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Keeping up Appearances: Shame and Oratory in Cicero's Thought
Unformatted Document Text:  worthy of a role is dependent on individual character, while for humans in general, our role has to do with our departure from other creatures qua rational beings. 59 Seemliness, in the general sense, is like physical beauty, which is itself a function of the body’s parts being “in graceful harmony;” particular seemliness, by contrast, “arouses the approval of one’s fellows, because of the order and constancy and moderation of every word and action.” This entails that we respect other humans, as neglecting “what others think about oneself is the mark not only of arrogance, but also of utter laxity.” 60 Seemliness thus corresponds to justice, in that our sense of shame prevents us from offending others, just as justice prevents us from harming others. We must, then, avoid “rashness and carelessness,” and it is of the utmost importance that we not act such that we “cannot give a persuasive justification” for our actions – indeed, this is the essence of duty. Seemliness involves two specific duties: first, we must follow nature (I.102-125); second, we must subject our passions to reason (I.126-151). 61 Following nature is initially a two-fold matter of adhering to our personae. On the one hand, we each partake of a universal nature “arising from the fact that we all have a share in reason and in the superiority by which we surpass the brute creatures.” On the other hand, we each possess a particular nature; it is “assigned specifically to 59 Ibid. I.97. 60 Ibid. I.99. 61 In this outline of the divisions of Cicero’s discussion, I follow the very helpful discussion of Paul MacKendrick and Karen Lee Singh, The Philosophical Books of Cicero (London: Duckworth, 1989). 236. 20

Authors: Kapust, Daniel.
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worthy of a role is dependent on individual character, while for humans in general, our
role has to do with our departure from other creatures qua rational beings.
Seemliness,
in the general sense, is like physical beauty, which is itself a function of the body’s parts
being “in graceful harmony;” particular seemliness, by contrast, “arouses the approval of
one’s fellows, because of the order and constancy and moderation of every word and
action.” This entails that we respect other humans, as neglecting “what others think about
oneself is the mark not only of arrogance, but also of utter laxity.”
Seemliness thus
corresponds to justice, in that our sense of shame prevents us from offending others, just
as justice prevents us from harming others.
We must, then, avoid “rashness and carelessness,” and it is of the utmost
importance that we not act such that we “cannot give a persuasive justification” for our
actions – indeed, this is the essence of duty. Seemliness involves two specific duties:
first, we must follow nature (I.102-125); second, we must subject our passions to reason
(I.126-151).
Following nature is initially a two-fold matter of adhering to our personae.
On the one hand, we each partake of a universal nature “arising from the fact that we all
have a share in reason and in the superiority by which we surpass the brute creatures.” On
the other hand, we each possess a particular nature; it is “assigned specifically to
59
Ibid. I.97.
60
Ibid. I.99.
61
In this outline of the divisions of Cicero’s discussion, I follow the very helpful
discussion of Paul MacKendrick and Karen Lee Singh, The Philosophical Books of
Cicero (London: Duckworth, 1989). 236.
20


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