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Cicero – The “gift” of reason

March 24, 2015

“[M]en use their reason both for good and evil. But it is only a few, and those rarely, who use it for good, while many use it constantly for evil. So that it would have been better if the immortal gods had not endowed us with reason at all, rather than given us so calamitous a gift. Wine is seldom beneficial and very often harmful to the sick. It is therefore better never to prescribe it at all than to run a grave risk for the sake of a dubious hope of cure. Similarly I cannot but wonder whether it would not have been better if mankind had never been endowed at all with this nimble-wittedness, this shrewdness, this cunning, which we call ‘reason’. As it profits only a few, and is a curse to many, it is a pity that it has been so widely and so generously bestowed. It would have been better if it had not been given at all. If the divine mind willed the good of men, when it endowed them with reason, then it willed only the good of those whom it also endowed with the power to use their reason well, whom we see to be few indeed, if any. But the gods would not will the good of a few men only. So it follows that they have not willed the good of any.”

(from On the Nature of the Gods [45 BCE], Book III, in which Cotta is speaking; translated by Horace C. P. McGregor)


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