Cicero on Human Nature and Morals
In tackling moral obligation, Cicero explains how one can live and behave in the best way possible while maintaining moral obligation by doing what is honorable, doing what is expedient, as well as measures one can take when there is a conflict between being honorable and private gain.
Cicero points out honor as one of the reasons why humans make certain choices. There are certain ways that as humans we need to behave in order to coexist. In the society we live in, one is judged by their action and it is thus paramount to act in a way perceived right by the majority for example not stealing. For one to understand what is right, they need to overcome the need for excessive attachment to themselves (Cicero, pg. 87). He argues that as humans, it is our duty not to cause harm we should always strive to achieving a common good. If one is self-centered, there are least likely to have concerns over other people. Cicero goes ahead to point out how as humans, one is inclined to help even those that have done us wrong. However, those who have done wrong also need to repent for their wrong doing as a way of ensuring that they do not get to repeat the offence again. In trying to talk about how we should behave in case of war, Cicero explains that arguments can be settled either by discussion or war. We should always resort to talks in case of war and force only ought to be used when discussions cannot be held.
Cicero touches on how each individual has been bestowed by something that is different from the other person. According to him, all humans have different talents as well as natural tendencies (Cicero, pg. 107). He goes on to remark that some people may be quick, others possess strength, others imposing presence, some come off as quite attractive, others are quite brilliants while others slow, some are serious while others love gaiety. According to Cicero we are not the same and that every man needs to embrace their particular qualities although they should not retain ones that ae harmful. In embracing all our natural tendencies and the different talents that we possess then we are less likely to put ourselves in opposition to nature (Cicero, pg. 110). Through the individual nature, we gain shape to our duty.
Cicero correlates being honorable and virtue. He states that one needs to do what is honorable for example if one makes a promise, then goes back on their promise then it is most likely that the neighbor will question the character. Fellowship that one gets to maintain in the community is important and is a form of civic duty. In making this claims, Cicero contributes to Stoicism belief that an individual’s action has impact on the community they are associated with. Cicero states that each man should identify their own ability and if choices are presented to them, then one will be able to choose one that suits them best. Cicero also talks of how as humans we are in a position to freely adopt our personal decisions. Cicero talks of careers one may choose for themselves for example military affairs, philosophy or even civil law (Cicero, pg. 116). Although we have a choice, there are still chances that exist and most often we do not have control on things that happen in our lives.
In conclusion, On Duties tries to reconcile an individual’s duty to themselves, their fellow citizen, family, faith as well as homeland. His main point is as humans we need to have stability in ourselves as long as the action that one is undertaking an appropriate action. One can do expedient actions or actions that are advantageous to one’s life.
Cicero, Marcus Tullius, and Miriam Tamara Griffin. “Cicero: On Duties.” Trans. Walter Miller. Cambridge: Harvard (1913).