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Chapter 9 - Determinism, Fate, and Responsibility

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 December 2021

Jed W. Atkins
Affiliation:
Duke University, North Carolina
Thomas Bénatouïl
Affiliation:
Université de Lille
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Summary

In his treatises De divinatione and De fato, Cicero discusses the possibility of the prediction of future events. His understanding of divination in these philosophical works differs significantly from accepted Roman practice. Thus, De divinatione should not be read as a handbook on Roman divination. Rather, it should be read alongside De fato as an exhortation to act in the service of the res publica after the death of Caesar. Rather than denying outright that divination is real, Cicero seeks to refute the more superstitious divinatory practices current in Rome, all of which he attaches to the individual rather than to the political community to which he has dedicated his life. Among these superstitious views are the belief that humanity is subject to impersonal fate and therefore that human responsibility is curtailed. In writing for a Roman audience, Cicero denies both the notion that men cannot be responsible for their own actions, thus rejecting the idea of fate, as well as the existence of divination in the context of a deterministic worldview.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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