Evidence and explanation in Cicero's On Divination

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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.
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Archival date: 2019-12-04
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