The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue: A Reading of Cicero’s On Ends and Tusculan Disputations1

Texas Woman’s University

Abstract: This paper argues that suicide is very important for Cicero’s articulation and defense of the philosophical life. Happiness, according to Cicero, is dependent upon a willingness to commit suicide. I explain why this is the case through a discussion of On Ends and the Tusculan Disputations. I conclude with some critical remarks about Cicero’s argument, with reference to book XIX of Augustine’s City of God.

hile there is renewed interest in Hellenistic and Roman philosophy, contemporary philosophical scholarship has shown a surprising amount of squeamishness about the importance of suicide2 in philosophy of that period: for example, Pierre Hadot’s recent study, What is Ancient Philosophy only briefly addresses self-killing among the Indian gymnosophists3 and Julia Annas’s account, in The Morality of Happiness, gives only a paragraph to the issue.4 This squeamishness has prevented us from taking seriously the central place that suicide played in the philosophy of this period. This in turn has compromised recent attempts to revivify Hellenistic eudaimonism: Michel Foucault, in his return to antiquity in the History of Sexuality (which relies to a great degree on Hadot’s research)5 attempts to retrieve the Hellenistic notion of a philosophical way of life, but elides the importance of suicide as a sine qua non of this way of life—Foucault’s squeamishness is particularly surprising since Discipline and Punish suggested a stronger stomach.6 In my view, any discussion of Hellenistic eudaimonism—particularly, but not only, in its Roman variations—must confront suicide. Diogenes Laertius’s The Lives of the Philosophers is replete with account of the deaths of eminent philosophers. While numerous rumors regarding causes of death are reported, typically at least one will be a rumor of suicide: the


© 2009. Epoché, Volume 14, Issue 1 (Fall 2009). ISSN 1085-1968.


the good of the soul. but ought to be consistent with. Whence. the hybrid theory argues.g. It must be said at the outset that Cicero’s approach to this problem is highly Roman.11 a life according to nature pursues the goods of both body and soul. book five introduces some objections to the hybrid theory. is the most important insofar as the soul is superior to the body it rules. The hybrid theory argues that while virtue is the highest good.8 A discussion of the place of suicide in Hellenistic eudaimonism as a whole is needed. but beyond the scope of this paper. and exemplary of. virtue is desirable in large part because of its role in properly acquiring and maintaining the goods of the body. the hybrid theory claims to be rooted in a consideration of human nature. Book four introduces the theory as part of a critique of stoic ethics. as such his primary concern is to articulate what conditions need to obtain for one to be happy and how one can insure that those conditions do in fact obtain. termed by J. increase the happiness of the virtuous person.7 One finds suicide in even more surprising places. The emphasis on virtue as the sine qua non of happiness is drawn from Stoicism. is constitutive . Like stoicism. playing a prominent role in Seneca’s theodicy.9 1: Happiness and the Hybrid Theory Books four and five of de Finibus are devoted to a discussion of Antiochus’s moral theory. Indeed. for a hybrid theorist.10 The claim that virtue is the sine qua non of happiness is derived from the claim that virtue. his life and teachings. in this paper I have the more modest goal of addressing the role that suicide plays in Cicero’s ethics. The hybrid theorist in book four argues that the stoic emphasis solely on the goods of the soul—virtue—is contrary to nature insofar as it neglects the body and the human being is composed of both body and soul. There are other goods. by which I mean practical: his approach to philosophy is much less rigorous and theoretically sophisticated than ‘Greek’ approaches. which while not as fundamental as virtue.12 According to the hybrid theory. argues that since human beings naturally have bodies it is natural to seek what is good for those bodies. and his focus is primarily on practical problem solving rather than theoretical elegance. that other goods are important elements of happiness. it is not the only good. Annas the ‘hybrid’ theory.. but the hybrid theory emphasizes that a human being is a composite of both body and soul. The second claim. necessary and sufficient for happiness. Cicero is interested in a theory of happiness only to the extent that it helps him attain happiness. I will argue in this paper that for Cicero self-killing is the solution to a problem that cuts to the heart of Hellenistic eudaimonism: the relationship between virtue and other goods. e. while admission of other goods is derived from Peripatetic accounts. the proper acquisition and maintaining of the goods of the body.96 Brian Harding understanding being that the manner of the philosopher’s death should not be the result of meaningless causes.

