Paradoxa Stoicorum

The Paradoxa Stoicorum (English: Stoic Paradoxes) is a work by Cicero in which he attempts to explain six famous Stoic sayings that appear to go against common knowledge.


It was written sometime around 46 BC.[1] The work is dedicated to Marcus Brutus.[2] In the introduction, Cicero praises Brutus' uncle Cato the Younger who was still alive at this date.[2]

Cicero was motivated to write the work in order to re-express Stoic arguments within the language of rhetorical Latin. Cicero states his intention is to make a version of an original Greek work in a language appropriate for the mode of the Forum.[3] He defends the paradoxes with popular arguments, sometimes hardly more than a play upon words, and illustrates them with anecdotes from history.[4] It is thought that he did not regard these essays as serious works of philosophy, but rather as rhetorical exercises.[4][5] Elsewhere Cicero criticizes these paradoxes: especially De Finibus iv. 74-77 and Pro Murena 60-66.[4]

The earliest manuscript dates are from the 9th century.[6]

Later, Marcantonius Majoragio (1514–1555) wrote a work criticising Cicero, entitled the Antiparadoxon.[7]


The subject of the work is to examine a principle of Stoic thought: the paradoxes.[1] The work is concerned specifically with six of these:[5]

I - Virtue is the only good

In this book, he relies on Stoic philosophy to attempt to classify and explain what elements of life are genuinely good, and what elements are not good. He classifies three different qualities of something being genuinely good: righteousness (rectum), intrinsic honor or nobility (honestum), and intrinsic virtue (cum virtute). This can be understood as the inner person, and the choices and actions that they engage in.

At the same time, he restricts this classification by discussing why worldly desires and material objects such as power, money, houses, Corinthian vases, and fine furnishings are not necessarily genuinely good, and are spurious or apparent goods called forth by the many. He states that pleasure is not genuinely good.

Cicero explains his reasoning: what is genuinely good shouldn't turn out to be bad. Genuine goods should uniformly make a person good, and should make their possessor happy. Cicero explains that spurious or apparent goods do not satisfy desires, but rather, arouse yet more desire or lust (libido), as well as fear (metus) that one might lose these things that they presently possess.

Regarding pleasure, Cicero also considers the implications of rationality and human nature. He acknowledges that human beings do consider pleasure to be good, however he states that it is not a distinctively human good, as animals also possess the capacity for the enjoyment of pleasure. Human beings have minds and thus a higher nature, and the call of pleasure is the voice of cattle, and not of human beings.

Cicero posits that those who attain ownership of those things which are genuinely good will realize their full capacity as human beings.

II - Virtue is sufficient for happiness

Virtue is all that is needed for happiness.[8] Happiness depends on a possession which cannot be lost, and this only applies to things within our control.[5]

III - All the vices and all virtues are equal

All good deeds are equally meritorious and all bad deeds equally heinous.[4] All virtues are equal as this corresponds to the same impulse towards the good.[5] Cicero does not really attempt to defend the Stoic position of the moral equality of all offenses; instead he offers a weakened version that offenses of the same sort are equal.[3] He notes the Stoic position that all crimes are equal since they all involve the same intent to break the law, but he then argues that crimes do not bear the same penalty since the matter depends on the status of the person injured and that of the criminal.[5] Thus he ends up imposing gradations of vice based on external factors.[5]

IV - All fools are mad

There is a substantial lacuna at the beginning of this section.[3] The remaining part argues that every fool is an exile and the wise person cannot be harmed.[3] Cicero attacks an unnamed personal enemy for causing his exile.[5] The essay is thought to be a thinly veiled attack on Cicero's enemy Clodius.[4] Cicero asserts that his own exile was not a hardship since he possessed the correct Stoic wisdom and virtue.[5]

V - The sage alone is free

Only the sage is free and every fool is a slave.[8] Cicero attacks an unnamed military leader who is unworthy of command because he cannot control his passions and thus is not free.[5] The target here may be Lucullus.[4] Cicero satirizes costly luxury and affectation of connoisseurship in collecting works of art.[4] Freedom involves the rational control of one's will. Only the sage is free since he freely chooses the good.[5]

VI - Only the wise person is rich

If a rich person's wealth is measured by the quantity of their goods, then a wealthy person with no virtue is poor, since virtue is the only good.[3] People confuse reasonable needs with unreasonable desires and this leads people in power to pursue irrational passions.[5]



  1. D Mehl (2002). C Damon; JF Miller; KS Myers (eds.). The Stoic Paradoxes according to Cicero (in) Vertis in Usum. Walter de Gruyter. p. 39. ISBN 3598777108. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2015-03-19.
  2. W Englert (2011). "Bringing to the Light: Cicero's Paradoxa Stoicorum". Apeiron. 23 (4): 117–142. doi:10.1515/APEIRON.1990.23.4.117.
  3. M.O. Webb (1985). Cicero's Paradoxica Stiocorum: A New Translation with Philosophical Commentary (PDF). Texas Tech University.
  4. Rackham, H. Cicero: De Oratore Vol. II. Loeb Classical Library. p. 252.
  5. ML Colish (1990). The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages: Stoicism in classical latin literature. BRILL. pp. 128–131. ISBN 9004093273.Studies in the History of Christian Thought
  6. P.M. Clogan (1994). Studies in Medieval & Renaissance Culture: Breaching Boundaries, Issue 20. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 124. ISBN 0847678822.
  7. Papy, J. (2009). "The First Christian Defender of Stoic Virtue? Justus Lipsius and Cicero's Paradoxa Stoicorum". In AAA MacDonald; ZRWM von Martels; J Riepke Veenstra (eds.). Christian Humanism: Essays in Honour of Arjo Vanderjagt. BRILL. p. 139. ISBN 9004176314. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2015-04-08.
  8. S Ebbesen (21 June 2004). Steven K. Strange; Jack Zupko (eds.). Stoicism: Traditions and Transformations. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 1139453769. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2015-03-19.
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