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Our Source of Joy and Grounds for Heartfelt Duty


“However, with respect to everything by which profit may be acquired, nothing is better, nothing ampler, nothing sweeter, nothing worthier of a free human being, than agriculture.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Duties – Book 1.151

Here resides a summary of the principles that enable a commonwealth to thrive. Such virtues — if applied appropriately — keep our courts honourable and our government free from corruption. They keep our protectors loyal and our businesses transparent. They solidify and irrigate the human heart, restoring desolation and trimming the fat whenever we get too top heavy for our own good.

How can we know if we are aligned with these civic virtues? All the lakes will provide clean drinking water, the fresh air will invigorate our souls, the earth will bring forth produce in abundance and the fire of all technology will first—&—foremost preserve the purity of the aforementioned elements. Neither outdated conservative values nor the far-fetched ideals of neo-liberalism can sunder our natural gravity for the balance between order and chaos.


Everything that is honorable originates from some one of four parts. Although these four things are closely bound and connected with each other, nevertheless, specific kinds of appropriate actions arise from each one individually. Thus the first virtue described above, in which I place wisdom and prudence, is devoted to investigation and discovery of the truth: this is its characteristic function. Consequently, whoever clearly perceives what is most true in each matter, whoever most acutely and swiftly can see and explain its reason, this person is duly accustomed to be considered the most prudent and wise. Therefore, the subject matter, so to speak that this virtue handles and concerns is truth. (Prudence — knowledge of what must be pursued and what must be avoided.)

But the remaining three virtues aim at necessities. 1) These include the preparation and defense of those things that sustain the activity of life, so that both human association and unity are preserved, as well as excellence and greatness of spirit are manifested. 2) Manifested not only in increasing our influence and procuring utilities for ourselves and our own, but, still more importantly, in despising these very things. Moreover, also associated with this sort are orderliness and constancy and moderation and other similar qualities that concern not simply intellectual activity, but a certain action; for by employing a due measure and order in the affairs performed throughout our lives, we shall safeguard honorableness and propriety.

Prudence & Wisdom
Now with respect to the four parts into which we have divided the nature and force of the honorable, THE FIRST, which consists of inquiry into truth, belongs especially to human nature. For we are all drawn and led by a longing to inquire and know, and think excellence at it beautiful; but to go wrong, to err, to not know, to be deceived, we consider bad and disgraceful.

Inherent to this kind of virtue, both natural and honorable, are two vices that must be avoided. 1. First, we must not hold matters that have not been inquired into as if they have been inquired into, nor assent to them rashly. [Such pretense can be seen as a lack of intellectual humility.] 2. Second… direct excessive devotion and exertion over obscure and difficult matters—which are likewise unnecessary.

Justice & Liberality
Of the remaining three [virtues], the one most widely applicable is the reasoning by which human association and, as it were communal life may be sustained. [Namely, Justice] There are two parts to this: Justice, that most resplendent virtue, on account of which men are called ‘good,’ and, connected to it, beneficence, which likewise may be called either kindness or liberality.

Now the first function of justice is that no one should harm another. The second, that one should use communal property on behalf of communal interests, private property on behalf of one’s own interests. In this we ought to follow nature as a guide and make common utilities commonly available, such as in reciprocating appropriate actions, in giving and receiving, now our arts, now our services, now our resources, and thereby more closely unite human beings in association.

Moreover, fundamental to justice is trust—that is to say, the constancy and honesty of assertions and agreements. Let us accept that trust (fides) is so called because what is said should also be done (fiat).

Refer back to those things laid down as being fundamental to justice: 1) first, that no one harms another, and, 2) second, that one serves the common utility. When these things are changed by circumstance, the appropriate action changes and does not always remain the same. Therefore promises must not be kept that are useless to those to whom you promise; nor, if they should be more harmful to you than beneficial to those to whom you made the promise, do you act inappropriately to prefer the greater good to the lesser? It is my sentiment that we must always look to a peace that in no way holds future treachery.

No war is just unless either waged after a request for restoration, or due notice has been given beforehand and officially declared. Thus matters in good faith, what always must be considered is what you meant, not what you said. Additionally, we must remember to observe justice even toward the meanest of people. Moreover, injury occurs in one of two ways, either by force or by fraud. Fraud seems like the way of the fox; force, the way of the lion.

Beneficence: Liberality and/or Kindness
First: We must ensure that our kindness does not actually hurt the very people for whom it would seem to be kindly done, nor others. Second: Our kindness must not be greater than our resources permit. Third: Kindness must be bestowed upon each according to his worth. These caveats are fundamental to justice, to which all acts of beneficence must be referred.

