Cicero's Paradoxa Stoicorum

A series of short audio commentaries on Cicero’s book about so-called Stoic paradoxes.

I: This episode features our first discussion of Cicero. While not a Stoic (he considered himself an Academic Skeptic), he was sympathetic to Stoic philosophy, and frequently borrowed from it to create his own eclectic blend of moral philosophy.

I: Cicero asserts the standard, and apparently paradoxical, Stoic position that virtue is the only true good. Let’s see why.

II: A good Stoic can be “happy” even on the rack. This phrase happened to be true in the case of the Roman general Marcus Regulus. And his story is worth pondering to see that we can be helpful and find meaning in so many small ways.

II: Cicero reminds us that happiness – meaning our satisfaction with our own life – is guaranteed if we don’t hitch it to external events, but only to our own reasoned judgments.

III: Cicero uses a metaphor involving ship pilots and their cargo to remind us that a more or less valuable “cargo” doesn’t make us better or worse “pilots.” It is our skills, that is our virtue, that make the difference.

III: Cicero talks about one of the classic Stoic paradoxes: virtue is all-or-nothing, and yet one can make progress toward it. How is this possible? In this episode we explain, by way of a geometrical analogy.

III: Cicero reminds us that in virtue ethics the answer to moral questions is always going to depend on circumstances, a striking contrast with modern – and arguably less useful – universalist frameworks like deontology and consequentialism.

IV: Cicero explains that we may lose any external good, because it isn’t truly ours, but rather on loan from the universe. However, our judgments, considered opinions, and consciously embraced values are truly ours and cannot be taken away.

V: Cicero explains a classic Stoic paradox: only the wise person is free, while everyone else is a slave. To what? To externals that they think are indispensable for their happiness, and yet lay outside of their control.

V: From the point of view of someone who has managed to overcome his attachment for externals, people going after riches and luxuries look like fools. Are you one of them?

V: External goods like fine clothing, gourmet food, and nice houses ought to be regarded as the playthings of children, not the shackles of adults.

VI: How do we strike a good balance between cultivating externals, like wealth, and focusing on the improvement of our own character? Different philosophical schools gave different answers to this question.