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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Philosophy provides great services to human life (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations V, 2)

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The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), established as World Philosophy Day the third Thursday of November. We just celebrated it therefore last Thursday. Unfortunately few people have learned of it.

Naturally man "thinks" from the beginning of its existence. This is precisely the characteristic of humans, but philosophy as science, art, systematic approach is a creation of the Greeks, undoubtedly the most important.

The special historical and cultural conditions of the continental, insular and Asiatic Greece, its also open to all roads and winds of east and west, north and south, geographical location made it possible: that man, the subject was faced systematically to what was in front,  the object, with the only instrument of his powerful reason.

Hence the term philosophy, which means "love of wisdom", "desire to know" was coined. It is a word composed of φιλος, filos, friend, and σοφία, sophia, wisdom. Who has  love of wisdom, he  is a φιλο-σοφóς, a philosopher.

From that moment, that habit of thinking underlies all social and individual life. His enormous importance has been recognized until recently, when  unfortunately it seems to be disappearing from some university faculties and from the interest of the people.

Cicero excelled as a speaker and many speeches are retained from him. Also he intervened actively in politics; he became consul, the first in his family and so he was considered a "homo novus", a "new man" in politics. In civil disputes between Caesar and Pompey he chose the loser,  Pompey. In the last three years of his life, separated by force from political and forensic life, he had time to write some treaties of Philosophy. In one of them, in Tusculans Disputations, (five days of reflection on his estate at Tusculum), he explains the origin of the word "philosophy" and "philosopher", that  Pythagoras used the first. Also he makes a great compliment on the "Philosophy" which hardly was shared by today's society, including people today considered literate.

I offer two passages from the Book V of the Tusculans. In this book, the focus is the discussion about whether a virtuous life, exercise of virtue, is alone capable of providing happiness.

On Cicero, Tusculans Disputations, V, 3.7 to 5.11 tells us the origin of the word "philosophy" and makes a small historical summary:

3(7)-5 (11)

3. While the thing itself is of the greatest antiquity, we yet confess that philosophy, as its name, is recent. For who indeed can deny that wisdom itself is ancient, not only in fact, but also in name ?  It attained this most illustrious name among the men of early time by the knowledge of things divine and human and of the beginnings and causes of things. Therefore we have learned that the seven who were deemed and called by the Greeks  by our people " wise,"  and many centuries earlier, Lycurgus, in whose time Homer is said to have lived, before this city was built, and already in the heroic age, Ulysses and Nestor were, and were esteemed to be, wise. Nor would Atlas have been said in tradition to support the sky, or Prometheus to have been nailed to Caucasus, nor Cepheus, with his wife, son-in-law and daughter, to have been placed among the stars, unless their superhuman knowledge of things heavenly had given over their names to fabulous story. With these as leaders, thenceforth all who had for their pursuit the contemplation of nature were esteemed and called wise, and that designation of them came down even to Pythagoras, who — as Heraclides of Pontus, distinguished as a learned man and a disciple of Plato, writes — was said to have come to Phlius, and to have discussed certain subjects learnedly and copiously with Leon, king of the Phliasians. Leon, admiring his genius and eloquence, asked him what art he regarded as specially his own. He replied that he knew no art, but that he was a philosopher. Leon, surprised by the novelty of the name, asked him who the philosophers were, and what was the difference between them and other men. Pythagoras answered, that human life seemed to him like the concourse that brought all Greece together with the greatest array of games. There, some, with bodies specially trained, contended for the glory and eminence of the crown ; others were induced to come by the purpose and expected gain of buying or selling ; while there was a certain class of those present, and they of the highest quality, who sought neither applause nor money, but came to look on, and who studiously and thoroughly saw what was done, and how. Thus of us men, as if from some
city into a great public concourse, coming into this life from another life and nature, some are subservient to fame, some to money, while there are some few who, holding everything else in no esteem, look studiously into the nature of things. These call themselves studious of wisdom, for that is what "philosopher" means; and as at the games it is most respectable to look on without getting anything for one's self, so in life the contemplation and knowledge of things stand far before all other pursuits.

