Saturday, 1 March 2014


De Officiis (On Duties or On Obligations) is an essay by Marcus Tullius Cicero divided into three books, in which Cicero expounds his conception of the best way to live, behave, and observe moral obligations.
De Officiis was written in October–November 44 BC, in under four weeks. This was Cicero’s last year alive, and he was 62 years of age. Cicero was at this time still active in politics, trying to stop revolutionary forces from taking control of the Roman Republic. Despite his efforts, the republican system failed to revive even upon the assassination of Caesar, and Cicero was himself assassinated shortly thereafter.
The essay was written in the form of a letter to his son with the same name, who studied philosophy in Athens. Judging from its form, it is nonetheless likely that Cicero wrote with a broader audience in mind. The essay was published posthumously.
De Officiis has been characterized as an attempt to define ideals of public behavior.

 It criticizes the recently overthrown dictator Julius Caesar in several places, and his dictatorship as a whole.

Although Cicero was influenced by the Academic, Peripatetic, and Stoic schools of Greek philosophy, this work shows the influence of the Stoic philosopher Panaetius. The essay discusses what is honorable (Book I), what is expedient or to one’s advantage (Book II), and what to do when the honorable and expedient conflict (Book III). Cicero says they are the same and that they only appear to be in conflict. In Book III, Cicero expresses his own ideas. Michael Grant tells us that “Cicero himself seems to have regarded this treatise as his spiritual testament and masterpiece.”
Cicero claims that the absence of political rights corrupts moral virtues. Cicero also speaks of a natural law that is said to govern both humans and gods alike.
Cicero urged his son Marcus to follow nature and wisdom, as well as politics, and warned against pleasure and indolence. Cicero’s essay relies heavily on anecdotes, much more than his other works, and is written in a more leisurely and less formal style than his other writings, perhaps because he wrote it hastily. Like the satires of Juvenal, Cicero’s De Officiis refers frequently to current events of his time.
The work’s legacy is profound. Although not a Christian work, St. Ambrose in 390 declared it legitimate for the Church to use (along with everything else Cicero, and the equally popular Roman philosopher Seneca, had written). It became the moral authority during the Middle Ages. Of the Church Fathers, Saint Augustine, St. Jerome and even more so St. Thomas Aquinas, are known to have been familiar with it. Illustrating its importance, some 700 handwritten copies remain extant in libraries around the world dating back to before the invention of the printing press. Only the Latin grammarian Priscian is better attested to with such handwritten copies, with some 900 remaining extant. Following the invention of the printing press, De Officiis was the second book to be printed—second only to the Gutenberg Bible.
Petrarch, the father of humanism and a leader in the revival of Classical learning, championed Cicero. Several of his works build upon the precepts of De officiis. The Catholic humanist, Erasmus, published his own edition in Paris in 1501. His enthusiasm for this moral treatise is expressed in many works. The German humanist, Philip Melanchthon established De officiis in Lutheran humanist schools.
T. W. Baldwin said that “in Shakespeare’s day De Officiis was the pinnacle of moral philosophy”.Sir Thomas Elyot, in his popular Governour (1531), lists three essential texts for bringing up young gentlemen: Plato’s Works, Aristotle’s Ethics, and De Officiis.
In the 17th century it was a standard text at English schools (Westminster and Eton) and universities (Cambridge and Oxford). It was extensively discussed by Grotius and Pufendorf.Hugo Grotius drew heavily on De officiis in his major work, On the Law of War and Peace. It influenced Robert Sanderson and John Locke.
In the 18th century, Voltaire said of De Officiis “No one will ever write anything more wise”.Frederick the Great thought so highly of the book that he asked the scholar Christian Garve to do a new translation of it, even though there had been already two German translations since 1756. Garve’s project resulted in 880 additional pages of commentary.
It continues to be one of the most popular of Cicero’s works because of its style, and because of its depiction of Roman political life under the Republic.
..and brave he surely cannot possibly be that counts pain the supreme evil, nor temperate he that holds pleasure to be the supreme good. (No man can be brave who thinks pain the greatest evil; nor temperate, who considers pleasure the highest good.) (Latin: fortis vero dolorem summum malum iudicans aut temperans voluptatem summum bonum statuens esse certe nullo modo potest) (I, 5)
We are not born, we do not live for ourselves alone; our country, our friends, have a share in us. (We are not born for ourselves alone.) (Latin: non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici) (I, 22)
Let us remember that justice must be observed even to the lowest. (Latin: Meminerimus autem etiam adversus infimos iustitiam esse servandam) (I, 41)
Let arms yield to the toga, the laurel defer to praise. (Latin: cedant arma togae concedat laurea laudi) (I, 77)
It is the function of justice not to do wrong to one’s fellow-men; of considerateness, not to wound their feelings; and in this the essence of propriety is best seen. (Justice consists in doing no injury to men; decency in giving them no offense.) (Latin: Iustitiae partes sunt non violare homines, verecundiae non offendere, in quo maxime vis perspicitur decori) (I, 99)
Is anyone unaware that Fortune plays a major role in both success and failure? (Latin: Magnam vim esse in fortuna in utramque partem, vel secundas ad res vel adversas, quis ignorat?) (II, 19)
Of evils choose the least. (Latin: Primum, minima de malis.) (III, 102)
Time heals all wounds. (Latin: Diem adimere aegritudinem hominibus.) (I, 30)

