BMCR 2000.06.04

Ciceros Kritik der Philosophenschulen

, Ciceros Kritik der Philosophenschulen. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1999. 229. DM 98.00.

While Cicero’s later philosophical works have in recent years been the subject of a large number of important studies of article length, there have been few monographs. Jürgen Leonhardt’s work will be important for this reason alone. While it is not to be expected that a work of this nature will gain consensus on every point, serious students of Cicero’s thought and method will find much here that is of use, and much indeed to admire.

A revision of the author’s 1993-94 Habilitationsschrift, Leonhardt’s work falls into three discrete but related segments. The first, “Die Bestimmung des probabile im philosophischen Spätwerk,” examines Cicero’s handling of the paired-speech format in the Lucullus, De Finibus, De Natura Deorum, and De Divinatione, then goes on to a number of familiar loci which purportedly reveal Cicero’s own views in philosophical matters. The second, ” Virtus gegen voluptas: Das zweite Buch De finibus bonorum et malorum als Gerichtsrede,” examines in more detail the paired speeches of De Finibus 1-2, while the third, “Die divisio Carneadea und die Epikurkritik,” explores a series of structural, source-critical and rhetorical issues concerned with the divisio of ethical positions at Fin. 5.16-17 and elsewhere. A sizeable bibliography and index locorum complete the volume; there is no subject-index.

The first segment situates Cicero’s use of paired speeches both within the skeptical-philosophical tradition of the disputatio in utramque partem and within the forensic tradition of speeches against and for a defendant. Cicero’s purposes are subtly different from those of the skeptical Academics: where they set out to question the validity of all claims to knowledge, he is more interested in establishing which of the positions treated is the most plausible ( probabile, pithanon). As might be expected, the balance of probability generally rests with the second or “counter-speech” ( Gegenrede), often spoken by Cicero himself. The superiority of the second position is not, however, an all-or-nothing proposition, but rather a matter of degree, as indicated by certain literary devices: the relative proportion of one to the other in length, the nature of the remarks exchanged by the speakers after and between the speeches themselves. In Fin. 1-2, for instance, the proportion of speech to counter-speech is approximately 1 : 2.4, whereas in ND 2-3 (allowing for lacunae) it is more like 1: .8. This difference corresponds to differences in the dramatic frame: Cicero in Fin. 2 introduces his speech aggressively, Cotta in ND 3 more tentatively; Torquatus is rattled by Cicero’s attack, Balbus untroubled by Cotta’s.

Encouraged by these results, Leonhardt now proceeds to compare the more and less confident endorsements implied in this way in the paired speeches with a series of other passages in which Cicero either gives or appears to give indications of his own views on philosophical matters. Leonhardt notes that, for Cicero, questions of natural science (cosmology, the possibility of divination) admit of less certainty than questions of ethics. In physics, he concludes, Cicero will for the most part maintain a rigorous scepticism, while in ethics he prefers both Stoicism and Antiocheanism to Epicureanism but consistently treats Antiochus’s views as more plausible than those of the Stoics.

It is in this effort to determine Cicero’s “own” or “real” philosophical views that Leonhardt’s book exhibits its most serious weaknesses. For even if we concede that Cicero has to have held some unified and consistent set of views on the matters he treats, we should hardly expect to be able to discover those views by the method Leonhardt proposes. The chief advantage of Leonhardt’s methodology lies in its capacity to assess the strength of Cicero’s preference for one or the other of two paired presentations, for instance that he is more convinced of the wrongness of Epicurean ethics than he is of the wrongness of Stoic ethics. Where the presentation is more one-sided — notably in the Tusculans and De Officiis — this method can tell us nothing, unless indeed we choose to believe that the ideas Cicero expresses through the subtle manipulation of literary form ought to be given precedence over those which he conveys by other, more direct means.

Leonhardt is thus placed in the awkward situation of attempting to extend his conclusions beyond the confines of his methodology. Seeking to determine Cicero’s ethical views almost exclusively from the De Finibus, he is especially impressed with the unpaired fifth book, and takes the absence of rejoinder (for he does not regard Fin. 5.76-86 as a proper Gegenrede) for evidence that Cicero intends a cautious endorsement of Antiocheanism. Yet a reading of the fifth book for its content, and not merely for its form, would surely suggest otherwise. For the authorial response at 5.76-86, despite its brevity relative to Piso’s exposition, constitutes a substantive attack on the ethics of Antiochus: it charges that philosopher with self-contradiction, the same charge as is leveled in Luc. 132-41 and again, at much greater length, in Tusc. 5.21-82. To be sure, Cicero does telegraph approval for much of what Antiochus says, as well as respect for those individuals who consider themselves Antiocheans — his work, is, after all, dedicated to Rome’s principal proponent of Antiochean ethics.1 But the endorsement is only that Antiochus gives high-minded expression to the much older ethical position Cicero has himself defended in Book 4. What is characteristically Antiochean in ethics is only the combination of that fourth-century Academic/Peripatetic stand with two theses more characteristic of Stoicism: the impassivity ( apatheia) of the wise and the sufficiency of virtue for happiness. And that attempt at synthesis is in Cicero’s eyes a serious philosophical error. Both Zeno and Theophrastus, he argues, have put forward consistent positions in ethics, but those positions are not compatible with each other. The Antiochean speech of Fin. 5 does not therefore require a full-length refutation: what is said is destructive enough, and Cicero at the time of composition was already planning to write much more in the same vein.2