outlined by Cato in book III. the hybrid theorist claims that the Stoic emphasis on virtue alone is ultimately destructive of morality: In declaring what is moral to be the only good. for the hybrid theorist it is better to be Marcus Aurelius on the throne than to be Epictetus in chains. destroys the concerns for external goods that. must be abandoned. the hybrid theory points out that the realization that virtue is the highest good does not abolish the lesser goods but only adds to them. This shows we love all these aspects on their own account. and that they are of the greatest importance in determining whether we live well. the hybrid theory argues that virtue is dependent upon the recognition of external goods—a view diametrically opposed to stoicism which denies the existence of any goods other than virtue: “We are seeking a virtue that does not abandon our nature but protects it. those external goods that are indispensable for life—as major stepping stone toward the fundamental insight that virtue is the highest good. To borrow from Hegel. The hybrid theorist is only arguing that the stoics are wrong to claim that virtue is the only good: We love ourselves and want every aspect of mind and body to be perfect.13 In short. then precisely the externalities the stoic sage is called to be indifferent to are. Whoever aims at self preservation must also love each of their parts. This is where the supreme good is found. since the latter ought to represent the upper limit of what is desirable. the hybrid theorist claims that the life of virtue with external goods is happier than the life of virtue without other goods. by nature. a concentration solely on the goods of the soul. largely.15 If the hybrid theory is correct.16 In other words. Yet virtue as you advocate it protects one part but abandons the rest. the primary objects of nature. We seek a life in which the virtues of both mind and body are fully realized. We should be sure to note that the hybrid theory is neither recommending that material goods replace virtue nor that it is the task of virtue to acquire material goods by any means necessary. In this way. But it is Epictetus in chains—or Marcus Regulus in Carthage—which furnishes a problem for the hybrid theory: is the happy life dependent on the simultaneous possession of goods of the soul (virtue) and goods of the body? If . Ultimately morality itself. In other words.The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue 97 of virtue. presents the infant or child’s desire for goods of the body—in particular. all the more so the more perfectly developed and admirable those parts are within their own category. the conduct of business and the duties of life. care of one’s household.”14 The stoic cradle argument. public service. important for human happiness and morality. from the point of view of the hybrid theory. are constitutive of virtue. you do away with concern for one’s health. they are goods worth possessing and the acquisition of them is part of the task of virtue. As such. which you regard as everything.

which requires both virtue and other goods Cicero—now arguing against the hybrid theory—claims that there cannot be degrees of happiness and. Regulus gave himself up to be tortured and executed by the Carthaginians so that he would not be shown to be unfaithful. according to Cicero. precisely in exercising virtue. Cicero addresses this scenario and suggests that if it were the case. is that the hybrid theory as developed in book IV of de Finibus cannot and should not be maintained. in other words. in Cicero’s eyes. However.19 The result of this. happiness in a eudaimonstic context does not admit degrees. it must be this way for otherwise. while the hybrid theory stalls in its response to Regulus-problems. Cicero argues that the hybrid theorist’s distinction is an illusion: although Latin grammar allows for comparatives and superlatives. Since it is a task of virtue. but its most important criticisms of Stoic ethics are not answered either. to acquire and protect goods of the body it seems that in the face of a Regulus-problem the hybrid theorist must admit the individual in question is unhappy. book five’s hybrid theorist. would spell the end of philosophy. as such. The vision of happiness Cicero defends in book five is reminiscent of Cato’s stoicism in book three: based entirely on virtue and independent of bodily goods. . suffering virtue becomes an insoluble problem for the hybrid theory. In this way. This. de Finibus ends without resolving the central question of what school of philosophy is best able to bring one to happiness: the hybrid theory’s attempt to include goods of the body in an account of happiness fails. one is either happy or not happy. In the Tusculan Disputations. are we not inescapably wretched insofar as fortune rules our lives? If everything comes down to fortune or luck. The drama of the text highlights the unhappy ending: Piso. without this distinction.18 Of course. is never convinced by Cicero’s arguments and manages to persuade Lucius to accept the hybrid theory.98 Brian Harding we must have goods of the body to be happy. Because the text ends without a ringing endorsement of either Stoicism or the hybrid theory. then instead of practicing philosophy we should simply hope and pray for good fortune. the criticisms it proffers of stoicism—that the stoic focus solely on the good of the soul ultimately undermines virtue—go unanswered in de Finibus. But this is not a position the hybrid theorist wishes to maintain because it would suggest that virtue is not sufficient for happiness. the hybrid theorist attempts to circumvent the Regulus-problem by adducing a distinction between the happy life—for which the possession of virtue is sufficient—and the happiest life. according to the hybrid theory. Indeed. Marcus Regulus suffers great pain. a text we will come to shortly. one cannot maintain the distinction between the happy life and the happiest life. fortune—which ‘controls’ the distribution of bodily goods—would determine happiness. In book five. then what is the point of entering upon the philosophic quest for the happy life?17 We could term this the Regulus-problem: can a virtuous person be said to be living the happy life while undergoing extreme physical suffering. In short.

and provides a strategy to ensure that virtue is coextensive with other goods. That practical step is suicide. including especially the highest good. or at least an outlook on life open to suicide. although de Finibus ends without offering its reader a definitive account of the good life. a failure to resolve this apparent incompatibility would suggest that the philosophical way of life ought to be abandoned. . He does this by arguing that the virtuous person can insure that he or she will not have to live in situation that lacks external goods such as the primary objects of nature. as Piso does.’ is most charitably understood as a pragmatic. And (3) prevents one from appealing. rather than theoretical solution. necessary and sufficient for happiness. So. then. must be maintained. This strategy ensures in practice that the demands of the hybrid theory. to degrees of happiness. The central difficulties in developing such a theory are that these three points seem incompatible. Central to Cicero’s strategy for the attainment of the happy life in the Tusculan Disputations and his solution to the problem left over at the end of de Finibus. it does articulate certain desiderata which any proposed theory must satisfy: (1) The sovereignty of virtue as the highest good. as indicated by the term ‘strategy. The solution proffered in the Tusculan Disputations.. what is needed is an account the happy life that maintains the sovereignty of virtue as the highest good. i. rather then attempting to show how these desiderata can be logically reconciled with one another. is a discussion of death and suicide. Since Cicero understands the purpose of philosophy primarily in terms of the quest for happiness. Suicide. That is to say. (3) Happiness is to be understood as the possession of all goods. Cicero will attempt to develop a strategy whereby he can have his stoic cake and eat it too.The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue 99 authoritative commentators have maintained that de Finibus is an ‘academic’ exercise simply putting the two systems in contrast and leaving it to the reader to decide the question. that the happy life include both virtue and other goods. in particular the primary objects of nature. (2) The happy life must be understood as coextensive with the possession of other goods. not admitting of degrees. are met.20 However. The Tusculan Disputations offers that solution. Instead of attempting to construct a theory that accounts for all three desiderata. Cicero formulates this theory by arguing that the happy person will securely possess external goods insofar as he will kill himself rather than suffer their loss. emerges as crucial to Cicero’s adaptation of the hybrid theory in the Tusculan Disputations. The incompatibility of (1) and (2) is particularly obvious: if virtue is necessary and sufficient for happiness then it seems that goods of the body are neither and one could be happy with virtue alone. Cicero describes a situation that combines virtue with other goods. and then asks what practical steps must be taken to ensure that virtue and other goods remain coextensive.e.