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  1. Iceland Seen Threatened by Capital Flight From Its Own Citizens

    Friday, 28 Feb 2014 05:13 AM

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    U.S. hedge funds aren’t the only ones trying to exit Iceland.

    Its own citizens may follow if the government doesn’t show it can lift capital controls in place since 2008 without triggering a currency sell-off, according to Iceland’s biggest insurance firm.

    “If people lack confidence, they will take their money elsewhere as soon as the controls are lifted,” Sigrun Ragna Olafsdottir, chief executive officer of Vatryggingafelag Islands hf, said in an interview in Reykjavik. “And here I’m referring to Icelanders, not just foreigners. This presents a much greater threat to the Icelandic economy than if foreigners decide to leave.”

    Iceland has yet to test the staying power of its economic recovery. Capital controls, imposed at the end of 2008 after the island’s three biggest banks defaulted on $85 billion, have so far stopped offshore investors selling $7.2 billion in assets, equivalent to half the nation’s gross domestic product.

    Hedge funds, including Davidson Kempner Capital Management LLC and Taconic Capital Advisors LP, bought claims on the banks’ assets at prices well below face value. Five years later they’re still waiting to cash in. Efforts to speak with the government, communicated by the winding up committees of the failed banks, have fallen on deaf ears.

    Default Insurance

    Prime Minister Sigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson said last month he won’t negotiate with speculators and underlined his commitment to removing capital controls in a way that underscores financial stability.

    “It’s in everyone’s interest to create a situation which would allow for the lifting of controls,” Gunnlaugsson said in January.

    There are signs investors are growing wary. Since hitting a low in June, the cost of insuring against losses on Iceland’s debt using credit-default swaps has risen about 50 percent to 190 basis points, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

    Though Iceland has managed to reduce its public debt to 82 percent of gross domestic product, the island still has net external debt equivalent to 436 percent of GDP, central bank statistics show.

    Iceland may need help from the other Nordic governments to help it through a transition out of capital controls, according to Lars Christensen, chief emerging markets analyst at Danske Bank A/S in Copenhagen.

    Nordic Support

    “The best way would be to try to negotiate some kind of a standby agreement with the other Nordic central banks to try to provide some support for the krona in a period,” he said by phone. “But that can be quite challenging.”

    Iceland said back in 2008 the capital controls would be a temporary measure to protect its markets during the darkest hours of the crisis. The International Monetary Fund, which has praised the island’s crisis management program, says removing currency restrictions is key to restoring economic health.

    The main concern for Icelanders now is whether they’ll be lifted without jolting markets and disrupting a recovery. The economy will expand 2.7 percent this year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s better than the average for the OECD-area as a whole, which will grow 2.3 percent, the Paris-based group estimates.

    Shielded by capital controls, companies like Vatryggingafelag have grown without needing to fend off the vagaries of market swings. Since the insurer went public last April, its stock has gained 15 percent. Yet the flipside is that companies can’t draw on foreign investors, limiting growth.

    “We’ve been waiting for the investment environment to improve with more investment opportunities,” said Olafsdottir. “That seems to be picking up although the capital controls have a severe impact on that