and also duty, and even virtue itself they reckon among things according to Nature. Yet when they want to arrive at the Supreme Good, they leap over all of these, and leave us with two tasks instead of one, some things we are to ‘adopt,’ others to ‘desire’; instead of including both tasks under a single End.
“But you protest that if other things than virtue go to make up happiness, virtue cannot be established. As a matter of fact it is entirely the other way about: it is impossible to find a place for virtue, unless all the things that she chooses and rejects are reckoned towards one sum‑total of good. For if we entirely ignore ourselves, we shall fall into the mistakes and errors of Aristo, forgetting the things that we assigned as the origins of virtue herself; if while not ignoring these things, we yet do not reckon them in the End or Chief Good, we shall be well on the road towards the extravagances of Erillus, since we shall have to adopt two different rules of life at once. Erillus sets up two separate ultimate Goods, which, supposing his view were true, he ought to have united in one; but as it is he makes them so separate as to be mutually exclusive alternatives, which is surely the extreme of perversity. Hence the truth is just the opposite of what you say; virtue is an absolute impossibility, unless it holds to the objects of the primary instincts as going to make up the sum of good. For we started to look for a virtue that should protect, not abandon, nature; whereas virtue as you conceive it protects a particular part of our nature but leaves the remainder in the lurch. Man’s constitution itself, if it could speak, would declare that its earliest tentative movements of desire were aimed at preserving itself in the natural character with which it was born into the world. But at that stage the principal intention of nature had not yet been fully revealed. Well, suppose it revealed. What then? will it be construed otherwise than as forbidding that any part of man’s nature should be ignored? If man consists solely of a reasoning faculty, let it be granted that the End of Goods is contained in virtue alone; but if he has a body as well, the revelation of our nature, on your showing, will actually have resulted in our relinquishing the things to which we held before that revelation took place. At this rate ‘to live in harmony with nature’ means to depart from nature. There have been philosophers who, after rising from sensation to the recognition of nobler and more spiritual faculties, thereupon threw the senses on one side. Similarly your friends next after the instinctive desires came to behold virtue in all her beauty, and forthwith flung aside all they had ever seen besides virtue herself, forgetting that the whole instinct of appetition is so wide in its range that it spreads from the primary objects of desire right up to the ultimate Ends, and not realizing that they are undermining the very foundations of the graces which they so much admire.
“In my view, therefore, while all who have defined the End of Goods as the life of moral conduct are in error, some are more wrong than others. The most mistaken no doubt is Pyrrho, because his conception of virtue leaves nothing as an object of desire whatever. Next in error comes Aristo, who did not venture to leave a mere negation, but introduced as the Wise Man’s motives of desire ‘whatever chanced to enter his mind’ and ‘whatever struck him.’ Aristo is better than Pyrrho in so far as he allowed desire of some sort, but worse than the rest because he departed so utterly from nature. Now the Stoics in placing the End of Goods in virtue alone resemble the philosophers already mentioned; but in trying to find a foundation for virtuous action they are an improvement upon Pyrrho, and in not finding this in imaginary ‘things that strike the mind’ they do better than Aristo; though in speaking of certain things as ‘suitable to nature’ and ‘to be adopted for their own sakes,’ and then refusing to include them in the End of Goods, they desert nature and approximate in some degree to Aristo. For Aristo invented his vague ‘things that strike the mind’; while the Stoics, though recognizing, it is true, the primary objects of nature, yet allow no connection between these and their Ends or sum of Goods. In making the primary objects ‘preferred,’ so as to admit a certain principle of choice among things, they seem to be following nature, but in refusing to allow them to have anything to do with happiness, they again abandon nature.
“So far what I have said was to show why Zeno had no grounds for seceding from the earlier authorities. Now let us turn our attention to the rest of my points, unless, Cato, you desire to say anything in reply to this, or unless I have gone on too long already.”
“Neither is the case,” he answer, “since I am eager for you to finish your argument, and no discourse of yours could seem to me long.”
