Cicero, On Ends

LCL 40: x-xi

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The de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum is a treatiseThe de Finibus. on the theory of Ethics. It expounds and criticizes the three ethical systems most prominent in Cicero’s day, the Epicurean, the Stoic and that of the Academy under Antiochus. The most elaborate of Cicero’s philosophical writings, it has had fewer readers than his less technical essays on moral subjects. But it is of importance to the student of philosophy as the only systematic account surviving from antiquity of those rules of life which divided the allegiance of thoughtful men during the centuries when the old religions had lost their hold and Christianity had not yet emerged. And the topics that it handles can never lose their interest.

The title ‘About the Ends of Goods and Evils’The meaning of the title. requires explanation. It was Aristotle who put the ethical problem in the form of the question, What is the Tέλος or End, the supreme aim of man’s endeavour, in the attainment of which his Good or Well-being lies ? For Aristotle, Telos connoted not only ‘aim,’ but ‘completion’; and he found the answer to his question in the complete development and right exercise of the faculties of man’s nature, and particularly of the distinctively human faculty of Reason. The life of the Intellect was the Best, the Chief Good; and lesser Goods were Means to the attainment of this End. Thus was introduced the notion of an ascending scale of Goods, and this affected the interpretation of the term Telos. Telos came to be understood as denoting not so much the end or aim of endeavour as the end or extreme