Ergo hoc quidem apparet, nos ad agendum esse natos. Actionum autem genera plura, ut obscurentur etiam minora maioribus, maximae autem sunt primum, ut mihi quidem videtur et iis, quorum nunc in ratione versamur, consideratio cognitioque rerum caelestium et earum, quas a natura occultatas et latentes indagare ratio potest, deinde rerum publicarum administratio aut administrandi scientia, tum prudens, temperata, fortis, iusta ratio reliquaeque virtutes et actiones virtutibus congruentes, quae uno verbo complexi omnia honesta dicimus; ad quorum et cognitionem et usum iam corroborati natura ipsa praeeunte deducimur. omnium enim rerum principia parva sunt, sed suis progressionibus usa augentur nec sine causa; in primo enim ortu inest teneritas ac mollitia quaedam, ut nec res videre optimas nec agere possint. virtutis enim beataeque vitae, quae duo maxime expetenda sunt, serius lumen apparet, multo etiam serius, ut plane qualia sint intellegantur. praeclare enim Plato: “beatum, cui etiam in senectute contigerit, ut sapientiam verasque opiniones assequi possit” [cf. Plato, Nomoi 653a].
(Cicero, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum 5.58)
It is evident, then, that we are born to act. There are many forms of activity, however: so much so that one may lose sight of the trivial amidst the more important ones. As to the most important, it is my view and that of the thinkers whose system I am discussing, that these are: the contemplation and study of the heavenly bodies, and of the mysterious secrets of nature that rational thought has the power to uncover; the administration of public affairs, or perhaps knowledge of its theory; and a way of thinking that displays practical reason, temperance, bravery and justice, and which manifests the other virtue too and the actions that flow from them. We may sum up this latter category under the single heading of “morality”. When we are fully mature, nature herself gives us the cue that leads us to understand and practise it. Everything has small beginnings, but grows greater by gradual progress. The reason for this is that when we are born we possess a certain delicacy and weakness which prevents us from seeing and doing what is best. The light of virtue and happiness, the two most desirable possessions of all, dawns rather late; and much later still a clear understanding of what they are. Plato puts the point very well: “Happy the one who even in old age has managed to acquire wisdom and true beliefs!” (tr. Raphael Woolf)