“Thank you very much,” I rejoined; “for what could I desire better than to discuss the subject of virtue with that pattern of all the virtues Cato? But first I would have you observe that the most important of all your doctrines, the head of the array, namely that Moral Worth alone is good and that the moral life is the End of Goods, will be shared with you by all those who make the End of Goods consist of virtue alone; and your view that it is impossible to frame a conception of Virtue if anything beside Moral Worth be counted in it, will also be maintained by the philosophers whom I just now mentioned. To my mind it would have been fairer for Zeno in his dispute with Polemo, whose teaching as to the primary impulses of nature he had adopted, to have started from the fundamental tenets which they held in common, and to have marked the point where he first called a halt and where occasion for divergence arose; not to take his stand with thinkers who did not even profess to hold that the Chief Good, as they severally conceived it, was based on natural instinct, and employ the same arguments and the same doctrines as they did.
“Another point to which I take great exception is that, when you have proved, as you think, that Moral Worth alone is good, you then turn round and say that of course there must be advantages adapted to our nature set before us as a starting point, in exercising choice among which advantages virtue may be able to come into existence. Now it was a mistake to make virtue consist in an act of choice, for this implies that the very thing that is the ultimate Good itself seeks to get something else. Surely the sum of Goods must include everything worth adopting, choosing or desiring, so that he who has attained it may not want anything more. In the case of those whose Chief Good consists in pleasure, notice how clear it is what things they are to do or not to do; no one can be in doubt as to the proper scope of all their duties, what these must aim at and what avoid. Or grant the ultimate Good that I am now upholding, and it becomes clear at once what one’s duties are and what actions are prescribed. But you, who have no pother standard in view but abstract right and morality, will not be able to find a source and starting point for duty and for conduct. In the search for this you will all of you have to return to nature, — both those who say that they follow whatever comes into their mind or whatever occurs to them, and you yourselves. Both will be met by Nature’s very just reply that it is not right that the standard of Happiness should be sought elsewhere while the springs of conduct are derived from herself; that there is a single principle which must cover both the springs of action and the ultimate Goods; and that just as Aristo’s doctrine had been quite discredited, that there is no difference between one thing and another, and nothing whatever to choose between any other things but virtues and vices, so Zeno was mistaken in saying that (a) nothing else but virtue or vice affected even in the smallest degree the attainment of the Chief Good, and (b) although other things had no effect whatever upon happiness, yet they had some influence upon our desires; just as though desire, if you please, bore no relation whatever to the attainment of the Chief Good! But what can be more inconsistent than the procedure they profess, to ascertain the Chief Good first, and then to return to Nature, and demand from her the primary motive of conduct or of duty? Considerations of conduct or duty do not supply the impulse to desire the things that are in accordance with nature; it is these things which excite desire and give motives for conduct.
“I now come to those concise proofs of yours which you called ‘consequences.’ I will start with one as concise as anything could be: ‘Everything good is praiseworthy; but everything praiseworthy is morally honourable; therefore everything good is morally honourable.’ What a dagger of lead! Why, who will grant you your major premise? (and if this be granted there is no need of the minor; for if everything good is praiseworthy, then everything good is honourable). Who, I say, will grant you this, except Pyrrho, Aristo and their fellows, whose doctrines you reject? Aristotle, Xenocrates and the whole of their following will not allow it; because they call health, strength, riches, fame and many other things good, but do not call them praiseworthy. And these, though holding that the End of Goods is not limited to virtue alone, yet rate virtue higher than all other things; but what do you suppose will be the attitude of those who entirely dissociated virtue from the end of Goods, Epicurus, Hieronymus, and also of any supporters of the End of Carneades? Or how will Callipho or Diodorus be able to grant your premise, who combine with Moral Worth another factor belonging to an entirely different category? Are you then content, Cato, to take disputed premises for granted, and draw from these any conclusion you want? And again, the following proof is a sorites, which according to you is a most fallacious form of reasoning: ‘what is good is to be wished; what is to be wished is desirable; what is desirable is praiseworthy’; and so on through the remaining steps, but I call a halt at this one, for, just as before, no one will grant you that what is desirable is praiseworthy. As for your other argument, it is by no means a ‘consequence,’ but stupid to a degree, though, of course, the Stoic leaders and not yourself are responsible for that: ‘Happiness is a thing to be proud of, whereas it cannot be the case that anyone should have good reason to be proud without Moral Worth.’ The minor premise Polemo will concede to Zeno, and so will his master and the whole of their clan, as well as all the other philosophers that while ranking virtue far above all else yet couple some other thing with it in defining the Chief Good; since if virtue is a thing to be proud of, as it is, and excels everything else to a degree hardly to be expressed in words, Polemo will be able to be happy if endowed solely with virtue, and destitute of all besides, and yet he will not grant you that nothing except virtue is to be reckoned as a good. Those on the other hand whose Supreme Good dispenses with virtue will perhaps decline to grant that happiness contains any just ground for pride; although they, it is true, sometimes represent even pleasures as things to be proud of.
