Cicero

The great Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero was renowned for his rhetorical skills, especially his skill in defending those accused of murder. Inasmuch as a murder case normally hinges on the simple question, did the accused do the deed, such cases provide us with a window into the way people think. This window clearly shows that, even among the best and brightest of Roman society, the concept of logical thinking was still a long way off.

Consider, for example, Cicero’s defense for Milo, a highly-placed politician who had been attacked by Clodius, a political rival, and killed him in self-defense. Now, by modern standards, this should have been an open-and-shut case. The facts of the case were well-established. Cicero’s argument should have been:

1. The fight took place in front of Clodius’ farm, suggesting an ambush by one side or the other.
2. Milo was traveling on the road with his wife, maidservants, and regular servants -- not an ideal complement to accompany an ambush.
3. Clodius was on horseback and accompanied by a group of armed men.
4. Clodius had kept his movements that day secret, so Milo could not have known his whereabouts to set up an ambush.
5. Milo’s plan to leave the city that evening was public knowledge, as he had announced it in the Senate the previous day.
Therefore, it is clear that the ambush was initiated by Clodius and Milo killed him in self-defense.

Yet Cicero never made that argument! Instead, his oration meanders on for page after page, presenting Milo as a paragon of virtue, a faithful patriot, a good father, a fine soldier, and a selfless benefactor of the people. He paints Clodius as a depraved monster, a political opportunist, selfish and greedy, who has committed many previous crimes. On and on he meanders, never lining up his arguments in any recognizable sequence. Cicero and his audience are still stuck in pattern-recognizing thinking. Cicero builds an elaborate pattern in which Milo is such a good person that the notion of Milo attacking Clodius simply doesn’t fit into the pattern. Meanwhile, Clodius is such an evil person, that the notion of Clodius attacking Milo fits into the pattern perfectly. This is pure pattern-thinking; although all the components for a compelling sequential logic case are there for the taking, Cicero never bothers to assemble them into such a sequence.

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