The Stoic Arrow

Mar 4, 2023

In De finibus bonorum et malorum ("On the ends of good and evil"), Cicero discusses the popular philosophies of his time – Epucyreanism, Stoicism, and Platonism.

In one passage, he describes Stoicism in a dialogue with another Roman orator, Cato. He writes,

For though if a man were to make it his purpose to take a true aim with a spear or arrow at some mark, his ultimate end, corresponding to the ultimate good as we pronounce it, would be to do all he could to aim straight: the man in this illustration would have to do everything to aim straight, and yet, although he did everything to attain his purpose, his 'ultimate End,' so to speak, would be what corresponded to what we call the Chief Good in the conduct of life, whereas the actual hitting of the mark would be in our phrase 'to be chosen' but not 'to be desired.'
Sed ex hoc primum error tollendus est, ne quis sequi existimet, ut duo sint ultima bonorum. etenim, si cui propositum sit conliniare hastam aliquo aut sagittam, sicut nos ultimum in bonis dicimus, [sic illi facere omnia, quae possit, ut conliniet] huic in eius modi similitudine omnia sint facienda, ut conliniet, et tamen, ut omnia faciat, quo propositum adsequatur, sit hoc quasi ultimum, quale nos summum in vita bonum dicimus, illud autem, ut feriat, quasi seligendum, non expetendum.  – Cicero, De Finibus III.6