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Cicero’s Views on Citizenship and Ethics

Cicero argued that virtue is at its best when it is applied by the state or by government. He argued that political action is the only way of putting virtue to use and that this comes naturally. In this context, one may be mistaken for believing that such actions would be totally voluntary. On the other hand, if politics was devoid of virtue, then human beings would not be free to engage in meaningful analysis of their world. It can therefore be said that it is out of a sense of obligation that virtue and politics are intertwined. Politics may not necessarily be dependent on virtue. However, without it, it would be likely that aspects such as liberty and justice would be long forgotten and this would subsequently lead to a state of unrest (Noonan, 2008). Therefore, one can say that virtue is not necessarily voluntary but is more of a necessity.

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On the other hand, Cicero emphasises the importance of nature in determining the existence of virtue. He believes that the laws of nature dictate that man should live virtuously (Hale, 1993). He asserts that pleasure and ease should be easily forgotten because they contravene these laws of nature. Subsequently, any civil laws must be made to resemble these natural laws as much as possible. Such an argument makes sense because there are certain situations in which individuals tend to oppose their written laws or constitutions. This illustrates that there must be something wrong with the constitution in such areas. The explanation given by Cicero fits into this scenario because chances are that citizens who oppose their written laws are likely to be unhappy about their prevalent situations (Anderson, 1996).

In essence, Cicero is arguing that citizens have certain entitlements in terms of virtue within their societies. He believes that if a Monarch makes a decision on matters that affect the public then that country can be said to be operating under the virtues of that leader rather than those of the public. On the other hand, if it has been shown that there are a series of people involved in decision making, then that process is more liberal and more democratic.

In other words, it is preferable to include a high number of people in decisions that affect the society rather than leave this to one party (Carter, 1998). The reason behind such an argument is that the public may not always be in a position to defend itself so it would make sense when its interests are protected by a number of virtuous decision makers. In fact, the presence of civic virtue is what ensures the perpetuation of liberty within any given society.

It is indeed true that when leaders fail to embrace virtue then this could lead to the detriment of that society. This explains why the Roman leadership at Cicero’s time had failed dramatically in their responsibilities. Because Rome was governed by the elite, most of its leaders were concerned with the need for power, wealth and fame. The kinds of laws implemented by these individuals usually reflected this kind of reasoning that contradicted the laws of nature. Failure to engage their inner selves is what destroyed the Roman Empire during Cicero’s time (Powell, 2005).

It can therefore be easily understood when this philosopher condemned pleasure and ease. The latter tendencies corrupted the political leadership of his society and were responsible for all the other challenges that arose after that. Once a certain standard had been set by the people who happen to be at the top then everything else will flow from there especially given the fact that there was a lot of turbulence in Cicero’s society at that time. It is admirable how this leader was able to establish himself effectively within such an atmosphere as he went about handling some of the most controversial issues.


Anderson, D. (1996). Gentility recalled. London: Routledge.

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Carter, S. (1998). Civility: manners, morals and etiquette of democracy. Oxford: OUP.

Noonan, P. (2008). Patriotic Grace. London: McMillan.

Powell, J. (2005). Cicero the philosopher. NC: North Carolina Press.

Hale, J. (1993). The civilisation of Europe. London: Mc Millan.

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