Philosophic Method in Cicero

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Johns Hopkins University Press


At the turn of the century, Wilhelm Windelband's Geschichte der Philosophie laid a judgment upon Cicero which would perdure, almost without challenge, through the decades that followed: his works exhibit an ability for compilation and a talent for expression, but they lack any power of philosophizing---a lack demonstrated in their eclectic selection among philosophic systems. Earlier Friedrich Uberweg had indicated the derivative nature of Ciccro's thoughts but praised his rhetorical enhancement of ethical values; later German historians would commend his eclecticism as a major source of Hellenistic philosophy, though agreeing with Windelband that Cicero was neither original as a thinker nor significant as a philosopher. Emile Brehier and Joseph Owens treat him accordingly, citing his works for the doctrines and arguments of others, while omitting any serious analysis of them as philosophic in their own right. Contemporary historians of philosophy may recognize within his dialogues articulate proponents of divergent philosophies and their systematic unity through exposition and refutation, but they relate these works to literary or rhetorical exercises. It is an unexamined assumption of our times that rhetoric and philosophy are univocally separate and exclusive provinces, connected neither by common topics, identifiable subject-matters, nor universal methods. Cicero's view of philosophic method questions the dogmatism of so rigid a disjunction and compels us to consider another possibility within the plurality of philosophic methods.