Annals of Ethics
Online ISSN : 2434-4699
The Role of Philosophy in Cicero’s Discussion of the Laws
The Significance of the Skeptical Reservation in On the Laws(De legibus), book 1
Author information

2020 Volume 69 Pages 97-111


 In his dialogue On the Laws(De legibus), Marcus Tullius Cicero(106─43 B. C.)argues that laws should be something which, when adopted by the people, would allow them to live happy, honorable lives. In the first part(‘Part A’)of book 1, Cicero provides the theoretical foundation for this conception, embodied by the Stoic cosmology. In the second part(‘Part B’), Cicero argues for natural justice independently of this cosmology. In both parts, the naturalness of justice means that justice is common to all. Yet, in Part B, this point does not mean that there is a common ideal state which only a few can correctly recognize as justice, as it does in Part A. Rather, in Part B, all people, including bad people, recognize the basic feature of justice: its naturalness. This change in conclusion cannot be accounted for if, as scholars tend to believe, Part B is a mere appendix, i. e., a repetition of Cicero’s conclusion in Part A, achieved by refuting possible alternatives to his view.  In order to provide a reasonable explanation for this change, I intend to start by highlighting the fact that Cicero regards the arguments in both parts as necessary for achieving the aim of this work, i. e., the preservation of the mixed constitution, wherein all people judge what is just or not without leaving such judgments to the few aristocratic leaders. On this basis, I will argue that it is necessary for Cicero to suspend the conclusion in Part A and modify it in Part B, because Part A concludes that the naturalness of justice cannot be recognized by all. The skeptical reservation put forward in Part A seems at first sight to be precisely the perplexing and superficial pretense that scholars considered it to be in the past. Yet, in fact it is necessary. Cicero needs to argue for natural justice as he did in Part B, not A, in order to achieve the overall aim of the work and present laws which can preserve the mixed constitution, i. e., the laws whose justness all people can judge and adopt by their own judgment. In this way, Cicero’s skeptical strategy enables him to evade some ideas from Greek philosophers and unfold his political thought philosophically.

Information related to the author
© 2020 The Japanese Society for Ethics
Next article