THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM?
The most celebrated work by Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, begins by distinguishing three recognizable philosophical systems: dogmatic, academic and skeptic. While the divergences between the first and the last two are evident, a great many scholars are in disagreement as to the differences and similarities of the other two philosophical schools. Skeptics and Academics share common features that vigorously oppose any dogmatic system, but what is the distinction between the two? What are the singular differences that define and characterize the radical Skepticism of Sextus with its Pyrrhonic roots from the moderate Platonic Skepticism of Arcesilaus or Carneades? In his work1, Sextus goes on to explain that the dogmatists believe they have discovered the truth (albeit every school claimed to have discovered it in something different), while the Skeptics and the Academics differ only slightly in that the former investigate the truth, while the latter declare it to be “non-apprehensible.”
Clearly, the discrepancies between Academics and Skeptics (Pyrrhonic2) are at best, difficult to discern. However, the differences between these two philosophic schools and dogmatism are striking. In any case, and in spite of the critique by certain Pyrrhonean Skeptics (Timon or Sextus) of the Academics, members of both movements acknowledged “a certain family atmosphere”, as an illustrious Skeptic would later claim. In a study of this kind, therefore, our first task shall be to examine and define the form of Skepticism professed by these philosophers.
The Platonic Academy was a singular philosophical nucleus continued by Speusippus and Xenocrates upon the death of its founder Plato, albeit with a certain amount of independence with regard to their teacher in questions of philosophical relevance. Thus, we will first address the issue of the relationship between Skepticism and the Platonic Academy and secondly, the differences with regard to radical Pyrrhonean Skepticism from a two-fold perspective: 1) Can we speak in strict terms of Academic Skepticism? and 2) What characterizes or defines the similarities and differences between the Academic and Pyrrhonic movements? These two questions
1 Sextus, P.H., I, 2.
2 See also Román Alcalá, R., El escepticismo antiguo: posibilidad del conocimiento y búsqueda de la felicidad, Córdoba , 1994, note 20, p. 28 for more on the distinction in Skepticism between “Pyrrhonean”, (follower of Pyrrho who has no awareness of belonging to a singular and precise philosophical movement) and “Pyrrhonic” (name that refers to all the philosophers, who as followers of Pyrrho acknowledge him as the founder of the movement and are aware of belonging to a unified and original skeptical tradition embraced by Aenesidemus).