“So you see that you are either making assumptions which cannot be granted or one which even if granted do you no good. For my own part, as regards all these Stoic syllogisms, I should have thought that to be worthy of philosophy and of ourselves, particularly when the subject of our inquiry is the Supreme Good, the argument ought to amend our lives, purposes and wills, not just correct our terminology. Could those concise and pointed arguments which you say you delight in possibly make any man alter his opinions? Here are people all agog to learn why pain is no evil; and the Stoics tell them that though pain is irksome, annoying, hateful, unnatural and hard to bear, it is not an evil, because it involves no dishonesty, wickedness or malice, no moral blame or baseness. He who hears this may or may not want to laugh, but he will not go away any stronger to endure pain than he came. You however say that no one can be brave who thinks pain an evil. Why should he be braver for thinking it what you yourself admit it to be, irksome and almost intolerable? Timidity springs from facts, not from words. And you aver that if a single letter be altered, the whole system will totter. Well, do you think I am altering a letter or whole pages? Even allowing that the Stoics deserve the praise you gave them for the methodical arrangement and perfect logical connection (as you described it) of their system, still we are not bound to accept a chain of reasoning because it is self-consistent and keeps to the line laid down, if it starts from false premises. Now your master Zeno deserted nature in framing his first principles; he placed the supreme Good in that intellectual excellence which we term virtue, and declared that nothing but Moral Worth is good, and that virtue cannot be established if among the rest of things any one thing is better than any other; and he adhered to logical conclusions from these premises. Quite true, I can’t deny it. But the conclusions are so false that the premises from which they sprang cannot be true. For the logicians teach us, as you are aware, that if the consequences that follow from a proposition be false, the proposition from which those consequences follow must itself be false. On this is based the following syllogism, which is not merely true, but so evident that the logicians assume is as axiomatic: If A is B, C is D; but C is not D, therefore A is not B. Thus, if your conclusions are upset, your premises are upset also. What then are your conclusions? That those who are not wise are all equally wretched; that the wise are all supremely happy; that all right actions are equal, all sins on a par; — these dicta may have had an imposing sound at first hearing, but upon examination they began to seem less convincing. For common sense, the facts of nature, truth herself seemed to cry aloud that nothing should persuade them that there was actually no difference between the things which Zeno made out to be equal.
“Subsequently your little Phoenician (for you are aware that your clients of Citium originally came from Phoenicia), with the cunning of his race, finding he was losing his case with Nature up in arms against him, set about juggling with words. First he allowed the things that we in our school call goods to be considered ‘valuable’ and ‘suited to nature,’ and he began to admit that though a man were wise, that is, supremely happy, it would yet be an advantage to him if he also possessed the things which he is not bold enough to call goods, but allows to be ‘suited to nature.’ He maintains that Plato, even if he be not wise, is not in the same case as the tyrant Dionysius: Dionysius has no hope of wisdom, and his best fate would be to die; but Plato has hopes of it, and had better live. Again, he allows that some sins are endurable, while others are unpardonable, because some sins transgress more and other fewer points of duty; moreover some fools are so foolish as to be utterly incapable of attaining wisdom, but others might conceivably by great effort attain to wisdom. In all this though his language was peculiar, his meaning was the same as that of everybody else. In fact he set no lower value on the things he himself denied to be good than did those who said they were good. What then did he want by altering their old name? He ought at least to have diminished their importance and to have set a slightly lower value on them than the Peripatetics, so as to make the difference appear to be one of meaning and not merely of language. Again, what do you and your school say about happiness itself, the ultimate end and aim of all things? You will not have it to be the sum of all the things nature needs, but make it consist of virtue alone. Now all disputes usually turn either on facts or on names; ignorance of fact or error as to terms will cause one or the other form of dispute respectively. If neither source of difference is present, we must be careful to employ the terms most generally accepted and those most suitable, that is, those that convey the fact clearly. Can we doubt that, if the older philosophers are not mistaken on the point of fact, their terminology is the more convenient one? Let us then consider their opinions and return to the question of terminology later.
