Ancient Rome

Philosophy in Politics

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Welcome to this week’s Friday Philosophy post! Today we move from Greece to Rome and look at the work of Marcus Tullius Cicero, who lived from 106-43 BC, only decades before the birth of Jesus.

Who Was He?

For most of his working life, Cicero was an esteemed politician and lawyer. However, upon his retirement, he had time to immerse himself in philosophy, and he took to studying the Greek schools of thought and translating many of their major works into Latin. The majority of Cicero’s own philosophy which we have is from the last two years of his life, and comprises a mixture of scepticism in relation to the theory of knowledge and stoicism in relation to ethics.

What’s the Big Idea?

Cicero is not noted as having contributed much in the way of original ideas to the history of thought, but nevertheless his works had a major influence on the philosophers and theologians who followed him (for instance, Augustine quoted him liberally).

The fact that Cicero is still remembered today is testament to his labours in the area of translation, and so we might pay tribute to him for the way he developed the Latin language to include many philosophical terms that are still in use today. For instance, the popular philosophical terms a priori (meaning knowledge independent of experience) and a posteriori (meaning knowledge derived from experience) have come down to us from Cicero.

My Reflections

Of all the schools of Greek philosophical thought, Cicero was most drawn to Scepticism. This makes sense when we consider he spent most of his life in politics, as a big part of political office is weighing the perspectives of various parties (or should be!).

The use of philosophy in politics endures to today, and we might consider that implicit behind every political decision, there is a worldview or philosophical perspective. I’m not saying Cicero is solely responsible for the use of philosophy in politics, but he certainly seems to have played a major role in bringing philosophical arguments, and philosophical language, into the political sphere.

In next week’s philosophy post we’ll be looking at Philo of Alexandria, who was a major figure in Hellenistic Jewish philosophy. If you’d like to follow this series and receive an email every time I publish a new post, please consider subscribing. Thank you for reading!


  1. Another good one, Steven. Interesting to see how a person, using his or her strengths, can contribute to society. In this case, it appears that Cicero didn’t quite have the creativity of other philosophers in that he invented new schools of thought, but focusing on his strengths (his political experience and fine ability to translate) was still able to influence many who came after him. He’s a good object lesson!

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