Nor was Pythagoras merely the inventor of the name ; he enlarged the range of subjects embraced in philosophy. When after the conversation at Phlius he came into Italy, he made what was called Magna Graecia illustrious by the most excellent institutions and arts both in private and in public. Of his system I may perhaps find some other opportunity of speaking. But down to the time of Socrates, who had heard the lectures of Archelaus, a disciple of Anaxagoras, ancient philosophy treated of numbers and motions, and the beginning and end of everything, and its adepts inquired into the magnitudes, distances and courses of the stars and into whatever appertained to the heavens. Socrates first called philosophy down from heaven, and gave it a place in cities, and introduced it even into men's homes, and forced it to make inquiry into life and morals, and things good and evil His manifold method of discussion, the variety of his subjects, and the greatness of his genius, consecrated by the memory and the writings of Plato, gave rise to many schools of mutually dissenting philosophers, among which I have attached myself chiefly to the method which I think that Socrates pursued, concealing my own opinion, relieving others of their errors, and on every question seeking to ascertain what is most probable. Carneades having employed this method with great acuteness and copiousness of argument and illustration, I have attempted to reason in the same way, often on other occasions, and of late at Tusculum. (Translated by Andrew P. Peabody, 1886).

Note: According to Plato, Protagoras 342 a-b, the seven sages, who lived between the seventh and sixth centuries, were Tales of Mieto, Bias of Priene, Pittacus of Mytilene Solon of Athens, Cleobulus, Myson of Chenae and Chilon of Sparta. In other lists Misón a farmer of Quene, replaces Periander, tyrant of Corinth.

Note: See the Latin text below

Cicero thinks that often we blame our misfortunes to nature and not to their own mistakes; and then he continues on and doing a great praise of the "Philosophy".

CICERO, Tusculans Disputations, V, 2: 5-6

2. But the correction both of this offence and of our other faults and sins is to be sought from Philosophy, to whose bosom I had recourse in my earliest years of my own free and earnest choice, and now, tossed by the severest disasters, as by a heavy storm, I flee to the same port whence I took sail. O Philosophy, guide of life ! searcher out of virtue, expeller of faults  What would not only my own life, but that of the whole race of man, have been without thee ? Thou gavest birth to cities. Thou didst call together scattered men to live in society. Thou didst unite them with one another, first by homes, then by marriages, then by intercourse in writing and in speech. Thou art the inventor of laws ; thou, the mistress of morals and discipline. I flee to thee. I seek thine aid. As formerly in great part, so now with my inmost soul and entirely, I yield myself up to thee. A single day well spent and conformed to thy precepts is to be preferred to a sinful immortality. Whose help then may I use rather than that which comes from thee, who hast in thy bounty given me tranquility of life, and hast taken away the fear of death ? Yet Philosophy is so far from being praised as she deserves for what she has done for human life, that, neglected by most men, by some she is even spoken of reproachfully. Yet who dares to reproach the parent of life, to defile himself with this parricide, and to be so impiously ungrateful as to accuse her whom he ought to revere, even if unable fully to
understand her? But, as I think, this error and this darkness are brought upon the minds of the
unlearned, because they cannot look so far back, and do not imagine that those by whom the life of men was first ordered were philosophers.
(Translated by Andrew P. Peabody, 1886)

Note: See the Latin text below

Today's society, including people of culture, will share hardly this power and some rhetorical praise of philosophy.

Cicero, Tusculans Disputations, V, 3.7 to 5.11

[7] Quam rem antiquissimam cum videamus, nomen tamen esse confitemur recens. nam sapientiam quidem ipsam quis negare potest non1 modo re esse antiquam, verum etiam nomine? quae divinarum humanarumque rerum, tum initiorum causarumque cuiusque rei cognitione hoc pulcherrimum nomen apud antiquos adsequebatur. itaque et illos septem, qui a Graecis σοφοί, sapientes a nostris et habebantur et nominabantur, et multis ante saeculis Lycurgum, cuius temporibus Homerus etiam fuisse ante hanc urbem conditam traditur, et iam heroicis aetatibus Ulixem et Nestorem accepimus et fuisse et habitos esse sapientis.

