Morality and Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero, known typically as Cicero, was the greatest Roman orator. He also was a philosopher and wrote long essays about how to be moral and how to live a happy life. My favorite essay is De Officiis III, or On Duties Three. It is the third in a series of philosophical works which were written ostensibly as letters to his son in an effort to show him how to live. In On Duties III, Cicero puts forth a code of morality. He says that in order to determine our actions in any given circumstance, that we must ask ourselves three questions.
1. Is a thing morally right or wrong?
2. Is it advantageous or disadvantageous?
3. If apparent right and apparent advantage clash, what is to be the basis for our choice between them?
His assertion, much like that of Spencer W. Kimball in The Miracle of Forgiveness, is that true advantage and true morality can never be separated. While Kimball discusses this in terms of repentance and some people who claim to be better off having sinned and repented, Cicero says that any action which is truly advantageous by definition is truly morally correct. He says that since men don't have perfect knowledge that they still have "second class obligations", essentially that they are still obligated to judge advantage and morality to the best of their ability.
Cicero qualifies this by saying that the ability to be perfectly moral is therefore dependent on having a perfect knowledge. If you can't perfectly understand the consequences of your actions, then you can't determine whether they are truly advantageous or not, and thus cannot determine whether they are truly moral. So, you can see why I like this kind of argument. This means that some actions which are conventionally considered immoral can become moral if the result of those actions are truly advantageous. We see this kind of dilemma rather often in the scriptures, in the Book of Abraham when God instructs Abraham to lie about Sarai, the killing of Laban, and elsewhere no doubt. So it is clear that the commandments we have been given are given because they are almost always moral, not because they are immutably so. An example my friend D-Train always used to put forth is, if it's 1942 and the SS knocks on your door and asks if you are hiding any Jews, you best tell them no whether you are or not.
Cicero states that each man ought to identify his own interest with the interest of all. So an individual's morality is based on the advantage of the group, not necessarily on personal advantage. He states that all men have identical interests and by helping each other we help the body politic of which we are a part, and thus help ourselves. This sort of attitude, if enacted, works wonders.
Cicero states that any instance in which there is an apparent difference between right and advantage, it is simply due to a mistake. We cannot properly interpret the situation because we lack that perfect knowledge. He states that this binding of advantage and right is the law of nature and that nothing can deviate from it.
So as you can see, the parallels between Cicero and LDS thought are pretty big. Cicero, having died a few years before Christ was born, wasnt a Christian or even a monotheist but he seems to have arrived at quite a few brilliant moral conclusions several decades before the adult ministry of Christ and 1800 years before Joseph Smith. We have been told by revelation and by the Prophets to search out the best books. Was Cicero divinely inspired? I dont know. But I know that the fact that I read his works has been advantageous to me, and therefore good.