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Augustinian Studies

Volume 50, Issue 1, 2019

Veronica Roberts Ogle
Pages 13-42
DOI: 10.5840/augstudies20191250

Therapeutic Deception
Cicero and Augustine on the Myth of Philosophic Happiness

While many scholars have explored the Ciceronian roots of Augustine’s thought, the influence of De Finibus on De ciuitate dei has, as yet, remained unexamined. Dismissed by Testard as abstract and scholastic, De Finibus has long remained in the shadow of Cicero’s other work of moral philosophy, Tusculanae Dispuationes. This article reconsiders the nature of De Finibus and demonstrates its importance for De ciuitate dei. It begins by arguing that the dialogue is actually a meta-commentary on philosophic dogmatism, showing how each of the schools that Cicero’s interlocutors represent—i.e., the Epicureans, Stoics, and Peripatetics—claim certainty about the Wise Man’s happiness. At the heart of the dialogue’s drama is Cicero’s skepticism about this claim. This article then shows how Augustine picks up on Cicero’s explanation as to why the adherents of these schools cling so tightly to their belief in the Wise Man’s happiness. Echoing Cicero, Augustine suggests that the reason for this belief is therapeutic. Going beyond Cicero, however, he diagnoses it as a symptom of pride, arguing that what the philosophers really need is not a model of self-sufficient virtue, but a Mediator. The article ends by briefly considering how Cicero might respond to Augustine’s position.