On Duties – Cicero (highlights)

I LOVE physical books. I love the feeling of having them in the hands, flipping through the pages and using a pen to scribble down notes and highlights. But I must admit that when it comes to notes and highlights, then my Kindle is a lot more practical.

What you see below here is all the sections I highlighted when reading through the book “On Duties” by Cicero. Under a few of them I will add some of my notes and comments.

Generally I can recommend the book. It is possible to get it for free from here: Project Gutenberg

But it is not one filled with gems. There are good parts and interesting points most of which I have highlighted below. So you can get a good idea about the book from the quotes here.

To him the goal of philosophy was not primarily to know but to do.

As I remember this part from the book the underlying point was that philosophy should be used for understanding how to live better, act better and generally have a focus on practical applications instead of semantic tail chasing.

For no phase of life, whether public or private, whether in business or in the home, whether one is working on what concerns oneself alone or dealing with another, can be without its moral duty; on the discharge of such duties depends all that is morally right, and on their neglect all that is morally wrong in life.

that moral goodness is worth seeking solely or chiefly for its own sake.

To this passion for discovering truth there is added a hungering, as it were, for independence, so that a mind well-moulded by Nature is unwilling to be subject to anybody save one who gives rules of conduct or is a teacher of truth or who, for the general good, rules according to justice and law.

but to be drawn by study away from active life is contrary to moral duty.For the whole glory of virtue is in activity;

Again underlining the point that there is no meaning in chasing study or philosophy for its own sake it has to be “acted out in World”

There is, however, no such thing as private ownership established by nature, but property becomes private either through long occupancy (as in the case of those who long ago settled in unoccupied territory) or through conquest (as in the case of those who took it in war) or by due process of law, bargain, or purchase, or by allotment.

But since, as Plato has admirably expressed it, we are not born for ourselves alone, but our country claims a share of our being, and our friends a share; and since, as the Stoics hold, everything that the earth produces is created for man’s use; and as men, too, are born for the sake of men, that they may be able mutually to help one another; in this direction we ought to follow Nature as our guide, to contribute to the general good by an interchange of acts of kindness, by giving and receiving, and thus by our skill, our industry, and our talents to cement human society more closely together, man to man.

We are social animals.

There are, on the other hand, two kinds of injustice—the one, on the part of those who inflict wrong, the other on the part of those who, when they can, do not shield from wrong those upon whom it is being inflicted.

For he who, under the influence of anger or some other passion, wrongfully assaults another seems, as it were, to be laying violent hands upon a comrade; but he who does not prevent or oppose wrong, if he can, is just as guilty of wrong as if he deserted his parents or his friends or his country.

Still, I do not mean to find fault with the accumulation of property, provided it hurts nobody, but unjust acquisition of it is always to be avoided.

In the matter of a promise one must always consider the meaning and not the mere words.

In the book he gives an example where a truce is made for 30 days but one general ravages the others fields at night, claiming innocence because the truce stipulated “days” and not “nights”. But everyone was very well aware of the meaning.

But of all forms of injustice, none is more flagrant than that of the hypocrite who, at the very moment when he is most false, makes it his business to appear virtuous.

and likewise those who injure one man, in order to be generous to another, are guilty of the same injustice as if they diverted to their own accounts the property of their neighbours.

for nothing is generous, if it is not at the same time just.

Most people adopt the contrary course: they put themselves most eagerly at the service of the one from whom they hope to receive the greatest favours, even though he has no need of their help.

“Deny no one the water that flows by;” “Let anyone who will take fire from our fire;” “Honest counsel give to one who is in doubt;”

For since the reproductive instinct is by nature’s gift the common possession of all living creatures, the first bond of union is that between husband and wife; the next, that between parents and children; then we find one home, with everything in common

So then, not those who do injury but those who prevent it are to be considered brave and courageous.

Then, too, the higher a man’s ambition, the more easily he is tempted to acts of injustice by his desire for fame.

This quote above has aged well. As prominent today as back then.

Accordingly, in encountering danger we should do as doctors do in their practice: in light cases of illness they give mild treatment; in cases of dangerous sickness they are compelled to apply hazardous and even desperate remedies.

