Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 5-11-2018


One-year Embargo

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Ronald Polansky

Committee Member

Michael Harrington

Committee Member

Thérèse Bonin


Cicero, ethics, Hellenistic philosophy, Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy


In this dissertation, I argue that Cicero has two primary, interdependent aims in De finibus: the critical assessment of the dominant ethical positions, and the education of his readers. These aims are accomplished through four key devices. First, Cicero develops flat, useful readings of the dominant ethical positions without rejecting eudaimonism itself. This allows Cicero to demonstrate Academic practices while also insisting upon the importance of virtue, which suggests the best ethical view for Cicero is a skeptically grounded eudaimonism. Second, the arrangement of the text in reverse chronological order dramatically enacts Cicero’s own alternative to the cradle argument on which the dominant positions rely. Third, he uses truth-disclosive terminology to suggest the relative strength of different positions. Fourth, he obscures his own position, if he has one, in several ways over the course of the text. Cicero uses each of these devices to direct De finibus at the interlocutors and at the readers. The relative successes and failures of philosophical positions in the dialogue instruct the readers about the general terrain of ethical discourse. In learning about ethics, the readers are ideally thinking more critically about the principles on which they guide their lives and become better people. As better people, they might also become the virtuous citizens who could steady Roman politics again. Cicero is in some sense concerned with the impact of De finibus on the political future of Rome even when he deals with the minutiae, down to the knuckle bone, of Hellenistic ethics.