Cicero on the Recklessness of Assertion

For we Academicians are not men [or women] whose minds wander in uncertainty and never know what principles to adopt.  For what sort of mental habit, or rather what sort of life would that be which should dispense with all rules for reasoning or even for living? Not so with us; but, as other schools maintain that some things are certain, others uncertain, we, differing with them, say that some things are probable, others improbable.

What, then, is to hinder me from accepting what seems to me to be probable, while rejecting what seems improbable, and from shunning the presumption of dogmatism, while keeping clear of that recklessness of assertion which is as far as possible removed from true wisdom?

– Cicero, On Duties. Book II, Section 8.  *brackets added

Reflecting on our politically charged atmosphere, I found this quote to be comforting.  I realize that may seem like an odd thing to say since the quote is rather philosophical in nature.  However, if one replaces the term “Academicians” with student, manager, sales associate, or whatever one prefers to use, the potential for identifying with Cicero grows, particularly when the desire is to share what one is thinking, learning, and discovering with others.  In my experience, the exhausting nature of our present political environment is that the dogmatic assertion comes in the form of heat.  A fire fueling tyrannous outrage, burning logic and reason, destroying their ability to sift through and filter out the dogmatic assertions which are frequently declared without any thought to their etymology or philosophical underpinnings.  For me, this quote is a reminder to think and ask myself:  How have I arrived to the things I believe?  Can I provide evidence for what I believe? Do I also merely contribute to the problem of merely asserting without providing a reasonable argument for the beliefs and values I hold?  What does it look like for me to pursue true wisdom?

 

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