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. He defends the paradoxes with popular arguments, sometimes hardly more than a play upon words, and illustrates them with anecdotes from history. It is thought that he did not regard these essays as serious works of philosophy, but rather as rhetorical exercises. Elsewhere Cicero criticizes these paradoxes: especially De Finibus iv. 74-77 and Pro Murena 60-66.
The earliest manuscript dates are from the 9th century.
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
III - All the vices and all virtues are equal
All good deeds are equally meritorious and all bad deeds equally heinous. All virtues are equal as this corresponds to the same impulse towards the good. 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. 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. Thus he ends up imposing gradations of vice based on external factors.
IV - All fools are mad
There is a substantial lacuna at the beginning of this section. The remaining part argues that every fool is an exile and the wise person cannot be harmed. Cicero attacks an unnamed personal enemy for causing his exile. The essay is thought to be a thinly veiled attack on Cicero's enemy Clodius. Cicero asserts that his own exile was not a hardship since he possessed the correct Stoic wisdom and virtue.
V - The sage alone is free
Only the sage is free and every fool is a slave. Cicero attacks an unnamed military leader who is unworthy of command because he cannot control his passions and thus is not free. The target here may be Lucullus. Cicero satirizes costly luxury and affectation of connoisseurship in collecting works of art. Freedom involves the rational control of one's will. Only the sage is free since he freely chooses the good.
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. People confuse reasonable needs with unreasonable desires and this leads people in power to pursue irrational passions.
- Paradoxa stoicorum ad M. Brutum (Latin) (ed. J. G. Baiter, C. L. Kayser)
- "The booke of Marcus Tullius Cicero entituled Paradoxa Stoicorum. Contayninge a precise discourse of diuers poinctes and conclusions of vertue and phylosophie according the traditions and opinions of those philosophers, whiche were called Stoikes. Wherunto is also annexed a philosophicall treatyse of the same authoure called Scipio hys dreame. Anno. 1569". Published in the year 1569, translated by Thomas Newton.
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- Rackham, H. Cicero: De Oratore Vol. II. Loeb Classical Library. p. 252.
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- H. Rackham, (1948) Cicero: De Oratore, Vol. ii. Loeb Classical Library. [Paradoxa Stoicorum between pages 252-305]