Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pursuit of Happiness: Cicero and the Declaration of Independence, Part 1

CICERO ADDRESSES THE ISSUE OF HAPPINESS in various of his works, but in our endeavor to determine what Jefferson's notion of happiness was in the Declaration of Independence we shall focus on two of those works, namely Cicero's On Moral Ends or De finibus bonorum et malorum libri quinque and his De legibus or On Laws. Cicero, as we have noted in an earlier posting, was one of the sources that Jefferson expressly cited (along with Aristotle, Sidney, and Locke) as informing the common sense of the notions of political thinking that informed the Declaration.

Cicero's On Moral Ends is a Platonic form of dialogue that expressly addresses the issue of happiness. It is organized in five books each of which sets forth a theory of happiness or criticizes a theory of happiness. The first book sets forth the theory of Epicureanism (with Torquatus as its spokesman). The second book is a criticism of Epicureanism. The third book sets fort Stoicism, and that theory is advanced by the character of Cato. The fourth book then follows which criticizes that theory. The final and fifth book presents a theory of happiness (presumably Cicero's own) which is a blend of Plato/Aristotle. It is advanced by the character of Antiochus, and then briefly criticized by the character of Piso. It is this last moral theory, one which advances a classic notion of eudaimonistic ethics built on the notion of happiness which we shall stress in this posting.


The entire structure of the Ciceronian notion of happiness is built upon conformity with nature. As stated in V.8, "[t]he whole of this inquiry into the ends or, sot to speak, the limits of good and evils must begin from that . . . as adapted and suited to nature (naturae esse aptum et accomodatum) and which is the earliest object of desire for its own sake." De fin., V.8.

Nature is what provides the inclinations in all creatures, including man, to pursue things that are in accordance with the nature of that creature. It is nature which defines the goods for man, and nature which defines their ordering. Thus:

Every living creature therefore finds its object of appetition in the thing suited to its nature. Thus arises the ends of goods, namely to live in accordance with nature (secundum naturam vivere) and in that condition which is the best and most suited to nature that is possible (naturamque accommodatissime). . . . This leads to the inference, that the ultimate good of man is life in accordance with nature (secundum naturam vivere), which we may interpret as meaning life in accordance with human nature (vivere ex hominis natura) developed to its full perfection and supplied with all its needs

De fin., V.9. Patently, Cicero is advancing through Antiochus a thick, well-developed notion of natural law. The natural dispositions of man will guide him surely to his end, to happiness, and these inclinations arise not imposed externally without regard to his good, but in fact ultimately stem from self-preservation, self-love:
The wisest authorities have therefore been right in finding the basis of the chief good in nature (summi boni a natura petiverunt), and in holding that this instinctive desire for things suited to our nature is innate in all men, because it is founded on that natural attraction which makes them love themselves.
De fin., V.11.

The inclinations of nature, at least in man, are not to be thought of as being the brute, bodily inclinations alone. Since man is composed of two parts, body and soul, and the rational soul is the more noble part, it follows that emphasis in inclinations ought to be given those inclinations of nature that deal with the rational soul. “Now it is manifest that man," Antiochus notes, "consists of body and mind (corpore animoque constare), although the parts of the mind hold the first place and those of the body second." De fin., V.12.

So we ought not to categorize man with the brute animals. Instead, one ought to focus upon the rational mind of man. "Turning now to the mind, this must not only exist, but also be of a certain character (cuiusdam modi debet esse)." So not all inclinations, whether of the body or rational soul, ought to be entertained. Rather, the inclinations have to be trained, molded, righted by these certain modes which we learn are the virtues. Thus, the mind must be a certain character, and "it must have all its parts intact and lack none of the virtues (et de virtutibus nulla desit)." De fin., V.12.

The upshot of a focus on nature, one that gives pride of place to the rational part of man, and yet one that realizes that there must be the formation of character through virtue is what gives the ultimate recipe for happiness in the Ciceronian construct.

The result will be that excellence of mind will be rated higher than excellence of body, and the volitional virtues of the mind will surpass the non-volitional; the former, indeed are the ‘virtues’ specially so called, and are far superior, in that they spring from reason, the most divine element in man.

De fin., V.13.

This is the Ciceronian eudaimonistic ethic that drives his moral theory of an individual man. We find that theory writ large in the analysis of man's social life in Cicero's work On Laws. It is to that work of "public right" to which we shall turn in our next blog posting, and to which without doubt Jefferson had in mind when he referred to Cicero as being a source of the common sense of the subject behind the Declaration of Happiness. A brief review of Cicero's work On Laws leaves no doubt that the classical sources for the Declaration of Independence were heavily weighted with notions of natural law, indeed, with the Platonic/Aristotelian/Stoic notion of the eternal law which informs the natural law. The law of nature and the law of nature's God referred to by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence was the source of man's happiness, and was who defined the manner in which it ought to be pursued.


  1. The "law of nature" referred to in the Declaration of Independence is """"ATOMISM"""". The "natural law" of the Enlightenment was atomism. As soon as the Doric Greeks discovered the real natural law---because the Dorians wrote nothing down---was soon lost. Democritius invented atomism which Thomas Cudworth traced to Moses. It is called Mosaic atomism. Many people in the Enlightenment took atomism as proving Judaism right and Christianity as an error because the Trinitarian Christianity did not match Atomism. Atomism was the Natural Law.

    The Enlightenment notion of the natural law had nothing to do with Plato or Aristotle but with Democritus and his atomism.

    This "inclinations have to be trained, molded, righted by these certain modes which we learn are the virtues." HAS NEVER been done in America! Traning in Virtue? How many libertarians would allow a school to do this? Furthermore, there is no tied religion to America so how can there be a single moral code that virtue would follow? If Virtue lies in the Golden Mean, and democracy is an excess (i.e. democracy does NOT lie in the Golden mean), how can you have Virtue and democracy? This is an oxymoron. Democracy understands no proportion, undertakes no limits.

  2. To equate the Law of Nature as used in the Declaration of Independence with "atomism" is just plain ignorant. The Law of Nature was a fundamental part of English (and colonial American) legal thought, so we should read the legal and philosophical classics that the American founders studied. I actually did that for my master's thesis, "Happiness, Natural Law, and the Declaration of Independence," which is online here:

    The definition of "happiness," as used in the Declaration, is "internal peace, virtue, and good order." John Adams wrote this definition, which Congress approved in the original declaration of independence -- the resolution of May 10 and 15, 1776, authorizing the suppression of royal government. This definition of happiness encapsulates Cicero's Tusculan Disputations. The three elements of this definition - "internal peace" and "virtue" and "good order" - all appear in English jurisprudence, in Cumberland's Treatise of the Laws of Nature, and in Burlamaqui's Principles of Natural and Politic Law, which developed Leibniz's seminal 1693 association of happiness with natural right.