Why Not...

...share some Cicero. I just got through two class discussions on Cicero today and thought I'd throw up a few quotes. All are from Cicero's On Oratory and Orators. Enjoy.

For it is by this one gift that we are most distinguished from brute animals, that we converse together, and can express our thoughts by speech.

...your retired lucubrations must be exposed to the light of reality.

...for if we bestow the faculty of eloquence upon persons destitute of these virtues [grace, aptitude, congruity], we shall not make them orators, but give arms to madmen.

That last quote makes me think of my favorite passage in Quintilian in which he defends rhetoric against accusations of misuse. Someday I need to print this and put in on my door:

There follows the question as to whether rhetoric is useful. Some are in the habit of denouncing it most violently and of shamelessly employing that powers of oratory to accuse oratory itself. "It is eloquence" they say "that snatches criminals from the penalties of the law, eloquence that from time to time secures the condemnation of the innocent and leads deliberation astray, eloquence that stirs up not merely sedition and popular tulmult, but wars beyond all expiation, and that is most effective when it makes falsehood prevail over the truth."

Doctors have been caught using poisons, and those who falsely assume the name of philosopher have occasionally been detected in the gravest of crimes. Let us give up eating, it often makes us ill; let us never go inside houses, for sometimes they collapse on their occupants; let never a sword be forged for a soldier, since it might be used by a robber. And who does not realize that fire and water, both necessities of life, and, to leave merely earthly things, even the sun and moon, the greatest of the heavenly bodies, are occasionally capable of doing harm. (Instituto Oratoria, I.xii)

Two students today commented that "It was rhetoric that got O.J. off." This is true. I retorted, however, that it was rhetoric that helped forge the law from which O.J. escaped. Can't have one without the risk of the other.

As much as I love that passage, I do have to wonder: by what criteria does one rightly assume the name philosopher? Is it impossible for a "right" philosopher to engage in crime? (Yeah, yeah, I know that Quintilian believed the well-speaking man could not be anything but "good"...)


Wishydig said...

perhaps more important than asking who has the right to assume the name philosopher is asking who should deny that right.

Casey said...

"...for if we bestow the faculty of eloquence upon persons destitute of these virtues [grace, aptitude, congruity], we shall not make them orators, but give arms to madmen."

Isn't that the whole point of "Insignificant Wrangling?"...

Anyway, I'm reading Augustine's Confessions right now, and was open to the chapter called "Cicero's Influence" when I read your post. So, here are two excerpts:

"Among such associates of my callow youth I studied treatises on eloquence, in which I desired to shine, for a damnable and inflated purpose, directed towards empty human joys. In the ordinary course of study I came upon a book by a certain Cicero, whose tongue almost all men admire but not his heart. This work contains his exhortation to philosophy and is called Hortensius. This book changed my affections. It turned my prayers to you, Lord, and caused me to have different purposes and desires. Al my vain hopes forthwith became worthless to me, and with incredible ardor of heart I desired undying wisdom."


"I accordingly decided to turn my mind to the Holy Scriptures and to see what they were like. And behond, I see something within them that was neither revealed to the proud nor made plain to children, that was lowly on one's entrance but lofty on further advance, and that was veiled over in mysteries. None such as I was at that time could enter into it, nor could I bend my neck for its passageways. When I first turned to that Scripture, I did not feel towards it as I am speaking now, but it seemed to me unworthy of comparison with the nobility of Cicero's writings. My swelling pride turned away from its humble style, and my sharp gaze did not penetrate into its inner meaning..."

(Can't we assume a philosopher is a lover of wisdom? -- isn't the real question, "Is there wisdom; and what is it?")

Katherine said...

Does a true philosopher actually call himself a philosopher, or should that be a title bestowed upon him by others? A professor I know once called himself a mentor, which I thought was highly egotistical; is calling oneself a philosopher the same thing?

Insignificant Wrangler said...

@ wishydig: that would make a good bumper-sticker. Alas, the market for bumper-stickers quipping the rhetorical/philosophical divide seems low at the moment.

@ Casey: I think the question remains the same: under what authority can/do/should we assume/deny the label "wise"? I tend to agree w/ wishy that we need to pay attention to the desire to negate-- although when I see certain people "tonguing" the crowd, I admit to desire shutting them up.

@katherine: I might be ok with an educator adopting the role of mentor- as a student, I formed close relationships with many of my teachers. And I do think, perhaps this is where we differ, that education is moral instruction. Essentially, we are forging souls, as Plato liked to put it. Of course, I think the students should label someone as a mentor, its not a title one should bestow on themself!