Very important in all walks of life. When nothing is wrong, do very little, any action has the ability to put everything at risk. When emergency strikes never be afraid to act and do a lot.

For example, when Callicratidas, as Spartan admiral in the Peloponnesian War, had won many signal successes, he spoiled everything at the end by refusing to listen to the proposal of those who thought he ought to withdraw his fleet from the Arginusae and not to risk an engagement with the Athenians. His answer to them was that “the Spartans could build another fleet, if they lost that one, but he could not retreat without dishonour to himself.”

Ego is the enemy.

Those who propose to take charge of the affairs of government should not fail to remember two of Plato’s rules: first, to keep the good of the people so clearly in view that regardless of their own interests they will make their every action conform to that;Those who propose to take charge of the affairs of government should not fail to remember two of Plato’s rules: first, to keep the good of the people so clearly in view that regardless of their own interests they will make their every action conform to that; second, to care for the welfare of the whole body politic and not in serving the interests of some one party to betray the rest. Those who propose to take charge of the affairs of government should not fail to remember two of Plato’s rules: first, to keep the good of the people so clearly in view that regardless of their own interests they will make their every action conform to that; second, to care for the welfare of the whole body politic and not in serving the interests of some one party to betray the rest. |(1) partisanship,| For the administration of the government, like the office of a trustee, must be conducted for the benefit of those entrusted to one’s care, not of those to whom it is entrusted.

I think the World would be a better place if more politicians agreed and understood the above.

“Those who compete against one another,” he says, “to see which of two candidates shall administer the government, are like sailors quarrelling as to which one of them shall do the steering.”

But in reality, anger is in every circumstance to be eradicated; and it is to be desired that they who administer the government should be like the laws, which are led to inflict punishment not by wrath but by justice.

For it is as much a sign of weakness to give way to one’s feelings in success as it is in adversity.

“The higher we are placed, the more humbly should we walk.””As, when horses have become mettlesome and unmanageable on account of their frequent participation in battles, their owners put them in the hands of trainers to make them more tractable; so men, who through prosperity have become restive and over self-confident, ought to be put into the training-ring, so to speak, of reason and learning, that they may be brought to comprehend the frailty of human affairs and the fickleness of fortune.”

Compulsory CEO training?

The appetites, moreover, must be made to obey the reins of reason and neither allowed to run ahead of it nor from listlessness or indolence to lag behind; but people should enjoy calm of soul and be free from every sort of passion.

From all this—to return to our sketch of duty—we see that all the appetites must be controlled and calmed and that we must take infinite pains not to do anything from mere impulse or at random, without due consideration and care. From all this—to return to our sketch of duty—we see that all the appetites must be controlled and calmed and that we must take infinite pains not to do anything from mere impulse or at random, without due consideration and care. |(2) amusements,| For Nature has not brought us into the world to act as if we were created for play or jest, but rather for earnestness and for some more serious and important pursuits.

but man’s mind is nurtured by study and meditation; he is always either investigating or doing, and he is captivated by the pleasure of seeing and hearing.

for they would get no profits without a great deal of downright lying; and verily, there is no action that is meaner thanfor they would get no profits without a great deal of downright lying; and verily, there is no action that is meaner than misrepresentation.

And it is not true, as certain people maintain, that the bonds of union in human society were instituted in order to provide for the needs of daily life; for, they say, without the aid of others we could not secure for ourselves or supply to others the things that nature requires; but if all that is essential to our wants and comfort were supplied by some magic wand, as in the stories, then every man of first-rate ability could drop all other responsibility and devote himself exclusively to learning and study. Not at all. For he would seek to escape from his loneliness and to find some one to share his studies; he would wish to teach, as well as to learn; to hear, as well as to speak. Every duty, therefore, that tends effectively to maintain and safeguard human society should be given the preference over that duty which arises from speculation and science alone.

Another quote highlighting community and practice over theory.

Those who seek after it are called philosophers; and philosophy is nothing else, if one will translate the word into our idiom, than “the love of wisdom.”

Wisdom, moreover, as the word has been defined by the philosophers of old, is “the knowledge of things human and divine and of the causes by which those things are controlled.”

