Author and Context
Marcus Tullius Cicero, a very well-known Roman poet/writer, wrote De Officiis. Cicero’s writings are
influenced heavily by Roman virtue, and his background: he grew up in a rustic area of Rome and, while he had
the benefit of citizenship from birth, the fact that he had not been born in a more cultured area stayed with him
always. On Duty is thus a book on Roman duty as a political insider (he served as a proconsul), a regional
outsider, but, above all, a Roman citizen.
De Officiis’ structure takes the form of a letter from Cicero to his son, also named Marcus. He had been sent
away (as were many rich or politically well-situated boys) to Athens, as a pupil in Cratippus’ school. Cicero
opens the epistle with an explanation to his son that it is “beneficial to combine things Latin with things Greek,”
and therefore urges him to temper his new knowledge of Greek customs and traditions with the virtues of Rome:
specifically, the Roman duty to State.
Cicero acknowledges that he is not the best at philosophy, but tells his son that, having “devoted the
best part of my life to oratory,” he can at least instruct him on that.
Begins: It seems that the most immediately applicable study in philosophy is that of duties; for the
concept of Duty governs every social interaction.
From the beginning, Cicero assumes that honour is contingent upon the development of Duty,
and dishonour lies with its neglect.
Says that the definition of Duty/Virtue is highly contested; however, certain things about the limits and
boundaries of the definition may be stated:
For example, a man who defines Good with no connection to Virtue “cannot cultivate either
friendship or justice or liberality” (1.5)
Likewise, no brave man can judge that pain is evil, or a man or restraint who says pleasure is
to be sought after above all
To Cicero, no consistent advice on duty can be taught except by those who believe honourableness
above all is to be sought (1.6).
Cicero begins to define what duty is:
Man is different from animals in that we may “perceive consequences, comprehend the causes
of things… by seeing with ease the whole course of life, [we] prepare whatever is necessary
for living it.” (I.11)
Man also seeks after truth and its exposition (1.13)
Finally, man is bound by “the power of nature and reason” (1.14)
Therefore, “the honourableness that we seek is created from and accomplished by these things.
Even if it is not accorded acclaim, it is still honourable, and, as we truly claim, even if no one
praises it, it is by nature worthy of praise” (1.14)