It behooves us, then, to read those passages in which Cicero seems to favor Antiochus much more carefully than Leonhardt has done. When Lucius Cicero exclaims, “I am convinced, and I believe my cousin is too” (5.76), we can by no means assume that it is Marcus Cicero who appears ready to applaud. For Quintus is also present, and it is he, not Marcus, who finally declares himself satisfied with the Antiochean position (5.96). Cicero’s own final pronouncement is heavily qualified: Piso’s attempt to establish that Antiochus’s views are, after all, consistent “needs more than a little strengthening,” and only“if that point is gained” will Cicero accede to the position in its entirety (5.95). Likewise, “nec quicquam habeo adhuc probabilius,” at Luc. 139, does not constitute a declaration that the telos of Antiochus and the early Academics whom he follows is the most probable of those which have been mentioned.3 Meanwhile, we need to take seriously those passages in which Cicero represents himself as inclining toward Stoicism, not only Parad. 6 and ND. 3.95, which Leonhardt attempts to explain away, but also Tusc. 4.66, “eam rationem quae maxime probatur de bonis et malis,” which he does not mention at all. The De Officiis, too, must be allowed to Stoicize, since this is clearly Cicero’s intention. It will not do to say Cicero has taken up Stoic ethics merely for the sake of its “glittering outward show” (Leonhardt 56-57, citing splendidius at 3.20). If this is what it takes to give him a consistent point of view, then he is better off without one.

More limited in its ambitions, and correspondingly more successful, is the section arguing the rhetorical nature of De Finibus 2. Leonhardt here takes up a series of small difficulties in the exposition, and argues that these are rhetorical sleight-of-hand, meant to make Cicero’s case easier without sacrificing philosophical integrity. Thus Fin. 2.21-26 artfully gives voice to the familiar but ill-informed criticism that Epicurus is devoted to the pleasures of Gallonius, and 2.26-27, though it corrects the mistaken picture of Epicureanism that that criticism implies, again puts Epicurus in a bad light by complaining of his weakness in logic. The divisio of ethical topics at 2.34-44 performs another neat trick: the Old Academic telos is replaced by a passing reference to the new Academy of Arcesilaus and Carneades. By this device Cicero is able to make the strong case against pleasure without yet having to play the arbiter between Stoic and “Antiochean” (read “Old Academic”) formulations of the end. A careful reading of 2.38, where Cicero distinguishes his own objectives in the argument from those of Chrysippus, effectively bolsters this interpretation.

The long third section is chiefly concerned to assemble examples of the so-called divisio Carneadea or list of ethical tele in Cicero and later authors. It argues that differences between Chrysippan and Carneadean versions of the divisio are less indicative of Cicero’s use of sources than of his interest in adapting the divisio to a variety of contexts in his work. Leonhardt does not seem to have had opportunity to consult the excellent article by Keimpe Algra on this very topic (In Inwood and Mansfield, ed., Assent and Argument, Leiden, 1997). Readers of his work will certainly want to study the two pieces together, augmenting Algra’s powerful analysis with the greater range of texts considered by Leonhardt.

In spite of the difficulties noted here, Leonhardt’s work remains a valuable one. Patient, judicious assessments of particular points abound, and a generous habit in citation permits the reader to form her own judgments on the basis of numerous relevant texts. Material from the letters and speeches is often used to good effect: Att. 8.3, to take one example, is usefully treated as a practically-oriented disputatio in utramque partem (to follow Pompey or no?) which explicitly voices the assumption that the balance of probability will rest with the lengthier of the two treatments. Leonhardt’s broad comparisons with rhetorical practice are sometimes illuminating as well. Particularly insightful is his observation, early in Chapter 2, that the paired speeches for and against a philosophical dogma ought to be compared in that order to the prosecution and defense in a court of law. Not only does this precise comparison preserve the proper ordering of forensic speeches, but it also brings out a helpful epistemological point, that whereas the first speaker, like the prosecutor, is required by the nature of his task to make certain positive assertions, the second, taking the “defending” role, need only expose the weaknesses in his opponent’s case and is thus cast in the destructive stance of the skeptical philosopher.

Also very useful are the businesslike resumes of scholarly debate on several issues of importance in recent literature: Cicero’s possible adherence to Antiochean epistemology in the years before 46 (Glucker and Steinmetz for, Görler against), and his stand on the possibility of divination (Leonhardt supports the interpretation of Schofield and Beard, who find Cicero reserving judgment on the matter). Bibliographical work throughout the volume is in general quite helpful, not only giving a lengthy history of scholarship on most questions treated but also deftly sketching the contents of the more important works. An article by Long is misalphabetized before “Levine” in the bibliography (this caused me some confusion), but aside from this minor flaw, the bibliography of older scholarship alone would make Leonhardt’s work well worth consulting.


1. Brutus’s preferences are explicitly mentioned in Fin. 5.8; his De Virtute, to which the De Finibus and (specifically) Tusc. 5 respond, took the Antiochean line on the sufficiency of virtue ( Fin. 1.8, Tusc. 5.1). See further J. Barnes, “Antiochus of Ascalon” 60-63, in Griffin and Barnes, ed., Philosophia Togata, Oxford 1989.

2. Cicero regards Antiochus’s ethics as a good corrective to the more wordly version of Peripatetics taught at Rome by Staseas of Naples; see Fin. 5.8,75.

3. The Tusculans were in the planning stages before the De Finibus was completed; Att. 13.22.2, 13.12.3.