politics

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A Study Of The Political Theories Of Cicero Politics Essay

Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman philosopher, political theorist, politician and statesman lived from 106 to 43 BC. In modern scholarship, Cicero is thought to be one of the most engaging of the Roman philosophers, and was responsible for introducing the chief Greek schools of philosophy to Rome, even though at the time he was more focused on his own political career. Cicero wrote a great deal about customs, rights, law, and society, so it is natural that his works included a lineage from Greece on the subject of honesty and ethics. Cicero believed that in order to have a true friendship with someone one must have complete honesty, truth and trust. This honesty was extended not only to personal friends, but to society in general, since that forms the basic template for the individual to actualize. Also, friends do things for each other without expectation of repayment. An individual has a responsibility, in fact, to help friends maintain the correct and moral path. Since evil is defined as ignorance, to maintain friendship it is necessary to rebuke ignorance and be honest (If a friend is about to do something wrong, one should not compromise one's morals. One should explain what is wrong about the action, and help one's friend understand what is right, because Cicero believed that ignorance is the cause of evil. Finally, friendships come to an end because one person in the friendship becomes evil, or dishonest. Similarly, without abject faith in honesty, society cannot exist.

The Ancient Greeks argued over the needs of the individual as opposed to the needs of the State (Athens, for example); and throughout history generals and heads of state have had to balance out the ends versus the means of attainment. The concept even made it to the motion picture screen and was given a popular treatment in the science fiction movies Star Trek 2 and 3. [1] At the center of this debate is the notion that many remain dissatisfied with the definition of “good” or “appropriate” being at the whim of a particular social order, or ruling elite.

This concept continued within the philosophical debate through Aquinas, Locke, and Kant. Hobbes and Locke differed, and put forth the notion that there were natural rights, or “states of nature,” but disagreed on the controlling factors of those natural tendencies. Kant took this further, reacting, and argued that a state or society must be organized by the way laws and justice was universally true, available, and, most importantly, justified by humanity. Yet, for Kant, these laws should respect the equality, freedom, and autonomy of the citizens. In this way Kant, prescribed that basic rights were necessary for civil society, and becomes a rubric by which we may understand modern utilitarian principles and their interdependence with the concept of human rights.

In general, utilitarianism is an ethical system most often attributed to John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, both 19th century social philosophers commenting on conditions arising from the Industrial Revolution. Utilitarianism holds that the most ethical thing one can do is any action that will maximize the happiness within an organization or society. Actions have quantitative outcomes and the ethical choices that lead to the “greatest good for the greatest number” are the appropriate decisions, even if that means subsuming the rights of certain individuals. It is considered to be a consequential outlook in the sense that while outcomes cannot be predicted the judgment of an action is based on the outcome – or, “the ends justify the means.” Deontology is similar, arguing that there are norms and truths that are universal for all humans; actions then have a predisposition to right or wrong, moral or immoral. Kant believed that humans should act, at all times, as if their individual actions would have consequences for all of society. Morality, then, is based on rational thought and is the direction most humans innately want. Roughly, deontology is “the means justify the ends.”

A classic illustration comparing the two ideas has you as a Police Captain managing a situation in which a sniper is shooting individuals who pass by a busy downtown square, apparently at random. The police have cornered the shooter and have their own sharpshooters ready for a kill shot. However, the shooter grabbed a child and is using her as a human shield. Do you authorize your own snipers to take a shot, knowing there is a chance of killing the child; or wait and risk the shooter killing more pedestrians? Certainly, the human shield did not “wish” to die, but then neither did the hundreds of potential victims on the street and in office buildings surrounding the shooter. If you take a utilitarian approach you give the order to shoot and hope the child is missed – if you take the deontological approach you hold that child’s one life in the same reverence as the public’s good.

Obviously, neither answer is completely right nor wrong – but situationally dependent, which would be anathema to both Kant and Mill, who saw the world in much clearer terms. What if, for instance, the child will grow up to discover the cure for cancer and thus save millions of people? However, what if the person who might be the next President and develop a global peace accord is in the building across from the shooter giving a presentation and is randomly shot? Too, what if a future megalomaniac is shot during this exchange, thus preventing pain and suffering at some future date?

Thus, morality and ethics are not always right or wrong. While there are some agreed upon moral duties we share as humans and should follow in order to preserve a working society, so too are there times which require us to act extraordinarily to save or enhance lives. The key, as it has been since Ancient Greece, is to have the intellectual and moral toolbox with which to make such a decision.


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