Roman statesman and philosopher who wrote of his recommendations on how to live the good life.

The proud republic is degenerating, as a populist strongman defies traditional restraints and takes increasingly dictatorial control, while the Senate, bitterly divided and full of intrigue, puts up little resistance. The people clamor for debt forgiveness and rail against economic inequality and a corrupt and decadent oligarchy while imperial wars smolder on the frontiers and the nation struggles to integrate an increasingly multi-ethnic citizenry. The place is Rome, the time is the first century B.C.

Cicero was a statesman who tried in vain to preserve the Roman Republic as it was collapsing into Cæsarean dictatorship. He was also an eloquent philosopher who wrote extensively about how to live a virtuous life.

Virtue in general consists of three properties. First, in discerning in every subject what is true and genuine; what is consistent in every one; what will be the consequence of such or such a thing; how one thing arises from another, and what is the cause of each. The next property of virtue is to calm those violent disorders of the mind which the Greeks call πάθη, and to render obedient to reason those appetites which they call ὁρμαι. The third property is to treat with moderation and prudence those with whom we are joined in society… (De Officiis II.5)

His De Officiis is a set of three letters he sent to his son, who had left home to study in Athens. The first is on the subject of virtuous living. The second on expedience and advantage, and in particular on how to maintain a good reputation.

The third examines whether virtue and expedience ever conflict (he thinks not), and if they seem to, what to do about it. He thinks this typically means that in such a case you’ve made a mistake in your calculations and you need to examine things more closely: “There is for all the one rule which I wish to be thoroughly known to you: Either let not that which seems expedient be base, or if it be base let it not seem expedient” (De Officiis III.20). In other words, perhaps because it is inexpedient it is no longer as virtuous as it would otherwise be; or, possibly, it only appears expedient but because it it not virtuous it is also not expedient when you look at the big picture. In opposition to the epicureans (and to Aristotle), Cicero insists that pleasure has nothing to do with virtue, and indeed tends to run contrary to it.

Now, as to what they say, that whatever is very useful becomes virtuous, I say, Nay, it is so really, and does not merely become so; for nothing is expedient which is not likewise virtuous; and it is not because it is expedient that it is virtuous, but because it is virtuous it is expedient. (De Officiis III.30)

In these letters he highlights prudence, justice, magnanimity, and moderation as the primary virtues from which the others are formed, with wisdom (sophia) also being key, but he also talks about a vast number of other virtues in more or less detail. Among those he mentions (given here roughly in the order in which he brings them up) are: