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Title: Cicero's political thought in De Republica and De Legibus
Author: Atkins, J. W.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2009
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This dissertation examines the political philosophy of Cicero’s De Republica (On the Commonwealth) and De Legibus (On the Laws). Through the dramatic settings, the dialogue form, the nominal themes under discussion, numerous allusions to Plato, and the titles of his works, Cicero invites us to consider his indebtedness to Plato’s political philosophy. Unlike many other scholars, I argue that the recognition of Cicero’s philosophical commitment to Plato and the Platonic tradition is indispensable for understanding these works. I turn to Rep. to examine three key issues: the unity of the dialogue, the discussion of constitutional change and the mixed constitution and the definition and analysis of ‘res publica’ (commonwealth). I argue that one cannot understand how the otherworldly dream of Scipio in the dialogue’s final book completes the more obviously political parts of the work without recognising Cicero’s significant debt to Plato in fashioning the contours of the argument. Cicero’s discussion of constitutional change and the mixed constitution also owes much to Plato. Cicero uses a Platonic framework to analyse constitutions and to argue that the mixed constitution of Rome is the best practicable option. The historian Polybius had praised the mixed constitution because it neutralises the effects of self-interested factions. Cicero rejects Polybius’ account and, following Plato and Aristotle, argues for the mixed constitution because it is a just arrangement. Turning to Leg. I examine both the argument for natural law in the first book and the relationship between this law and the laws of Cicero’s ideal law code sketched in Books 2 and 3. I argue that the natural law theory in Leg. 1 is presented as an elaboration of a good Platonic doctrine and that Cicero conceived Leg., no less than Rep., as a work in the Platonic tradition. Recognition that Cicero’s argument depends on Plato’s Laws at key points also proves to be the key to solving the vexed question of the relationship between the natural law of Book 1 and the law of the ideal law code.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available