death is not an evil and consequently .22 Book II shows us that the Tusculan Disputations is assuming a hybrid theory in its discussion of happiness. For our purposes. are we not miserable? For instance. contrary to Stoicism.26 In either case. At the same time. an un-philosophic fear of death and views death as a threat to happiness. but instead argues that regardless of whether or not the soul is mortal. On the other hand. death is good. properly understood. then death still appears as a good: it frees the soul from the body and ascends to the heavens. We do not need to go into details regarding M. M. book one of the Tusculan Disputations begins with a discussion of death and the fear of death.24 It is important to note that although Cicero never comes down on either side of this dilemma. and those who deny it. he admits that the greatest of evils is vice. however. there are evils other than vice. particularly pain. We will discuss book one in more depth below. is a good thing. who is able to be delighted in life when pondering [cogitandum] day and night that at any time now he must die?23 M’s answer to this objection is to argue that death.100 Brian Harding 2: Happiness and Suicide in the Tusculan Disputations The Tusculan Disputations begin by discussing and criticizing the interlocutor A’s21 pre-philosophical fears of death and misfortune. because you made me admit that all those who are not. With death as the end. the non-existence of the dead. If there are evils other than vice.25 If the materialist philosophers are correct and the soul perishes with the body. in showing how the Tusculan Disputations implicitly endorses a hybrid theory. Cicero qualifies this admission with the claim that pain is not the greatest evil: in agreement with the stoics. evidences. proceeds by surveying the opinions of various philosophers on the issue. there is nothing to worry or bother one anymore. as said before. So what? We who live. who must die. M. then death is the end. those who are dead. book two on misfortune. than one can conclude that there are also goods other than virtue. Book one focuses on death. are not and could not be miserable. it suffices to begin with A’s reformulation of his view following the first round of criticism: I concede that they are not miserable. but the absence of threats and worry. if those philosophers who affirm the immortality of the soul are correct.’s argument for the goodness of death is the centerpiece of the first Disputation. The discussion of pain in book two includes a criticism of the stoic claim that pain is not an evil. from the point of view of those who must die. Returning to book one. which he divides into two camps: those who affirm the immortality of the soul and life after death.’s preliminary examination and discussion of A’s opinion. in admitting that pain is an evil Cicero affirms that. signifies not a deprivation of good things. following the introductory passages. some words about book two will be helpful. The interlocutor A.

In the first Tusculan Disputations Cicero uses the caprice of fortune in giving or withholding the goods of the body as an argument in favor of the goodness of death. which strips them of these good things. that most people are not miserable. so that we may either return to what is certainly our eternal home or be without all sensation and trouble. but the use of it differs: many sons. we have the same mind. then the sage by definition could neither desire nor rejoice in it. there are some human beings who live a life blessed with every good thing such that death. and from these seventeen born to lawful wives: in both cases fortune has the power. and count nothing as evil that we are led to either by the immortal gods or by nature. so that while that day is horrible to others. Voluntatem is defined by Cicero as the rational desire for some good. both the emotions voluntatem and gaudium may be felt toward death by the sage. This does not mean. not out of goodness. seems to be something lamentable. the mother of all ordered things. for Cicero. Key to his argument against the claim that death is miserable—especially the first horn of the dilemma—is to see death in the context of various miseries which can afflict us in life. Priam was deprived of his many progeny at hands of the same enemy that slew him after he fled to the altar. is an important premise in Cicero’s argument for suicide: if death was an evil. the general misery of human life is precisely what makes the philosophical debates about the highest good in de Finibus so important: it is through philosophy that one learns how to not be miserable. let us comply cheerfully and offer thanks and understand that we are released from a jail and loosed from chains. a key condition for the practical application of his suicide strategy. daughters. Acceptance of the non-misery of death is. Simply. gaudium as a rational satisfaction felt by the acquisition or presence of a good. death is better understood in terms of an escape from suffering rather than as the cessation of something good. Indeed. and Priam fifty. rather than an evil. given the various (mis)fortunes human life is subject to. we esteem that day favorable. nevertheless. if on the other hand we are not sentenced.29 One objection to this line of argument is that not every life is characterized by misfortune. however.30 . if it happens that it seems a proclamation from God that we exit from life. “Death pulls us out of evil.27 Since death is not an evil and mortals are not inescapably wretched it follows for Cicero that happiness is possible. With these miseries in mind. It is in response to this argument that Cicero introduces the comparison of the lives of Metellus and Priam: The honored Metellus had four sons. grandsons and granddaughters laid Metellus upon the funeral pyre. However. but. death appears as not merely non-miserable but downright good: For us however. by understanding death as a good.The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue 101 humanity is not miserable.”28 The view that death is a good.

