Virtue is the Only Happiness

What does it take to be happy? What is required to live a ‘good life’? For the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero, there is only one ingredient required: virtue.

Virtue is of itself sufficient for a happy life: and though it may be difficult to prove this, on account of the many various strokes of fortune, yet it is a truth of such a nature that we should endeavor to facilitate the proof of it. For among all the topics of philosophy, there is not one of more dignity or importance. (Tusculum V.I, trans. Yonge, 1888)

At first blush, readers may be tempted to interpret Cicero’s ‘virtue’ in a highly moralized sense. From the quoted snippet above, it might seem that Cicero is arguing that virtuous people — the people who always behave upright and ethically — are happy people. On this reading, Cicero’s thesis sounds quite similar to the promise of most religions: at the end, the rule-keepers get the rewards.

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