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MARCUS, My Son,
I THINK I have in the former Book sufficiently explained in what manner our duties are derived from morality, and every kind of virtue. It now remains that I treat of those kinds of duties that relate to the improvement of life, and to the acquirement of those means which men employ for the attainment of wealth and interest. In this inquiry, as I have already observed, I will treat of what is useful, and what is not so. Of several utilities, I shall speak of that which is more useful, or most so. Of all this I shall treat, after premising a few words concerning my own plan of life and choice of pursuits,
Although my works have prompted a great many to the exercise not only of reading but of writing, yet I sometimes am apprehensive that the name of philosophy is offensive to some worthy men, and that they are surprised at my having employed so much of my pains and time in that study. For my part, as long as the state was under the management of those into whose hands she had committed herself, I applied to it all my attention and thought. But when the government was engrossed by one person, when there was an end of all public deliberation and authority; when I in short had lost those excellent patriots who were my associates in the protection of my country, I neither abandoned myself to that anguish of spirit which had I given way to it, must have consumed me, nor did I indulge those pleasures that are disgraceful to a man of learning.
Would that the constitution had remained in its original state; and that it had not fallen into the hands of men whose aim was not to alter but to destroy it! For then I would first, as I was wont
to do when our government existed, have employed my labors in action rather than in writing; and in the next place, in my writings I should have recorded my own pleadings as I had frequently done, and not such subjects as the present. But when the constitution, to which all my care, thoughts, and labor used to be devoted, ceased to exist, then those public and senatorial studies were silenced.
But as my mind could not be inactive, and as my early life had been employed in these studies, I thought that they might most honorably be laid aside by betaking myself anew to philosophy, having, when young, spent a great deal of my time in its study, with a view to improvement. When I afterward began to court public offices and devoted myself entirely to the service of my country, I had so much room for philosophy as the time that remained over from the business of my friends and the public. But I spent it all in reading, having no leisure for writing.
II. In the midst of the greatest calamities, therefore, I seem to have realized the advantage that I have reduced into writing, matters in which my countrymen were not sufficiently instructed, and which were most worthy their attention. For in the name of the gods, what is more desirable, what is more excellent, than wisdom? What is better for man? what more worthy of him? They therefore who court her are termed philosophers; for philosophy, if it is to be interpreted, implies nothing but the love of wisdom.
Now the ancient philosophers defined wisdom to be the knowledge of things divine and human, and of the causes by which these things are regulated ; a study that if any man despises, I now not what he can think deserving of esteem.
For if we seek the entertainment of the mind, or a respite from cares, which is comparable to those pursuits that are always searching out somewhat that relates to and secures the welfare and happiness of life? Or if we regard the principles of self-consistency and virtue, either this is the art, or there is absolutely no art by which we can attain them. And to say that there is no art for the attainment of the highest objects, when we see that none of the most inconsiderable are without it, is the language of men who speak without consideration, and who mistake in the most important matters. Now if there is any school of virtue, where can it be found, if you abandon this method of study? But it is usual to treat these subjects more particularly when we exhort to philosophy, which I have done in another book. At this time my intention was only to explain the reasons why, being divested of all offices of state, I chose to apply myself to this study preferable to all others.
Now an objection is brought against me, and indeed by some men of learning and knowledge, who inquire whether I act consistently with myself, when, though I affirm that nothing can be certainly known, I treat upon different subjects, and when, as now, I am investigating the principles of moral duty. I could wish such persons were thoroughly acquainted with my way of thinking. I am not one of those whose reason is always wandering in the midst of uncertainty and never has any thing to pursue. For if we abolish all the rules, not only of reasoning but of living, what must become of reason, nay of life itself ? For my own part, while others mention some things to be certain, and others uncertain, I say, on the other side, that some things are probable, and others not so.
What, therefore, hinders me from following whatever appears to me to be most probable, and from rejecting what is otherwise ; and, while I avoid the arrogance of dogmatizing, from escaping that recklessness which is most inconsistent with wisdom? Now all subjects are disputed by our sect, because this very probability can not appear, unless there be a comparison of the arguments on both sides. But, if I mistake not, I have with sufficient accuracy explained these points in my Academics. As to you, my dear Cicero, though you are now employed in the study of the oldest and noblest philosophy under Cratippus, who greatly resembles those who have propounded those noble principles, yet I was unwilling that these my sentiments, which are so corresponding with your system, should be known to you. But to proceed in what I propose.