“Their statements are that appetition is excited in the mind when something appears to it to be in accordance with nature; and that all things that are in accordance with nature are worth some value, and are to be valued in proportion to the importance that they severally possess; and that of those things which are in accordance with nature, some excite of themselves none of that appetition of which we have often spoken already, and these are to be called neither honourable nor praiseworthy, while some are those which are objects of pleasure in every living creature, but in man are objects of the reason also; those which are dependent on the reason are called honourable, beautiful, praiseworthy; but the former class are called natural, the class which coupled with things morally worthy render happiness perfect and complete. They further hold that of all those advantages, which they who call them goods rate no more highly than does Zeno who says they are not goods, by far the most excellent is Moral Worth and what is praiseworthy; but if one is offered the choice between Moral Worth plus health and Moral Worth plus disease, there is no doubt to which of the two Nature herself will guide us; though at the same time Moral Worth is potent, and so overwhelmingly superior to all other things, that no penalties or rewards can induce it to swerve from what it has decided to be right; and all apparent hardships, difficulties and obstacles can be trodden under foot by the virtues with which nature has adorned us; not that these hardships are easily overcome or to be made light of (else where were the merit of virtue?), but so as to lead us to the verdict that these things are not the main factor in our happiness or the reverse. In fine, the ancients entitle the same things ‘good’ that Zeno pronounced ‘valuable,’ ‘to be adopted,’ and ‘suited to nature’; pand they call a life happy which comprises either the largest number or the most important of the things aforesaid: Zeno on the contrary calls nothing good but that which has a peculiar charm of its own that makes it desirable, and no life happy but the life of virtue.
“If, Cato, the discussion is to turn on facts, disagreement between me and yourself is out of the question: since your views and mine are the same in every particular, if only we compare the actual substance after making the necessary changes in terms. Zeno was not unaware of this, but he was beguiled by the pomp and circumstance of language; had he really thought what he says, in the actual sense of the words he uses, what difference would there be between him and either Pyrrho or Aristo? If on the other hand he rejected Pyrrho and Aristo, what was the point of quarrelling about words with those with whom he agreed in substance? What if those pupils of Plato were to come to life again, and their pupils again in succession, and were to address you in this fashion? ‘As we listened, Marcus Cato, to so devoted a student of philosophy, so just a man, so upright a judge, so scrupulous a witness as yourself, we marvelled what reason could induce you to reject us for the Stoics, whose views on good and evil were the views that Zeno learnt from Polemo here, but who expressed those views in terms at first sight startling but upon examination ridiculous. If you accepted those views on their merits, why did you not hold them under their own terminology? or if you were swayed by authority, could you prefer that nobody to all of us, even to Plato himself? especially when you aspired to play a leading part in the state, and we were the very persons to arm and equip you to protect the state with the highest honour to yourself. Why, it is we who invented political philosophy; and reduced it to a system; its nomenclature, its principles are our creation; on all the various forms of government, their stability, their revolutions, the laws, institutions and customs of states, we have written exhaustively. Oratory again is the proudest distinction of the statesman, and in it you, we are told, are pre‑eminent; but how vastly you might have enriched your eloquence from the records of our genius.’ What answer, pray, could you give to these words from such men as those?” “I would beg of you,” replied Cato, “as you had put that speech into their mouths, to be my spokesman also; or rather I would ask you to grant me a moment’s space in which to answer them, if it were not that for the present I prefer to listen to you, and also intend to reply to your champions at another time, I mean when I reply to yourself.”