If death was an evil. one can never be sure that the next day will be a good one—in fact. death is best understood as an escape from impending evils. The Neapolitans crowned him with garlands. As such. but by prolonging his life. is not an evil. was made better. seek out that good. Cicero argues that fortune is able to give and take away all goods excepting virtue. this takes the form of accustoming the body to pain and discomfort. one can be assured of the opposite: sooner or later fortune will bring evils to you. Cicero’s point is that given the uncertainties of fortune. when gravely ill in Naples. The other goods that the hybrid theory affirms are necessary for happiness. they are able to happen. In more general terms. is not a misfortune to be lamented but rather an escape from fortune. the happiness of Metellus vis-à-vis Priam rests only in the fact that he [Metellus] died before anything terrible could happen to him. . insofar as it prepares the way for sages’ voluntary death. All this serves to reinforce Cicero’s claim that death. as the case of Priam makes clear: “But if he had died before this [the sack of Troy] he would have escaped all these events. Cicero raises . one task of philosophy is nothing else than the development of those virtues which enable the philosopher to endure the stormy seas of fortune. This philosophical appreciation of death sets the philosopher free from the wheel of fortune and is central to Cicero’s resolution of the challenge presented by Regulus-problems and the rehabilitation of the hybrid theory. it functions as a ‘pre-emptive strike’ against those turns of fortune which will. sooner or later. According to book two. As the Tusculan Disputations moves on after book one’s discussion of death. he would have died happy and successful rather being decapitated by Ptolemy XIII as a gift for Caesar.”31 Indeed. commit suicide. instead. he would have fallen when his fortunes were at their highest. The only way to escape fortune and ensure the contiguity of virtue with other goods is death. if death is a good. i.e. public congratulations were promulgated by towns. The point is made particularly clear in the fifth and final Disputation. but ultimately. If he died then. Cicero uses the example of Pompey to illustrate this point: Pompey. even when ending an otherwise happy life. whether it is the escape of the soul from the body or the destruction of both.. our friend. In the case of book two. .102 Brian Harding The happiness of Metellus and the misery of Priam are both the results of fortune giving or taking goods of the body.”33 Death. . this takes the shape of a willingness to end one’s own life. the sage may. and the pains and suffering that militate against happiness are both under the dispensation of fortune. the sage would seek to avoid it. what incredible calamities he swallowed!32 In other words. At the climax of that Disputation. as certainly the Puteoli did too. if Pompey had died of his sickness in Naples or shortly after his recovery. deprive one of the goods of both the body and of fortune: “These things are avoided by death because even though they have not come to pass. when appropriate.

these considerations reinforce the view that there is no way to reconcile (1). In Cicero’s defense two points could be made. it nevertheless remains the case that the cruelty of fortune threatens pain to a degree that no human being could stand it. so that this same man is blind and deaf.39 That is to say. is an eternal shelter feeling nothing.”34 Pain provides the final challenge to the claim of Disputation V that virtue alone is necessary and sufficient for the happy life because Cicero. such as physical . like the hybrid theorist of de Finibus counts pain as an evil (although not the greatest evil). First.38 In other words. offers the greatest obstacle to our opinion. It might be objected at this point that Cicero never gives clear criteria as to what sort of pain would justify suicide. if and when the storms of fortune are so violent that even one who has cultivated virtue can neither endure nor see a reason for continuing in his or her suffering. . for death. Cicero would argue that suicide is only appropriate for the sage and inappropriate for the vast majority of people. moreover. (2) and (3). Cicero recommends suicide in situations. there and then. pointing out that extreme pain is the primary threat to his claim—and the first thesis of the hybrid theory—that virtue is necessary and sufficient for a happy life: “This [pain]. if death is not an evil to be feared and lamented but instead is a good that can be rationally sought out. then for what cause is he suffering. since the Ciceronian sage would have undergone the various endurance exercises described in book II only extreme misfortune would lead him to suicide. and that as such. we should instead merely hope and pray for good fortune. that he is pressed upon by intense bodily pain—these.The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue 103 the Regulus-problem.40 We can say that he seems to give wider scope than stoicism would: while Stoicism traditionally approved of suicide only in situations where further virtuous action would be impossible.36 The evils of unendurable pain would undermine any claim to be living the good life: Cicero takes it as self-evident that one is not happy when roasting inside Phalaris’s bull. This conclusion can be avoided. . then that person can preserve his or her happiness by exiting the miseries of life. if we recall the attitude toward death recommended by M. however. then the sage when faced with the evil of unendurable pain will sacrifice his life rather than happiness: Let all [manner of misfortune] be congregated on one man. in book one. his thinking here is not as clear as one would like. to be sure. and that second. The door is near. the upshot of that is to conclude that happiness is not acquired through the study of philosophy—rather than actively seeking happiness through virtue. thereby toughening it up and creating a degree of resistance to physical pain.37 It would seem that unendurable pain is capable of overcoming virtue.35 While book two suggests that various endurance exercises can be used to acclimate the body to difficulty. . kill a good many men through themselves alone—but if they are stretched indefinitely and bring forth even more vehement tortures. first of all.