[8] nec vero Atlans sustinere caelum nec Prometheus adfixus Caucaso nec stellatus Cepheus cum uxore genero filia traderetur, nisi caelestium divina cognitio nomen eorum ad errorem fabulae traduxisset. a quibus ducti deinceps omnes, qui in rerum contemplatione studia ponebant, sapientes et habebantur et nominabantur, idque eorum nomen usque ad Pythagorae manavit aetatem. quem, ut scribit auditor Platonis Ponticus Heraclides, vir doctus in primis, Phliuntem ferunt venisse, eumque cum Leonte, principe Phliasiorum, docte et copiose disseruisse quaedam. cuius ingenium et eloquentiam cum admiratus esset Leon, quaesivisse ex eo, qua maxime arte confideret; at illum: artem quidem se scire nullam, sed esse philosophum. admiratum Leontem novitatem nominis quaesivisse, quinam essent philosophi, et quid inter eos et reliquos interesset;

[9] Pythagoram autem respondisse similem sibi videri vitam hominum et mercatum eum, qui haberetur maxumo ludorum apparatu totius Graeciae celebritate; nam ut illic alii corporibus exercitatis gloriam et nobilitatem coronae peterent, alii emendi aut vendendi quaestu et lucro ducerentur, esset autem quoddam genus eorum, idque vel maxime ingenuum, qui nec plausum nec lucrum quaererent, sed visendi causa venirent studioseque perspicerent, quid ageretur et quo modo, item nos quasi in mercatus quandam celebritatem ex urbe aliqua sic in hanc vitam ex alia vita et natura profectos alios gloriae servire, alios pecuniae, raros esse quosdam, qui ceteris omnibus pro nihilo habitis rerum naturam studiose intuerentur; hos se appellare sapientiae studiosos—id est enim philosophos—; et ut illic liberalissimum esset spectare nihil sibi adquirentem, sic in vita longe omnibus studiis contemplationem rerum cognitionemque praestare.

[10] Nec vero Pythagoras nominis solum inventor, sed rerum etiam ipsarum amplificator fuit. qui cum post hunc Phliasium sermonem in Italiam venisset, exornavit eam Graeciam, quae magna dicta est, et privatim et publice praestantissumis et institutis et artibus. cuius de disciplina aliud tempus fuerit fortasse dicendi. sed ab antiqua philosophia usque ad Socratem, qui Archelaum, Anaxagorae discipulum, audierat, numeri motusque tractabantur, et unde omnia orerentur quove reciderent, studioseque ab is siderum magnitudines intervalla cursus anquirebantur et cuncta caelestia. Socrates autem primus philosophiam devocavit e caelo et in urbibus conlocavit et in domus etiam introduxit et coëgit de vita et moribus rebusque bonis et malis quaerere.

[11] cuius multiplex ratio disputandi rerumque varietas et ingenii magnitudo Platonis memoria et litteris consecrata plura genera effecit dissentientium philosophorum, e quibus nos id potissimum consecuti sumus, quo Socratem usum arbitrabamur, ut nostram ipsi sententiam tegeremus, errore alios levaremus et in omni disputatione, quid esset simillimum veri, quaereremus. quem morem cum Carneades acutissime copiosissimeque tenuisset, fecimus et alias saepe et nuper in Tusculano, ut ad eam6 consuetudinem disputaremus.
CICERO, Tusculans Disputations, V, 2: 5-6

[5] Sed et huius culpae et ceterorum vitiorum peccatorumque nostrorum omnis a philosophia petenda correctio est. cuius in sinum cum a primis temporibus aetatis nostra voluntas studiumque nos compulisset,  his gravissimis casibus in eundem portum, ex quo eramus egressi, magna iactati tempestate confugimus. o vitae philosophia dux, o virtutis indagatrix expultrixque vitiorum! quid non modo nos, sed omnino vita hominum sine te esse potuisset? tu urbis peperisti, tu dissipatos homines in societatem vitae convocasti, tu eos inter se primo domiciliis, deinde coniugiis, tum litterarum et vocum communione iunxisti, tu inventrix legum, tu magistra morum et disciplinae fuisti; ad te confugimus, a te opem petimus, tibi nos, ut antea magna ex parte, sic nunc penitus totosque tradimus. est autem unus dies bene et ex praeceptis tuis actus peccanti inmortalitati anteponendus.

[6] cuius igitur potius opibus utamur quam tuis, quae et vitae tranquillitatem largita nobis es et terrorem mortis sustulisti? Ac philosophia quidem tantum abest ut proinde ac de hominum est vita merita laudetur, ut a plerisque neglecta a multis etiam vituperetur. vituperare quisquam vitae parentem et hoc parricidio se inquinare audet et tam impie ingratus esse, ut eam accuset, quam vereri deberet, etiamsi minus percipere potuisset? sed, ut opinor, hic error et haec indoctorum animis offusa caligo est, quod tam longe retro respicere non possunt nec eos, a quibus vita hominum instructa primis sit, fuisse philosophos  arbitrantur.


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