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Saint Augustine once said, “This is the perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” To realize one’s own imperfections would mean for an individual to first consider his or her own true self. Individuals often blend into the ideas of how society desires them to be or act. Throughout an individual’s life, a common struggle is trying to find who they are through situations and interactions with others. Individuals dodge between different faces depending on who they are with, and it can take years until they fully come across who they truly are. Some may even say that finding their true self eventually leads a person to happiness. Philosophers such as Cicero and Saint Augustine help to further discuss the dilemma of finding the true inner self. Saint Augustine’s theme throughout The Confessions mainly relies on explaining his journey of finding himself through God and personal experiences. God is utilized as a way of guidance for Augustine, and it aids him on his path of self-discovery. As for Cicero, he explains how man must go through many experiences in life and figure out the best situation for him to be in. Augustine and Cicero both contribute their ideas on finding the true self through Cicero’s specific duties abided by a person, Augustine’s spiritual assumptions, and both of their grueling advice that contrasts.
First, in Cicero’s On Obligations, he proposes how an individual needs to act through specific duties and obligations. According to Cicero, they are different varieties of personalities in which humans possess when opting for the correct way to live. Cicero gives an example of Hercules and his struggles of choosing the best life to live. Hercules panics his way through deciding between following a path of virtue or pleasure. Cicero states that it is strictly up to the individual’s intellect to decide which path to take. The decision can be concluded from habits that one has inherited from their parents, or simply from the mainstream opinions of others. Cicero explains the three kinds of people in this distinctive situation. First are those who inherited certain habits and characteristics from their parents, next are those who do the opposite of what their parents have done, and finally, the rarity—those who take what they learn from their parents while following their hearts simultaneously. The best version of one’s self to Cicero would most likely be equivalent to the third version, the rarity. Combining an individual’s parent’s good habits with their own habits creates a balance of potential happiness. For example, people who have parents who achieved something pretentious are often eager to imitate them and do the same. The eagerness then creates ambitious traits in the individual’s personality, thus explaining the characteristics inherited. Cicero moreover explains that if one is to notice that a certain aspect of his or her life is going in the wrong direction, they are free to correct it. The individual correcting it is required to be sure to do so with good judgement, and eventually the individual can lead themselves to success (Walsh & Cicero, p. 41).
In addition to Cicero’s ideas on learned habits, he believes that individuals must keep their original characteristics, because it eventually helps them find the true self that they are looking for. Regardless if other individuals around them who may be more intelligent, seductive, or influential, staying true to their own opinions can lead them to an underlying truth of self-worth. The ultimate test of self-worth to Cicero would be for one to remain their true self in a room full of people who are uniquely different. The goal is to never alter oneself, or mold into something different just because another individual does not hold similar aspirations. Being around other individuals influences a person to have different faces or roles, depending on who they are with. Choosing the best role is equivalent to a guide in discovering the self. Additionally, Cicero remarks, “If we are willing to reflect on the dignity of our nature we should realise how degrading it is to wallow in decadence and to live an effeminate life, and how honorable is a life of self-control, and sobriety” (Walsh & Cicero, p. 37). This quote furthers Cicero’s point in willfully stating that an individual should be their own person to completely find themselves. Self-control of maintaining their own perspectives, opinions and characteristics when exposed to others gives an individual a bright outlook on their true selves.
Next, in Cicero’s The Republic and The Laws, attention is drawn to the notion that many old Gods are praised, despite not everything learned from them can guarantee true and eternal happiness. Only man himself holds the capability of grasping an eternal sense of happiness, through both his actions and the realization of truth. Cicero furthers this idea when he exclaims, “Remember you are a god, a god is one who possesses life, and who controls, regulates, and moves the body over which he is set. And just as the god who moves the universe, which is to some extent mortal, is eternal, so the soul which moves the frail body is eternal too” (Cicero, p. 93). This quote furthers the previous idea above that an individual should remain who they are, without influence from other characters. Cicero compares individuals to a god, stating that they can create themselves to be whomever they choose. The self that an individual should be is the self that they always have been since birth. If an individual were to grow up without connection to the outside world, they could more easily become who they were supposed to be, and that is what Cicero is trying to explain to readers. An individual is the only one in charge of their precious life. Through experiences, perplexities, and complications, only the certain individual is the one who can figure themselves out, regardless of outside sources. The true self that is found in an individual is what lives on forevermore.