“Well, Cato, if you wanted to answer truly, this is what you would have to say: that with all respect for the high authority of men so gifted, you had observed that the Stoics had discovered truths which they in those early days had naturally failed to see; the Stoics had discussed the same subjects with more insight and had arrived at bolder and more profound conclusions; first, they said that good health is not desirable but worthy of selection, and that not because to be well is a good, but because it has some positive value (not that any greater value is attached to it by the older school who do not hesitate to call it a good); well then, you couldn’t stand those bearded old fogies (as we call our own Roman ancestors) believing that a man who lived morally, if he also had health, wealth and reputation, had a preferable, better, more desirable life than he who, though equally good, was, like Alcmaeon in Ennius,
Beset on every side
With sickness, banishment and poverty.
Those men of old then, with their duller wits, think that the former life is more desirable, more excellent, more happy; the Stoics on the other hand consider it merely to be preferred for choice, not because it is a happier life but because it is more adapted to nature. The Stoics we must suppose discerned a truth that had escaped their predecessors, namely that men defiled by crimes and murders are no more miserable than those who though pious and upright in their lives have not yet attained ideal and perfect wisdom. It was at this point that you brought forward those extremely false analogies which the Stoics are so fond of employing. Of course everybody knows that if there are several people plunged in deep water and trying to get out, those already approaching the surface, though nearer to breathing, will be no more able actually to breathe than those at the bottom. You infer that improvement and progress in virtue are of no avail to save a man from being utterly wretched, until he has actually arrived at virtue, since to rise in the water is of no avail. Again, since puppies on the point of opening their eyes are as blind as those only just born, it follows that Plato, not having yet attained to the vision of wisdom, was just as blind mentally as Phalaris!
“Really, Cato, there is no analogy between progress in virtue and cases such as you describe, in which however far one advances, the situation one wishes to escape from still remains the same until one has actually emerged from it. The man does not breathe until he has risen to the surface; the puppies are as blind before they have opened their eyes as if they were going to be blind always. Good analogies would be these: one man’s eyesight is dim, another’s general health is weak; apply remedies, and they get better day by day; every day the one is stronger and the other sees better; similarly with all who earnestly pursue virtue; they get better, their vices and errors are gradually reduced. Surely you would not maintain that the elder Tiberius Gracchus was not happier than his son, when the one devoted himself to the service of the state and the other to its destruction. But still the elder Gracchus was not a Wise Man; who ever was? or when, or where, or how? Still he aspired to fame and honour, and therefore had advanced to a high point in virtue. Compare your grandfather Drusus with Gaius Gracchus, who was nearly his contemporary. The former strove to heal the wounds which the latter inflicted on the state. If there is nothing that makes men so miserable as impiety and crime, granted that all who are foolish are miserable, as of course they are, nevertheless a man who serves his country is not so miserable as one who longs for its ruin. Therefore those who achieve definite progress towards virtue undergo a great diminution of their vices. Your teachers, however, while allowing progress towards virtue, deny diminution of vice. But it is worth while to examine the argument on which these clever people rely for the proof. Their line is this: In the case of arts or sciences which admit of advancement, the opposite of those arts and sciences will also admit of advance; but virtue is absolute and incapable of increase; therefore the vices also, being the opposite of the virtues, are incapable of gradation. Pray tell me then, does a certainty explain an uncertainty, or does uncertainty disprove a certainty? Now, that some vices are worse than others is certain; but whether the Chief Good, as you Stoics conceive it, can be subject to increase is not certain. Yet instead of employing the certain to throw light on the uncertain, you endeavour to make the uncertain disprove the certain. Therefore you can be checkmated by the same argument as I employed just now. If the proof that one vice cannot be worse than another depends on the fact that the End of Goods, as you conceive it, is itself incapable of increase, then you must alter your End of Goods, since it is certain that the vices of all men are not equal. For we are bound to hold that if a conclusion is false, the premise on which it depends cannot be true.
