Evidence and explanation in Cicero's On Divination

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 82 (C):34-43 (2020)
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In this paper, I examine Cicero’s oft-neglected De Divinatione, a dialogue investigating the legitimacy of the practice of divination. First, I offer a novel analysis of the main arguments for divination given by Quintus, highlighting the fact that he employs two logically distinct argument forms. Next, I turn to the first of the main arguments against divination given by Marcus. Here I show, with the help of modern probabilistic tools, that Marcus’ skeptical response is far from the decisive, proto-naturalistic assault on superstition that it is sometimes portrayed to be. Then, I offer an extended analysis of the second of the main arguments against divination given by Marcus. Inspired by Marcus’ second main argument, I formulate, explicate, and defend a substantive principle of scientific methodology that I call the “Ciceronian Causal-Nomological Requirement” (CCR). Roughly, this principle states that causal knowledge is essential for relying on correlations in predictive inference. Although I go on to argue that Marcus’ application of the CCR in his debate with Quintus is dialectically inadequate, I conclude that De Divinatione deserves its place in Cicero’s philosophical corpus, and that ultimately, its significance for the history and philosophy of science ought to be recognized.

Author's Profile

Frank Cabrera
University of Wisconsin, Madison (PhD)


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