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7 - Emulation and Moral Development in De Officiis

from Part III - Exemplary Ethics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2023

Raphael Woolf
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

Given the apparent importance of exempla to Cicero’s project in De Officiis, any account of Cicero’s philosophical method in this work is forced to grapple with the question of how these historical insets function within the text. Yet understanding how, exactly, they contribute to the reader’s moral progress is an interpretative challenge: Cicero’s treatment warns us against taking them simply as models for imitation. Instead, I argue, Cicero focuses on three different, but related, functions for his exempla within De Officiis. First, looking at the behaviour of others can help us to develop the analytical skills necessary to correctly deliberate about our own actions. Secondly, exempla work to verify the theoretical claims of the text. Finally, they show the beneficial outcomes of following the teachings of the text, in terms of the glory and praise that accrues to those who engage in correct action – though, as we shall see, this strategy is only effective because of Cicero’s radical redefinition of the concepts of glory and praise.

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Cicero's ‘De Officiis'
A Critical Guide
, pp. 139 - 160
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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