And how could houses ever have been provided in the first place for the human race, to keep out the rigours of the cold and alleviate the discomforts of the heat; or how could the ravages of furious tempest or of earthquake or of time upon them afterward have been repaired, had not the bonds of social life taught men in such events to look to their fellow-men for help?

Cooperation and community again.

And people admire especially the man who is uninfluenced by money; and if a man has proved himself in this direction, they think him tried as by fire.

And yet, as Socrates used to express it so admirably, “the nearest way to glory—a short-cut, as it were—is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.”

That liberality, therefore, which consists in personal service and effort is more honourable, has wider application,That liberality, therefore, which consists in personal service and effort is more honourable, has wider application, and can benefit more people.

Then, too, lavish giving leads to robbery[AR]; for when through over-giving men begin to be impoverished, they are constrained to lay their hands on the property of others. And so, when men aim to be kind for the sake of winning good-will, the affection they gain from the objects of their gifts is not so great as the hatred they incur from those whom they despoil.

This fact, furthermore, should not be overlooked—that if one defends a wealthy favourite of fortune, the favour does not extend further than to the man himself or, possibly, to his children. But if one defends a man who is poor but honest and upright, all the lowly who are not dishonest—and there is a large proportion of that sort among the people—look upon such an advocate as a tower of defence raised up for them.

“For my part, I prefer a man without money to money without a man.”

Beautiful quote.

But the chief thing in all public administration and public service is to avoid even the slightest suspicion of self-seeking.

As for property, it is a duty to make money, but only by honourable means; it is a duty also to save it and increase it by care and thrift.

Well then, for a man to take something from his neighbour and to profit by his neighbour’s loss is more contrary to nature than is death or poverty or pain or anything else that can affect either our person or our property.

In like manner it is more in accord with nature to emulate the great Hercules and undergo the greatest toil and trouble for the sake of aiding or saving the world, if possible, than to live in seclusion, not only free from all care, but revelling in pleasures and abounding in wealth, while excelling others also in beauty and strength.

These cases are very easy to decide. For if merely for one’s own benefit one were to take something away from a man, though he were a perfectly worthless fellow, it would be an act of meanness and contrary to nature’s law.

Now, suppose a wise man had just such a ring, he would not imagine that he was free to do wrong any more than if he did not have it; for good men aim to secure not secrecy but the right.

But the force of the illustration of the ring is this: if nobody were to know or even to suspect the truth, when you do anything to gain riches or power or sovereignty or sensual gratification—if your act should be hidden for ever from the knowledge of gods and men, would you do it?

Who are you when nobody is watching?

Thus in the stadium of life, it is not unfair for anyone to seek to obtain what is needful for his own advantage, but he has no right to wrest it from his neighbour.”

I think, then, that it was the duty of that grain dealer not to keep back the facts from the Rhodians, and of this vendor of the house to deal in the same way with his purchaser. The fact is that merely holding one’s peace about a thing does not constitute concealment, but concealment consists in trying for your own profit to keep others from finding out something that you know, when it is for their interest to know it.

Thence come those countless cases in which the expedient seems to conflict with the right. For how few will be found who can refrain from wrong-doing, if assured of the power to keep it an absolute secret and to run no risk of punishment!

For if he reasons “That is, to be sure, the right course, but this course brings advantage,” he will not hesitate in his mistaken judgment to divorce two conceptions that nature has made one; and that spirit opens the door to all sorts of dishonesty, wrong-doing, and crime.

Suppose, then, that a good man had such power that at a snap of his fingers his name could steal into rich men’s wills, he would not avail himself of that power—no, not even though he could be perfectly sure that no one would ever suspect it. Suppose, on the other hand, that one were to offer a Marcus Crassus the power, by the mere snapping of his fingers, to get himself named as heir, when he was not really an heir, he would, I warrant you, dance in the forum. But the righteous man, the one whom we feel to be a good man, would never rob anyone of anything to enrich himself.

But the righteous man, the one whom we feel to be a good man, would never rob anyone of anything to enrich himself.

Is it not a shame that philosophers should be in doubt about moral questions on which even peasants have no doubts at all? For it is with peasants that the proverb, already trite with age, originated: when they praise a man’s honour and honesty, they say “He is a man with whom you can safely play at odd and even[BO] in the dark.