On the other hand, reflecting from Cicero’s viewpoints, Augustine’s viewpoint on the true self radiates through his relationship with God in The Confessions. Augustine believes that individuals learn every habit at an early age of their childhood. Activities such as cheating and competitiveness are learned unconsciously when individuals experience it from others. These habits learned, potentially tie into habits that derive from parents, as Cicero believes. Throughout The Confessions, Augustine’s main point is to cite how he changed as a man. He believes anyone can do the same, with the glorious help of God. Augustine stresses, “You have enabled me to love you with all my strength and with passionate grasp of your hand, so that you may rescue me from every temptation until my life’s end. Lord, you are my King and my God” (Augustine, p. 27-28). According to Augustine, giving up oneself to God helps an individual discover different aspects within themselves because it creates a sense of trust of letting God accept their faults and flaws. Keeping one’s characteristics and staying true to themselves can only enhance this experience with God. God helps find an inner peace within an individual, letting them come to peace with not only themselves, but with their true self as well.
Furthermore, in Augustine’s City of God, Augustine sustains his ideas of God having the ability to alter one’s life. Just like The Confessions, Augustine’s ideas remain that God can completely change one’s life and turn them into a better version of themselves. To Augustine, individuals can be guided in the right way of living just by the power in character of their will. If the will is rightfully directed, it will be beneficial towards the individual, creating a path of self-discovery for him or herself (Augustine, p. 555). The character of one’s will can be shown through many ways. Specific ways can be displayed through goodness, sacrifice, or even compassion. It is certain that with trust in an almighty person known as God, it can only bring individuals every fond emotion that humans experience such as luck or love. These inherited traits from God give individuals a reason to become compassionate towards others. Augustine remarks, “Acts of compassion are intended to free us from misery and thus bring us to happiness, which is only attained by that good in which has been said, ‘As for me, my true good is to cling to God’” (Augustine, p. 380). Compassion viewed as “one’s will” inspires an individual to realize who they are and who they need to be. Compassion can potentially come from God, and it is the best way to receive it. This compassion is shown in everything that one does, and it leads them on the right path to the true self. God can potentially act as a savior to someone on the path of self-discovery.
Augustine and Cicero are both essential recollections of how an individual should act. Their readings are equivalent to life manuals; giving advice to readers on how they should figure themselves out. Both Augustine and Cicero’s views contradict when it comes to the idea of discovering the true self. Augustine holds his passionate conceptions about God throughout his writings. He remains believing that God is the only option for an individual to discover themselves, on a spiritual level. According to Augustine, another version of one’s self can be found through spiritual beliefs. The spiritual compromise at which an individual withstands leads them to another version of thinking. The version of thinking either successfully or unsuccessfully holds a person to their true self. Contrasting, Cicero almost contradicts the idea of spirituality. Cicero withstands that the beliefs in various Gods are not as useful for a person. It only leads them to a speculation of choosing the correct way to discover oneself. Through the differences between these two philosophers, Cicero and Augustine can both agree on habits being a key aspect in finding oneself. Both take a standpoint that learned habits from a young age shape us into the person that one is, as well as who they will become.
In conclusion, Augustine and Cicero are both heavy contributors to the idea of finding the true self. With Cicero’s advice of an individual fulfilling their duties as a human while remaining true to who they are, finding the true self is an easy treasure hunt. While it is simple to camouflage into the way society wants a person to be, self-control is a factor individuals can master with time. With Cicero’s mighty advice, a reader can potentially limit the wants of society, and increase their own unique perspectives. Augustine also contributes to the idea of early learned habits that determine who an individual is. However, with God’s grace in one’s life, those habits can be turned into good only. Both Augustine and Cicero provide an outlook in which readers can relate to and possibly follow. It is certain that their advice applies to real life situations and how humans make their way through life attempting to discover their true self. On a journey of self-discovery, Cicero and Augustine have certainly provide individuals with multiple viewpoints on how to continue finding themselves.
- Augustine. The City of God. Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950.
- Cicero, Marcus Tullius. The Republic, and, The Laws. Braille Jymico Inc., 2006.
- Rotelle, John E., and Maria Boulding. The Works of St. Augustine. A Translation for the 21st Century. New City Press, 1997.
- Walsh, Patrick G., and Marcus Tullius. Cicero. Cicero, on Obligations (De Officiis). Oxford Univ. Press, 2000.
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