to the extent that one has embraced the possibility of suicide one is liberated from the turns of fortune and the possession of exterior goods becomes under one’s control.44 It must be emphasized that this pragmatic satisfaction of (1). By the end of the final Disputation. so that he who remembers in no way risks esteeming death either as something not to be longed for.”42 In all this it must be emphasized that the praise of the sufficiency of virtue and philosophy found in Disputation V is only possible on the basis of the discussion of death in Disputation I. it is clear that the philosophical life. once one realizes that life is not a necessity but something which can be escaped. Paullus replied. argues Cicero.”43 Conversely. Rather than having to choose between virtue and external goods. or else as something to be feared. and (3) is only available to one who possesses the wisdom and virtues of the sage. The virtuous person is either happy or not—without degrees—because he is either alive or not. there are no clear cut rules offered by Cicero of the kind that could be enumerated in a journal article: his thinking here seems to be that such sagacious person would be able to intuit when suicide was called for. you may leave behind the injuries of fortune. it is up to the philosopher to accept or reject those goods by continuing. then the appropriate action is to depart from life. without degrees.104 Brian Harding pain. much was said about death. To be sure. “That is in your power.”45 The flipside of this is worth emphasizing as well: since the . When the opposite is the case. when we inquired after death itself. understood in terms of the hybrid theory. where important bodily goods are lacking. by running away. which you are incapable of bearing. the possession of the goods of the body is not entirely in the hands of fortune. Only the Sage knows when it is proper to end one’s own life: “It is the appropriate action to live when most of what one has is in accordance with nature. Whether or not one suffers the loss of the goods of the body is not in the hands of fortune but the hands of the philosopher: to illustrate this point Cicero cites an exchange between Perses and Paullus. the sage chooses between a life with both virtue and other goods. The embrace of suicide as key to happiness may sound extreme to contemporary ears but is precisely what is called for by Cicero: “Thus. So long as one is virtuous enough to end one’s own life. is inseparable from the willingness to end one’s own life: it is only the willingness to kill oneself that finally liberates the sage from the wheel of fortune and guarantees the confluence of virtue and other goods. and no life at all. or escaping. (2). Disputation I anticipates the conclusion to Disputation V when Cicero presents Cato’s suicide as an example of the actions of the sage. life. Cicero himself makes this point when he alludes to the first Disputation during the finale of the fifth: “In the first day. Although fortune can decide what goods or evils to bestow.”41 For Cicero. or is envisaged to be so. When the imprisoned Perses begged his captor Paullus not to humiliate him by leading him in triumph through the streets.

Cicero’s suicide strategy makes a life characterized by the possession of external goods dependent upon virtue by stipulating that when these good have utterly forsaken. To put the matter bluntly: suicide. as a virtuous act. of course. That is to say. this could lead to a misreading of Cicero’s account of suicide by treating it apart from virtue while for Cicero the suicidal act. or about to forsake. . In recommending suicide pending the loss of certain goods of the body. (3) Happiness is to be understood as the possession of all goods.. It has been the argument of this paper that Cicero attempted a resolution in his Tusculan Disputations.The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue 105 sage is the only one who has proper understanding of life. is not contrary to the happy life but a capstone for it: it is a happy death ending a happy life before fortune can turn against the sage. Cicero seems to be admitting that virtue is not sufficient for the happy life: if it was. the situation where someone in possession of the highest good (virtue) lacks the goods of the body and is not happy. However.46 The sage’s death. This last act of virtue ensures that virtue and other goods are coextensive in the sage’s life. Cicero’s resolution is to argue that when one possesses virtue he or she will have the ability to end one’s life rather than suffer misfortunes substantial enough to threaten the loss of happiness. Cicero’s goal in the Disputations. In sum. is virtuous. the sage he will forsake life: virtue is sufficient for happiness insofar as virtue will not accept a life of unhappiness. The trouble synthesizing these three lies in the Regulus-problem.e. it might seem that Cicero implicitly adds fourth claim: (4) A suicidal disposition is necessary for the happy life. including especially the highest good. there would be no need for suicide. 3: Conclusion: O Happy Life that Requires Death to Be Completed . This scenario. in particular the primary objects of nature. In this. Cicero initially affirms (1) and (3). must be maintained. necessary and sufficient for happiness. if we are . not admitting of degrees However. it is only the sage who can confidently end it with the assurance that he is doing the proper things—it is never appropriate for the foolish to kill themselves insofar as they are not in a position to properly evaluate their actions. for the sage. de Finibus outlines three desiderata for a theory of the good life: (1) The sovereignty of virtue as the highest good. manifests virtue. So. suggests that virtue is not sufficient for happiness. and argues for the affirmation of (2) by recommending the suicide of the virtuous when these goods are threatened. . However. the happy life in the Tusculan Disputations is finally guaranteed in the happy death of the sage’s suicide. it does not offer any satisfactory way of reconciling these three. on the part of the sage. i. (2) The happy life must be understood as coextensive with the possession of other goods.

