Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Philosophy - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

Tue Søvsø

Tue Søvsø The topic of my doctoral dissertation is Stoic ethics and epistemology, in particular their analysis of early human nature and views on moral and cognitive development. I focus on one of our earliest and most comprehensive sources on Stoic philosophy, the 1st cent. BC politician and writer Cicero, and the main question I want to investigate is how Cicero understood and presented Stoic ethics.

The Stoics conceived of human nature as fundamentally rational and social and Cicero offers us several accounts of how this analysis of human nature shaped their views about human development and perfection (most importantly the accounts of attachment (οἰκείωσις) and moral psychology in De finibus III.16-25 and De officiis I.11-17 and the discussion of the role of apprehension in the acquisition of virtue and knowledge in Academica II.19-31). After having explored the implications of man’s rational nature and the way this, according to the Stoics, makes us capable of achieving virtue, I move on to investigate the consequences they drew from the social aspect of human nature. This was a topic of particular interest to Cicero and he explores it in a number of works. The different forms of natural sociability are analysed in De finibus III.61-66 and the conception of justice that is derived from the distinctively human sociability arguably informs his entire treatment of appropriate action in De officiis as well as his conception of natural law in De legibus and his definition of a state in De re publica. After having examined these connections and by way of conclusion, I consider how the moral psychology emerging in these different accounts informs the theory of the passions as set out in book III and IV of the Tusculanae disputationes and the character of the moral guidelines offered in De officiis.

It is disputable to what extent Cicero presents a reliable and orthodox version of Stoicism and whether the accounts offered in different works are even meant to be compatible. Cicero is obviously drawing on sources from various stages in the history of the Stoic school and an important aspect of my project will be the attempt to identify and contextualize these different layers in his presentations of Stoicism. Given, however, that these Stoics all formed part of a recognizably unified school of thought I take it that they shared a set of fundamental views on e.g. the nature of reason and virtue, which make their accounts basically compatible despite their different dialectical contexts and aims.

As an eager student of philosophy and a self-professed Academic Sceptic I take Cicero to be a well-informed witness to these dialectical exchanges but also a part in them: On the one hand, he strives to bring out the strengths of the Stoic position in order to prove the equipollence he sees between this ethical theory and the Antiochean/Peripatetic ethics he presents as an equally convincing alternative. On the other hand, he is likely to have shaped his presentation of these theories according to his own ideas about what is at stake in the debate and may therefore diverge from the accounts he found in his sources (all of which are now more or less completely lost to us). In order to understand Cicero’s accounts of Stoic ethics we therefore both need to consider its relation to other Stoic sources and to the overall structure of the works they are embedded in.

My primary goal as an interpreter will therefore be to work out an account of Cicero’s presentations of Stoic ethics that makes sense of them as integral parts of the works, in which they appear, but at the same time conceives of them as the expression of an individual author’s interpretation of this philosophical theory. Apart from contributing to our understanding of Stoic ethics and its historical development I hope that this investigation will shed new light on Cicero’s method as a philosophical author and help clarify his own attitude towards Stoic ethics.




4/2017 Ph.D. Student in Philosophy, Freie Universität, Berlin, Research Training Group Philosophy, Science and the Sciences
8/2015 M.A., Latin, University of Copenhagen.
Title of thesis: Nature, Man and Others – Stoic Ethics in Cicero’s De Finibus
1/2013 B.A., Latin and Greek, University of Copenhagen
8-12/2009 Erasmus student, University of Vienna


2016–2017 Academic officer / Guidance Counsellor, Guidance and Admissions, University Education Services, University of Copenhagen
2015–2016 Appointee teacher in Classical Studies, Tårnby gymnasium

Teaching assistant, SAXO Institute, University of Copenhagen



Søvsø, T., 'Raphael, Apuleius og debatten om kærlighedens væsen' AIGIS Supplementum V (2016)


Søvsø, T., Marcus Tullius Cicero: Forpligtelser, (translation and introduction) Gyldendal (forthcoming)

Contributions to books

M. Ristikivi/T. Søvsø, ‘Glossary to Anders Sunesen's Liber Legis Scaniae’, in: D. Tamm (Ed.), The Liber Legis Scaniae (Routledge Medieval Translations; Abingdon), Routledge 2017.

‘Christoph August Heumann: The Life of Plotinus Described by Porphyry’ edited by L. Catana and T. Søvsø, transl. by L. Catana in: P. Baker (ed.), Biography, Historiography, and Modes of Philosophizing: The Tradition of Collective Biography in Early Modern Europe, Brill 2017.