“Now what has landed you in this impasse? Simply your pride and vainglory in constructing your Chief Good. To maintain that the only Good is Moral Worth is to do away with the care of one’s health, the management of one’s estate, participation in politics, the conduct of affairs, the duties of life; nay, to abandon that Moral Worth itself, which according to you is the be‑all and the end‑all of existence; objections that were urged most earnestly against Aristo by Chrysippus. This is the difficulty that gave birth to those ‘base conceits deceitful-tongued,’ as Attius has it. Wisdom had no ground to stand on when desires were abolished; desires were abolished when all choice and distinction was done away with; distinction was impossible when all things were made absolutely equal and indifferent; and all these perplexities resulted in your paradoxes, which are worse than those of Aristo. His were at all events frank and open, whereas yours are disingenuous. Ask Aristo whether he deems freedom from pain, riches, health to be goods, and he will answer No. Well, are their opposites bad? No, likewise. Ask Zeno, and his answer would be identically the same. In our surprise we should inquire of each, how can we possibly conduct our lives if we think it makes no difference to us whether we are well or ill, free from pain or in torments of agony, safe against cold and hunger or exposed to them. O, says Aristo, you will get on splendidly, capitally; you will do exactly what seems good to you; you will never know sorrow, desire or fear. What is Zeno’s answer? This doctrine is a philosophical monstrosity, he tells us, it renders life entirely impossible; his view is that while between the moral and the base a vast, enormous gulf is fixed, between all other things there is no difference whatever. So far this is the same as Aristo; but hear what follows, and restrain your laughter if you can. These intermediate things, says Zeno, which have no difference between them, are still of such a nature that some of them are to be selected and others rejected, while others again are to be entirely ignored; that is, they are such that some you wish to have, others you wish not to have, and about others you do not care. — ‘But you told us just now that there was no difference among them.’ — ‘And I say the same now,’ he will reply, ‘but I mean no difference in respect of virtue and vice.’
“Who, pray, did not know that? However, let us hear what he has to say. — ‘The things you mentioned,’ he continues, ‘health, affluence, freedom from pain, I do not call goods, but I will call them in Greek proēgmena, that is in your language “brought forward” (though I will rather use “preferred” or “pre‑eminent,” as these sound smoother and more acceptable) and on the other hand disease, poverty and pain I do not style evils, but, if you please, “things rejected.” Accordingly I do not speak of “desiring” but “selecting” these things, not of “wishing” but “adopting” them, and not of “avoiding” their opposites but so to speak “discarding” them.’ What say Aristotle and the other pupils of Plato? That they call all things in accordance with nature good and all things contrary to nature bad. Do you see therefore that between your master Zeno and Aristo there is a verbal harmony but a real difference; whereas between him and Aristotle and the rest there is a real agreement and a verbal disagreement? Why, then, as we are agreed to the fact, do we not prefer to employ the usual terminology? Or else let him prove that I shall be readier to despise money if I believe it to be a ‘thing preferred’ than if I believe it to be a good, and braver to endure pain if I say it is irksome and hard to bear and contrary to nature, than if I call it an evil. Our friend Marcus Piso was often witty, but never more so than when he ridiculed the Stoics on this score. ‘What?’ he said, ‘You tell us wealth is not good but you say it is “preferred”; how does that help matters? do you diminish avarice? In what way? If it is a question of words, to begin with, “preferred” is a longer word than “good.” ‘ — ‘That is no matter.’ — ‘Granted, by all means; but it is certainly more impressive. For I do not know the derivation of “good,” whereas “preferred” I suppose means “placed before” other things; this implies to my mind something very important.’ Accordingly he would maintain that Zeno gives more importance to wealth, by classing it as ‘preferred,’ than did Aristotle, who admitted wealth to be a good, yet not a great good, but one to be thought lightly of and despised in comparison with uprightness and Moral Worth, and not to be greatly desired; and on Zeno’s innovations in terminology generally he would declare that the names he actually gave to the things which he denied to be good or evil were more and less attractive respectively than the names by which we call them. So said Piso, an excellent man and, as you know, a devoted friend to yourself. For my part, let me add a few words more and then finally conclude. For it would be a long task to reply to all your arguments.
