Cicero’s On Fate

A series of short audio meditations on Cicero’s On Fate, a book that deals with Greco-Roman notions of fate and providence, particularly from a Stoic perspective. It includes a discussion of free will, where Cicero disagreed with the deterministic take of the Stoics.

I: Because it relates to character, called in Greek ethos, we usually term that part of philosophy ‘the study of character.’ But the suitable course is to add to the Latin language by giving this subject the name of ‘moral science.’

V: For it does not follow that if differences in people’s propensities are due to natural and antecedent causes, therefore our wills and desires are also due to natural and antecedent causes; for if that were the case, we should have no freedom of the will at all.

IX: Is the fact that Carneades went to the Academy on a given day the result of necessary causes determined from the beginning of time, or of local causes that could have been otherwise?

X: Cicero nails the Epicureans for their ad hoc theory of the so-called swerve, a sudden lateral movement of atoms meant to preserve the notion of free will in an otherwise mechanistic universe.

XI: No external cause need be sought to explain the voluntary movements of the mind; for voluntary motion possesses the intrinsic property of being in our power and of obeying us, and its obedience is not uncaused, for its nature is itself the cause of this.

XIII: Cicero summarizes the so-called lazy argument about the nature of faith, explaining why it doesn’t make any sense. Fate, according to the Stoics, just is the universal web of causes and effects.

XIII: Cicero explains Chrysippus’ theory of co-causality, which plays a crucial role in his rejection of the so-called lazy argument concerning free will.

XIV: Cicero presents Carneades’ response to Chrysippus’ argument about free will and determinism. Though interesting, this time it is the Skeptics who got it wrong and the Stoics who are on target.

XVII: Cicero explains that the Greco-Romans were divided on free will along three possible positions, which turn out to be the very same that still characterize the modern debate on the subject.

XIX: Cicero introduces Chrysippus’ example of a rolling cylinder as an analogy for the inner workings of the human will. This results in a defense of compatibilism about free will based on distinguishing internal from external causes.