For since there are two kinds of liberality, one of granting favors, another of returning them, insofar as it is within our power, ought we not be permitted to return them to a good man, provided it can be done without causing injury? But in bestowing a favor and repaying our gratitude, all things being equal, the action especially appropriate is to give the most assistance to whoever is most in need of our influence. And although all virtue attracts us to it, and acts in such a way that we esteem those in whom it seems to reside, nevertheless, justice and liberality especially accomplish it. Of all associations, none is more important, none more dear to each and every one of us, than the commonwealth. What good person would doubt whether he ought to meet his death on its behalf, if he should be able to benefit it?

Courage & Magnanimity
Honorableness and appropriate action emanate from four kinds of virtue. We must now understand the one that seems noblest because it is performed by a spirit great and elevated and contemptuous of human concerns [that are petty in scope]. Now this elevated spirit that is discernible in dangers and labors, if devoid of justice, and fights, not on behalf of communal well-being, but one’s own advantage, is a vice; for not only is it not a virtue; it is a savagery repugnant to all humanity. And so this spirit is properly defined by the Stoics as ‘courage,’ since they call this virtue ‘the one that fights on behalf of equity.’ Hence that superb saying of Plato’s: ‘Not only must knowledge that is removed from justice more properly be called cunning than wisdom, but in truth that spirit that is impelled by its own longing, not by the common utility, is more properly called audacity than courage.’ Moreover, it is difficult to sustain equity—which is especially characteristic of justice—when you fervently desire to best everyone. It prefers to be rather than to seem preeminent.

A spirit entirely courageous and great is discernible in two ways: The first is contempt for external goods, owing to such a human being’s persuasion that nothing except what is honorable and proper ought to be admired or chosen or desired, and who submits to no other human being nor perturbation of the mind nor fortune. The second is to undertake great and useful things, and vigorously to pursue those that are arduous and laborious and dangerous to life and much of which pertains to life. Of these two things, all the splendour, greatness lies in the latter; but the cause and reason men become great lie in the former.

Moreover, we must be free from every perturbation of the mind, not only longing and fear, but even sorrow and excessive pleasure and irascibility, so that our minds may be tranquil and carefree; in turn, this achieves not only constancy, but even dignity. The honorable conduct that we are seeking in a spirit lofty and magnificent is entirely achieved from strength of mind, not body. Nevertheless, the body must be exercised and trained in such a way that it may obey counsel and reason in the performance of business and endurance of labor.

Reason must be preferred to decide an issue rather than courage to combat it; but we must beware of doing so out of a desire to avoid conflict, rather than out of reasons of utility. It is truly characteristic of a courageous and steadfast spirit to be unperturbed by adverse affairs, not agitated, as it is said, when knocked off balance. We must instead use our presence of mind and counsel, and not stray from reason. Never must we avoid danger so as to seem unwarlike and timid; but we ought to avoid simply offering ourselves to danger without cause—nothing could be more foolish.

We ought not to be severely angry with our enemies. Nothing is more praiseworthy, nothing is more worthy, of a great and superb man than placability and clemency. In truth, among free peoples where there is equity, both affability and what is called ‘high mindedness’ must also be practiced. If not, we are liable to become angry with those who either approach us at inconvenient moments or make impudent requests, and so fall prey to a useless and hateful peevishness. In truth, irascibility must be rejected in all situations. The greater we are the more humble ought to be our conduct.

Temperance & Propriety
The one last part of honorableness in which is discerned a sense of shame and, as it were, distinction to life, temperance and discretion, as well as the allaying of all perturbations of the mind and a due measure in all things. This part comprises what may be called in Latin ‘propriety’. The force of propriety is such that it cannot be separated from the honorable; for what is proper is also honorable and what is honorable is also proper.

Propriety pertains to all aspects of honorableness, and it pertains to them in such a way that we need not have recourse to some abstruse reasoning, but is obvious to all. As the attractiveness and beauty of the body are inseparable from health, so, too, must this propriety of which I speak be entirely meshed with virtue, but distinguished in contemplation and reflection.

Thus the division of propriety is twofold: We may perceive of both a general sort of propriety that concerns honorableness as a whole, (propriety is that which is consistent with human excellence, insofar as human nature differs from other living beings) and another subordinate to this one that pertains to the individual parts of honorableness (that which is consistent with nature, insofar as it evinces moderation and temperance, as well as a certain appearance of liberality.)

It is characteristic of justice not to violate other human beings; of shame, not to offend them. In this the force of propriety especially may be perceived. Now the appropriate action that is derived from this virtue (propriety) first takes into consideration which path is conducive to harmony with and observance of nature. [Propriety helps to] ensure that appetites obey reason, neither taking the lead nor abandoning it out of sloth or laziness. All appetites must be reined in and restrained, and one’s mindfulness and diligence roused, so that we do nothing rashly or casually, thoughtlessly or negligently. Cultivation of the body and sustenance should be in reference to health and strength, not pleasure. We should understand how disgraceful it is to waste away in luxury and to live effeminately and pampered, and how honorable it is to live frugally, contentedly, austerely and soberly.

Particular aspects of Propriety
And so everyone must hold fast [their individual] characteristics that, provided they are not vicious, nevertheless are peculiar to each of us; in so doing, the propriety we seek is more easily retained. For although we must act in such a way that we never fight against our general nature, nevertheless, while still observing it, we ought to follow our individual characteristics. And although these may not be as important or excellent, nevertheless, we should measure our pursuits by the standard of our individual nature; for it is futile to oppose nature or to pursue anything that you cannot obtain. If anything is entirely proper, surely nothing is more so than equability, not only throughout our lives, but also in our individual actions—an equability that you cannot observe if, while imitating the nature of others, you disregard your own. These differences of individual natures in fact have such force that sometimes one person ought to resolve to kill himself, while another in the same situation ought not. Thus we will exert ourselves most on those things for which we are most fit. But if ever necessity should thrust us towards those things unbefitting our character, all care, contemplation, and diligence must be employed, so that, even if not properly, we can at least perform them as little improperly as possible.

Nor must we so much pursue the good things we have not been given as avoid the vices that we have. We must establish what sort of person we wish to be and what kind of life we wish to lead. Therefore, he who directs all his thought on how to live according to what sort of nature he has, provided it is not vicious, exhibits constancy. Such constancy is especially proper—unless by chance he comes to understand that he has erred in choosing a way of life. If this should happen, there must be a change made in our customs and manners. If circumstances encourage this change, then we will do it all the more easily and advantageously; but if not, it must happen gradually and cautiously.

We ought to excel at those things that are within our power—justice, trustworthiness, liberality, discretion, temperance—so that less is demanded from us where we are more deficient. Since propriety is discernible in all deeds, speech, and in the motion and posture of the body, it is inherent to three things: shapeliness [Good form], orderliness, and fitting preparation for action.

Indeed, the activity of our mind is twofold: One is reflection, the other is appetite [motive]. Reflection [contemplation] is especially concerned with the search for truth; appetite impels [motivates] us to act. Therefore, we must take care to use reflection for the best possible ends, and make our appetites obedient to reason.

We ought to strive for two further traits in our voice: that it is clear and that it is pleasant. The former will be strengthened by practice, the latter by the imitation of those who speak distinctly and smoothly. Thus conversation, in which the Socratics excel, ought to be calm, in no way obdurate, and inherently charming. In truth, we ought not to exclude others, as if the conversation was ours to possess, but, as in other things, so in open conversation we ought to think reciprocity equitable.

Additionally, we should reflect upon the subjects about which we speak: If about grave matters, employ gravity; if humorous, humor. Above all, we should prevent the conversation from revealing some inherent vice in our customs. Moreover, for the most part conversations are held about domestic matters or about the commonwealth or about pursuits and learning in the arts. Therefore, even if our speech should begin to stray to other things, we must endeavor to return it to these topics, provided all in some way participate.

And as in the whole of our lives we are quite correct to advise fleeing perturbations—that is, activity of the mind that is insufficiently obedient to reason—so, too, ought our conversation to be free from commotion of this sort… Above all, we must take care that we seem to respect and esteem those with whom we converse.

It sometimes happens that rebukes become necessary, in which perhaps we must use greater intensity in our voice and harsher severity in our words. Nevertheless, let anger be kept at a distance, since in anger nothing can be done correctly, nothing sensibly. Even if we should hear unworthy things said against us, nevertheless, it is correct to maintain gravity and suppress irascibility; for the things that occur owing to some perturbation can neither be done with constancy, nor be approved of by those present.

In sum, every action undertaken must hold fast to three things: First, that appetite obey reason. Second, that we pay attention to how important any given thing is that we wish to achieve, so that neither too much nor too little care and effort are spent than the case demands. Third, that we ensure that those things that pertain to dignity and the appearance of liberality are moderated. Again, the best course is to preserve propriety itself and proceed no further.

Remember discretion as the knowledge of an opportune—that is, a suitable time in which to act. …in view to moderation and temperance and virtues similar to these. Above all, so as not to go too deep into particulars, we ought to cultivate, protect and preserve the connection and union shared by the entire human race.

Cicero – On Duties, Book 1 (Summary of the virtues by Jason the Philosopher Muse)



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