Skepticism about Natural Right in Cicero’s De Republica
This article examines Cicero’s teaching on natural right in books 1-3 of De republica. He presents four distinct positions there. First and second, there are the stark view insincerely advanced by Philus against natural law and the equally stark view of Laelius in favor of it. In books 1 and 3 Scipio takes a third, more subtle position: He agrees with Laelius that natural law exists; but, unlike Laelius, he does not rely on a god as the foundation of natural law, and he suggests that the greatest use of virtue is suprapolitical knowledge of what is eternal. Scipio leads us to reflect whether natural law requires a theological foundation. In the prefaces to books 1 and 3, Cicero takes a fourth approach: His claim that the greatest use of virtue is governance seems to be incompatible with Scipio’s account of natural law; he may come close to openly rejecting natural law in its entirety; he appears to agree with Philus’s claim that wisdom points toward increasing resources, a claim that supports the acquisition of empire. Thus Cicero causes us to ask this question: if the greatest use of virtue is governance, does the governance occur for the benefit of the governors or the governed? Cicero the skeptic intends to leave us asking questions rather than satisfied with definite answers.
Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics
XVI (2014) 2
EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
David Fott, Skepticism about Natural Right in Cicero’s De Republica", in: Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics, XVI (2014) 2, pp. 233-252