UI. Having laid down the five principles upon which we pursue our duty, two of which relate to propriety and virtue, two to the enjoyments of life, such as wealth, interest, and power, the fifth to the forming of a right judgment in any case, if there should appear to be any clashing between the principles I have mentioned, the part assigned to virtue is concluded, and with that I desire you should be thoroughly acquainted. Now the subject I am now to treat of is neither more nor less than what we call expediency; in which matter custom has so declined and gradually deviated from the right path, that, separating virtue from expediency, it has determined that some things may be virtuous that are not expedient, and some expedient which are not virtuous; than which doctrine nothing more pernicious can be introduced into human life.
It is indeed with strictness and honesty that philosophers, and those of the highest reputation, distinguish in idea those three principles which really are blended together. For they give it as their opinion that whatever is just is expedient; and in like manner whatever is virtuous is just; from whence it follows that whatever is virtuous is also expedient. Those who do not perceive this distinction often admire crafty and cunning men, and mistake knavery for wisdom. The error of such ought to be eradicated ; and every notion ought to be reduced to this hope, that men may attain the ends they propose, by virtuous designs and just actions, and not by dishonesty and wickedness.
The things then that pertain to the preservation of human life are partly inanimate, such as gold, silver, the fruits of the earth, and the like; and partly animal, which have their peculiar instincts and affections. Now of these some are void of, and some are endowed with, reason. The animals void of reason are horses, oxen, with other brute creatures, and bees, who by their labors contribute somewhat to the service and condition of mankind. As to the animals endowed with reason, they are of two kinds, one the gods, the other men. Piety and sanctity will render the gods propitious; and next to the gods mankind are most useful to men. (The same division holds as to things that are hurtful and prejudicial. But as we are not to suppose the gods to be injurious to mankind, excluding them, man appears to be most hurtful to man). For even the very inanimate things I have mentioned, are generally procured through man's labor; nor should we have had them but by his art and industry, nor can we apply them but by his management. For there could neither be the preservation of health, navigation, nor the gathering and preserving the corn and other fruits, without the industry of mankind. And certainly
there could have been no exportation of things in which we abound, and importation of those which we want, had not mankind applied themselves to those employments. In like manner, neither could stones be hewn for our use, nor iron, nor brass, nor gold, nor silver, be dug from the earth, but by the toil and art of man.
IV. As to buildings, by which either the violence of the cold is repelled, or the inconveniences of the heat mitigated, how could they have originally been given to the human race, or afterward repaired when ruined by tempests, earthquakes, or time, had not community of life taught us to seek the aid of man against such influences ? Moreover, from whence but from the labor of man could we have had aqueducts, the cuts of rivers, the irrigation of the land, dams opposed to streams, and artificial harbors ? From those and a great many other instances, it is plain that wo could by no manner of means have, without the hand and industry of man, reaped the benefits and advantages arising from such things as are inanimate. In short, what advantage and convenience could have been realized from the brute creation, had not men assisted ? Men, undoubtedly, were the first who discovered what useful result we might realize from every animal; nor could we even at this time either feed, tame, preserve, or derive from them advantages suited to the occasion, without the help of man. And it is by the same that such as are hurtful are destroyed, and such as may be useful are taken. Why should I enumerate the variety of arts without which life could by no means be sustained ? For did not so many arts minister to us, what could succor the sick, or constitute the pleasure of the healthy, or supply food and clothing?
Polished by those arts, the life of man is so different from the mode of life and habits of brutes. Cities, too, neither could have been built nor peopled but by the association of men: hence were established laws and customs, the equitable definition of rights, and the regulated order of life. Then followed gentleness of disposition and love of morality; and the result was that life was more protected, and that by giving and receiving, and by the exchange of resources and articles of wealth, we wanted for nothing.
V. We are more prolix than is necessary on this head.