success stories

Posted January 28, 2004

On Duty

by Cicero

Old Classical Principles of Cicero That Aptly Apply To The Leadership Of Today
Taken from Cicero’s work written to his son Marcus

Here, then, son Marcus, you will see goodness take shape, and discern the features of her face, which, as Plato says, “if once seen by human eyes, would arouse a marvelous thirst for wisdom.”

Now all that is good has its origins in one of four sources:

1. It may come from perception of and careful devotion to the truth. [We need to add that truth is God and the more we know God, we approach goodness]

2. It may come from concern for the maintenance of human society, and rendering to every man faithful fulfillment of obligations.

3. It may come from the great strength of a lofty and unconquerable spirit.

4. It may come from an orderly and tempered control of words and deeds, which produces moderation and sobriety. [See on our web site the treatment of conversation by Cicero]

From the first source of goodness, in which we include wisdom and intelligence, comes the eager and successful search for the truth. For the more clearly a person perceives the essential truth in any matter and the more quickly and accurately he can see and explain the reason for it, the wiser and more farsighted he will be considered.

The first of the four virtues into which we have divided goodness is knowledge of truth, a virtue that appeals especially to human nature. For we are all attracted and influenced by the desire for knowledge and learning, thinking it fine to excel in this field but shocking and degrading to slip, or be mistaken, or ignorant, or misinformed. In pursuit of this virtue, two errors must be avoided. First, we must never take the unknown as known, and thoughtlessly accept it. Whoever wants to avoid this error (as we all should), will devote both time and pains considering all of the evidence. The second error is that of those who concentrate too much labor and energy on the study of subjects that are obscure and difficult, and useless as well.

. . . .All professions are concerned with a search for truth. But to be drawn from such study quite away from active life is contrary to duty. For virtue is praiseworthy only in “action.” In reality there may be many interruptions, and many temporary returns to study. At the same time, the working of our mind, which never stops, may keep us busy with problems of knowledge without any special exertion on our part. All our thought and mental activity will then be directed either to planning for things that are right and that lead to a good and happy life, or to acquiring knowledge and learning. So much for the first source of duty.

On the three other virtues rests the obligation of acquiring and safeguarding the means for the practical conduct of life, so that human association (civility, honesty, fraternity) in society may be preserved, and the excellence and greatness of man’s mind may be revealed, both in the accumulation of riches and advantages for himself and his family, and, far more, in his contempt for these worldly goods.

Orderliness, steadfastness, moderation and the like, are in this class of virtues, for which a certain amount of action is required, not only exertion of mind. And by observing moderation and order in the affairs of everyday life, we shall be upholding goodness and right conduct.

. . . .We are, as Plato beautifully says, born not for ourselves alone. Our country claims a share in our existence, and our friends a share. By Stoic doctrine the whole produce of the earth was created for the use of men, and men themselves are here for the sake of their fellow men that they may mutually assist one another. We ought then to follow Nature here and contribute to the common good by exchanging deeds of helpfulness, both giving and receiving, and by our skill, our labor, and our talents bind more closely together the association of men with men. The foundation of justice is good faith, that is, the faithful observance of promises and agreements. Some may think I am laboring the point, but I will venture, for a moment, to follow the Stoics who make a diligent study of the derivation of words, and assert that good “faith” is so called because through it a promise becomes a fact.