“The same verbal legerdemain supplies you with your kingdoms and empires and riches, riches so vast that you declare that everything the world contains is the property of the Wise Man. He alone, you say, is handsome, he alone a free man and a citizen: while the foolish are the opposite of all these, and according to you insane into the bargain. The Stoics call these paradoxa, as we might say ‘startling truths.’ But what is there so startling about them viewed at close quarters? I will consult you as to the meaning you attach to each term; there shall be no dispute. You Stoics say that all transgressions are equal. I won’t jest with you now, as I did on the same subjects when you were prosecuting and I defending Lucius Murena. On that occasion I was addressing a jury, not an audience of scholars, and I even had to play to the gallery a little; but now I must reason more closely. Transgressions are equal. — How so, pray? — Because nothing can be better than good or baser than base. — Explain further, for there is much disagreement on this point; let us have your special arguments to prove how all transgressions are equal. — Suppose, says my opponent, of a number of lyres not one is so strung as to be in tune; then all are equally out of tune; similarly with transgressions, since all are departures from rule, all are equally departures from rule; therefore all are equal. — Here we are put off with an equivocation. All the lyres are equally out of tune; but it does not follow that all are equally out of tune. So your comparison does not help you; for it does not follow that because we pronounce every case of avarice equally to be avarice, we must therefore pronounce them all to be equal. Here is another of these false analogies: A skipper, says my adversary, commits an equal transgression if he loses his ship with a cargo of straw and if he does so when laden with gold; similarly a man is an equal transgressor if he beats his parent or his slave without due cause. — Fancy not seeing that the nature of the cargo has nothing to do with the skill of the navigator! so that whether he carries gold or straw makes no differences as regards good or bad seamanship; whereas the distinction between a parent and a mere slave is one that cannot and ought not to be overlooked. Hence the nature of the other upon which the offence is committed, which in navigation makes no difference, in conduct makes all the difference. Indeed in the case of navigation too, if the loss of the ship is due to negligence, the offence is greater with a cargo of gold than with one of straw. For the virtue known generally as prudence is an attribute as we hold of all the arts, and every master craftsman in each branch of art ought to possess it. Hence this proof also of the equality of transgression breaks down.
“However, they press the matter, and will not give way. Every transgression, they argue, is a proof of weakness and instability of character; but all the foolish possess these vices in an equal manner; therefore all transgressions must be equal. As though it were admitted that all foolish people possess an equal degree of vice, and that Lucius Tubulus was exactly as weak and unstable as Publius Scaevola who brought in the bill for his condemnation; and as though there were no difference also between the respective circumstances in which the transgressions are committed, so that the magnitude of the transgression varies in proportion to the importance of the circumstances! And therefore (since my discourse must now conclude) this is the one chief defect under which your friends the Stoics seem to me to labour, — they think they can maintain two contrary opinions at once. How can you have a greater inconsistency than for the same person to say both that Moral Worth is the sole good and that we have a natural instinct to seek the things conducive to life? Thus in their desire to retain ideas consonant with the former doctrine they are landed in the position of Aristo; and when they try to escape from this they adopt what is in reality the position of the Peripatetics, though still clinging tooth and nail to their own terminology. Unwilling again to take the next step and weed out this terminology, they end by being rougher and more uncouth than ever, full of asperities of style and even of manners. Panaetius strove to avoid this uncouth and repellant development of Stoicism, censuring alike the harshness of its doctrines and the crabbedness of its logic. In doctrine he was mellower, and in style more lucid. Plato, Aristotle, Xenocrates, Theophrastus and Dicearchus were constantly on his lips, as his writings show; and these authors I strongly advise you to take up for your most careful study. But evening is closing in, and I must be getting home. So enough for the present; but I hope we may often renew this conversation.” “Indeed we will,” he replied; “for how could we be better employed? and the first favour I shall ask of you is to listen to my refutation of what you have said. But bear in memory that whereas you really accept all of our opinions save for the difference of terminology, I on the contrary do not accept any of the tenets of your school.” “A parting shot indeed!” said I; “but we shall see.” And with these words I took my leave.