at the same time. however. Although Cicero cannot provide any argument to suggest that the relationship between virtue and other goods is necessary. he is able to provide a moral or exhortatory one: the sage’s willingness to kill himself when lacking external goods ensures that he will never live without them. Cicero’s strategy unites the philosophical quest for eudaimonism as he understands it with the willingness to end that happy life. was correct to focus on self-killing in his critique of Hellenistic—but especially Roman—eudaimonism. even orthodox stoicism finds a prominent place for suicide in their accounts of happiness.47 In light of this. is not so much conceptual clarity and rigor as much as it is practical applicability. The dependence of the possession of other goods on virtue here is not so much logical or conceptual but pragmatic. as unworkable as the solution of the Tusculan Disputations may be. the importance of self-killing in Cicero’s discussion of the happy life. The implausibility of the solution. in the nineteenth book of The City of God. For Augustine suicide. the death of the sage is not the last act of the happy life but a desperate slaughter that testifies to the inexhaustible misery of human life. such that the possession of virtue might logically imply the possession of other goods.49 This is why Augustine. as already noted. one must emphasize.48 and one could point to any number of passages in the more orthodox stoicism of Seneca that recommend suicide. despite Cicero’s protestations to the contrary. could be distinguished from that of Plato and Aristotle) that sought a life free from the problems and misery of the ordinary person. Augustine saw the close bond forged by Cicero between philosophical happiness and suicide as testimony to the illusory nature of the claim that philosophy is the path to happiness. The central role that self-killing plays in Cicero’s account of the happy life should not be lost.52 If the conjoining of the happy life and suicide is not a formal . no other solutions to the problem presented in de Finibus were offered.106 Brian Harding to read him charitably. Instead he will virtuously depart from life when the external goods depart from his life. but is a central part of Roman philosophy in general: elsewhere in de Finibus’s exposition of stoicism it is argued that it is the duty of the sage to kill himself when virtue is threatened.51 Understanding the importance of self-killing in Cicero’s solution to the Regulus-problem should make us more doubtful about recent attempts to revivify the Hellenistic ideal of a philosophical way of life. belies claims of philosophy to offer the happy life.50 But. The mixture of happiness and suicide no doubt strikes many as implausible. might not suggest shortcomings of Cicero as much as it does of the project of which his works are a small part: the eudaimonistic project of Hellenistic philosophy (which to be sure. rather than evade. Self-killing is key to Cicero’s presentation of the philosophical life in the Tusculan Disputations and his solution to the dilemma developed in book V of de Finibus. and perhaps further confirms the widespread suspicion that Cicero is a philosophical lightweight.

1986.’” trans. L. The propositions that they compose do not always express adequately the theoretical 2. which requires the help of death to be completed!53” NOTES 1. 36. Hadot in “La philosophie antique: une éthique ou une pratique?” (in Études de Philosophie Ancienne. 24–5 A notable exception to this tradition of squeamishness is Miriam Griffin. Cato and Roman Suicide: II” (in Greece and Rome 33. 1998. 8.The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue 107 contradiction. 4. Seneca. and Davidson’s comments in his introduction to the same book. ed. “Reflections on the Idea of the ‘Cultivation of the Self. What is Ancient Philosophy? trans. Van Hooff. the more general comments of P. but also that of an exercise designed to transform his life.2 1986. Arnold Davidson (London: Blackwell. 64–77) and “Philosophy. 9. (a) seems to me to be fairly trivial and (b) is questionable: in an era that is rapidly moving toward asserting that the ‘right to die’ is an inalienable human right. most notably A. 7. in other contexts. 192–202) are extremely helpful. as not only an exercise designed to develop the intelligence of the disciple. Chase. inherited from Christianity. Morality of Happiness (New York: Oxford University Press. in Philosophy as a Way of Life. While both of Van Hoof ’s points are well taken.1. M. Pierre Hadot. 1990). It is in this way that they are no longer constrained only to pedagogy. it perhaps suggests what Habermas has called. Cato and Roman Suicide: I” (in Greece and Rome 33. 1993). 3. but the need for psychagogy and for the direction of souls arises. which keeps ancient philosophical discourse from being perfectly systematic. I am indebted to an anonymous commentator for this title—which is much more striking than my first title—and for other helpful comments that improved this paper. From Autothanasia to Suicide. 2002). 96. van Hooff in From Autothanasia to Suicide: SelfKilling in Classical Antiquity (New York: Routledge.: Harvard University Press. On this element in Cicero’s thought. have argued that we should avoid the term ‘suicide’ when discussing self-killing in this period because (a) neither ancient Greek nor Latin had such a word. . but had to make do with more complicated reflexive constructions to get the point across and (b) the term has pejorative overtones.6. 5. See the somewhat critical comments in Pierre Hadot. 1995). which can misdirect our account of the ancient phenomenon.17–7.24. 408–9. Julia Annas. de Providentia. a performative contradiction. 206–14. Michael Chase (Cambridge. 207–232) are particularly appropriate: “Philosophical discourse [le discours du philosophe] takes the form of an appeal. Her pair of papers “Philosophy. it seems questionable to say that ‘suicide’ is always a pejorative term. Some scholars. VI. 6. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. This performative contradiction is what Augustine points out when he mockingly exclaims “O happy life. 1. J. Mass.

2–3. 197–218. J. ea nobis ipsa cara esse propter se et in iis esse ad bene vivendum momenta maxima. Tusculan Disputations. diligentia rei familiaris.16–23 for Cato’s stoic argument and IV. E.68: “Cum enim quod honestum sit id solum bonum esse confirmatur. IV. 14.28–13.24–26. V. 23. All quotations from de Finibus are from Cicero. Annas (New York: Cambridge University Press. Because the proponent of the hybrid theory changes in de Finibus (from Cicero in book four to Piso in book five) I shall refer simply to ‘hybrid theorist’ rather than the particular speaker. ed. Tusculan Disputations. D. my translation). in quo uno vultis esse omnia. 53–61. Nam cui proposita sit conservatio sui. quoniam ipsi a nobis diligamur omniaque et in animo et in corpore perfecta velimus esse. officia vitae.37: “Ex quo perspicuum est. carioresque quo perfectiores sint et magis in genere laudabilis.. De Finibus. de Finibus. . Pohlenz. deserendum est.7. 1995). eos ne miseros quidem esse posse. H.81.35–38. cum moriundum sit. Cicero.108 Brian Harding thoughts of philosophy. Cicero. Ea enim vita expetitur quae sit animi corporisque explete virtutibus.9. Teubner Verlagsgesellshaft. qui omnino non essent. Douglas.” See Cicero’s remarks regarding Theophrastus’s view in Tusculan Disputations. tollitur cura valetudinis. Tulli Ciceronis. Reynolds. 12.33. necesse est huic partes quoque sui caras esse.. 19. and their unique place in Cicero’s corpus.” Revue des etudes latines 80 (2002): 78–94. and J. Annas’s “Introduction” to On Moral Ends. ipsum denique illud honestum. nonne miseri sumus. 1957). I. ed. 16. 11. xii. Cicero. Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana (Stuttgart: B. at illa... but they are to be understood in the perspective of the effect that they aim to produce in the soul of the auditor” (207.” See ibid. 20. 18. 89–90. Cicero. trans. G. IV. ed. administratio rei publicae. 2001). and C. in eoque summum bonum poni necesse est. ed. quandoquidem id tale esse debet ut rerum expetendarum sit extremum.“L’ Âme et le moi dans les Tusculanes. Powell (Oxford: Oxford University Press. cum dies et noctes cogitandum sit iam iamque esse moriendum?” 10. Beck.25–28 for Cicero’s rejoinder. quoniam extorsisti ut faterer. All references to the Disputations are to Tusculanarum Disputationum. 21. For the purposes of this paper. 1998). the specific meaning of A’s name is rather unimportant and I will treat M’s voice as the voice of Cicero. Quid? qui vivimos. See J. De Finibus. Heine and M. Lévy. 22. V.. ut vobis placet. De Finibus. L. 17. V. J. qui mortui sint. the Latin text is taken from M. V. Woolf.1. Ciceros Kritik der Philosophenschulen (munich: Verlag C. See Cicero. partem quondam tuetur.41: “Quaesita enim virtus est non quae relinqueret naturam sed qua tueretur.14: “Age iam concedo non esse miseros. ordo gerendorum negotiorum. G. 2 vols. Cicero. Ibid. Ibid. “Form and Content in the Tusculan Disputations. Leonhardt. F. 15. IV. 198. Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis (Oxford: Clarendon. On the ‘names’ of the two interlocutors. R.” in Cicero the Philosopher.12. my translations. De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum Libri Quinque. 1999). II. Quae enim potest in vita esse iucunditas. 13. IV. III. reliquam deserit.” Ibid. On Moral Ends. O. see A.25.

eo tamen simus animo.76: “Is enim huic maxime sententiae repugnant. melius est factum.11.” . I.” 32. talem eventum omnino amisissett. Ibid. Coronati Neapolitani fuerunt. J. 30.. Reliquorum sententiae spem adferunt.85–86: “Quod si ante occidisset.18 and V. Disptationes y Divagaciones. at quinquaginta Priamus.. Ibid. quam incredibiles hausit calamitates!” 33. non a bonis. non sentientis autem nihil est ullam in partem quod intersit. quantas..33–18. e quibus septemdecim iusta uxore natis: in utroque eandem habuit fortuna potestatem. .1.28–13..83: “A malis igitur mors abducit. is propagatione vitae quot. I. 38. See ibid.. II.” 35. II.. laeti et agents gratias pareamus emittique nos e custodia et levari vinclis arbitremur. I. Cicero. summarizes the argument this way: “Regarding the problem of the immortality of the soul. For a slightly longer discussion of the various arguments Cicero employs. Ibid. cum graviter aegrotaret Neapoli.118: “Nos vero. posse animos.. death is not an evil.The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue 109 24. Tusculanae disptationes y Divagaciones horacianas (Valencia: Universidad de Valencia Secretariado de Publicaciones. the attitudes of the philosophers can be grouped into two systems. 11–26.35. V.14. see J.86: “Pompeio..26. I. note the phrase “dolores intolerabiles. or is the transit to a better life” (my translation). ut aut in aeternam et plane nostram domum remigremus aut omni sensu molestiaque careamus: sin autem nihil debuntiabitur. .35. Teijeiro.34. Ibid. I.” 27. in amplissimis fortunes occidisset. hostilis manus interemit.43. because of a total incapacity to experience pain.6. See Cicero. Ibid. nobis faustum putemus nihilque in malis ducamus quod sit vel a dis immortalibus vel a natura parente omnium constitutum. ut a deo denuntiatum videatur ut exeamus e vita. 37. II. . I. But in both cases. Ibid. Ibid.. V.75–76. Ibid. one of those who admit the survival of the soul separated from the body. nostra familiari. S.33. in caelum quasi in domicilium suum pervernire. etiam si non evenerunt.35. complete insensibility.” 29.” 28. Ibid. and the other those who hold that death is nothing else than the total annihilation of being. Qui si mortem tum obisset. with references to the discussion of pain in the second Disputation. tamen. si quid tale acciderit. quia possunt evenire.12–14. Ibid. 25. pariter enim cum vita sensus amittitur.” 34.49. 7. ut horribilem illum diem aliis. vulgo ex oppidis publice gratulabantur. Tusculan Disputations.27.24: “His sententiis omnibus nihil post mortem pretinere ad quemquam potest.3.” 31. IV. 36. hoc autem tempore sensum amisit maolrum. 18.85: “Metellus ille honoratis quattuor filiis. 26. sed usa in altero est. I. nepotes neptes in rogam imposuerunt. Metellum enim multi filii filiae. si te hoc forte delecat. nimirum etiam Puteolani. either because it either enters into total unconsciousness and. Priamum tanta progenie orbatum cum in aram confugisset.86: “Haec morte effugiuntur.36. S.12. C. 1977)... C. Teijeiro. Tusculan Disputations. cum e corporibus excesserint.

virtus.4. Portus enim praesto est. “Roman Suicide I. and kill himself before he could be incapacitated. premature etiam doloribus acerrimis corporis. Does the fact that suicidal tendencies are not sufficient for death requiring the addition of suicidal actions suggest that Cicero’s strategy fails on this point as well? Perhaps. Augustine.60: “In quo enim plura sunt quae naturam sunt. V.118: “Sic iniurias forunae. Tusculan Disputations.41.” 44. XCI. ed.17–7. as death remains out of reach. III.. B. 41. V. sunt dicta de morte. I. III.” 72–75. 25–26 and Annas.40. Cicero. Tusculan Disptuations.7. The anonymous referee raises an interesting question that is worth noting. 50.74. de Civitate Dei. 2001). there Varro suggests that the term fortuna does not imply randomness.30.” 40. quae qui recordetur. For example. Kalb [Turnhout: Brepols. but one could imagine a Ciceronian retort to the effect that the sage would know that this was coming. Ibid. Epicureanism.. huius officium est de vita excedere. and would need much more development that I can offer here. Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales.” 43. . Ibid. De Finibus. quas ferre nequeas. See the discussions in Griffin. de Ira. non pauca etiam postero.49. see Academica I. Autothanasia to Suicide. De Civitate Dei Libri I–X.118: “In tua id quidem potestate est. was not partial to suicide and although not condemning it out right never accepted nor theorized about it to the degree the Stoics did. I. . 130: “In general. The Morality of Happiness. V.21.” 46. cum ageretur de dolor.” 47. see also Van Hooff. surprisingly. 48.29. 42. but only a necessity whose cause and operations are unknown to us.117: “Congerantur in unum omnia. Cicero. I. haud sane periculum est ne non mortem aut optandam aut certe non timendam putet. defugiendo relinquas. References are to Augustinus.110 Brian Harding 39. V.25–30. III. Cicero. cum de ipsa morte quaereremus.15. Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones (Berkeley: University of California Press. de Constantia Sapientis. 38–47.118: “Multa primo die. although it is mentioned in Torquatus’s defense of Epicureanism in Cicero’s De Finibus. as in Phalaris’s Bull or some other dastardly scenario? In these cases it seems that sage must simply suffer and be unhappy.” On the connection between fortune and necessity. But this hardly seems entirely convincing. (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 47. 45. Dombart and A. ut idem oculis et auribus captus sit. the driving forces attributed to the cases of suicide lie in the sphere of male virtue. Teijeiro. 1955]). developing this line of thought vis-à-vis Roman civic virtue in Carlin Barton. in quo autem aut sunt plura contraria aut fore videntur.. de Providentia.60 49.40. . There are interesting comments. but can’t be addressed here: How would Cicero’s strategy apply in cases where the sage is suffering extreme pain but is unable to kill himself. XIX. literally. . VI. Cicero. see Seneca. huius officium est in vita manere.40.2–3.24. quam ut causa sit cur feranture. qui primum per se ipsi plerumque conficiunt hominem: sin forte longinquitate producti vehementius tamen torquent. Ibid. Disptationes y Divagaciones. 408–9. quoniam mors ibidem est aeternum nihil sentiendi receptaculum. De Finibus.6.

so extreme as to threaten the agent’s intellectual and affective state. [V]irtuous actions can succeed even when the intended outcomes fail. XIX. 408–9: “[Stoic] virtue is not just a state which the virtuous person has. quae ut finiatur mortis quaerit auxilium!” (my translation). but a disposition which is exercised and life is not worth living if one is deprived of the chance of exercising one’s virtue. . Morality of Happiness. 53. . and there is ‘not even the hope’ of virtuous action.” in Études de Philosophie Ancienne (Paris: Les Belles Lettres. Hadot. so these conditions will have to be extreme. it is rational for the agent to commit suicide. For a discussion of the different conceptions of happiness in ancient philosophy.4: “O vitam beatam. . Annas. Augustine. 327–40. When this happens. de Civitate Dei.The Virtue of Suicide and the Suicide of Virtue 111 51. see P. 1998).“Les modèles de bonheur proposés par les philosophes antiques. .” 52.

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