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Time and Experience in Cicero's Ethical Dialogues

  • Author(s): Matlock, Andres
  • Advisor(s): Martelli, Francesca K.;
  • Blank, David L.
  • et al.

My dissertation examines a series of dialogues that the Roman politician and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, wrote in the single year between the death of his daughter in February 45 BCE and the assassination of Julius Caesar in March 44 BCE. I argue that as a corpus these texts explore how human experience affects the perception and conceptualization of time. Each chapter addresses a category of experience—solitude, doubt, grief, and failure—with which Cicero grapples in his dialogues. Rather than simply reflecting back the troubled circumstances of its composition, however, Cicero’s philosophy interrogates these experiences to produce distinctive ways of understanding how time creates, shapes, and limits human being. Solitude articulates and punctuates the durative structures of human time. Doubt serves as the drive of inquiry, which must confront the uncertainty of linear progression in time. Grief reveals the rupture between a subjective sense of time and the chronology of nature. Finally, failure demonstrates how the present is tied to heterogenous and indeterminate futures. Through these categories, I identify in Ciceronian philosophy an ethics of the “time of life” (aetas) that is a development of, yet distinct from the Hellenistic philosophical “art of the lifetime” (disciplina vitae). Building on recent work on Cicero’s place in the history of thought and his skeptical methodology, I seek to draw connections not only between Cicero and his Hellenistic predecessors, but also with later thinkers from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Gaston Bachelard and Emmanuel Levinas. Through this approach, I participate in an ongoing reappraisal of the Ciceronian texts of the year 45-44 and seek to locate them within the longue dur�e of critical thought on time and human nature.

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