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THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM? - page 10 / 19

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Consequently, it can be assumed that the single philosophic line of the Academy did not propound an abrupt transformation of Platonic dogmatism in a skeptical direction, but the development of “quasi-skeptical” suppositions.

Emphasizing the Socratic declaration “do not claim to know that nothing can be known”32 (in reference to the Socratic claim that “I only know that I know nothing”), which establishes that all is obscure and nothing can be grasped or understood33, Arcesilaus eschewed Plato’s skeptical doctrine, advancing Socrates and Plato’s dubitative and aporetic formulations instead34. Given that the method and foundation for Arcesilaus’ theories have an unquestionably Socratic and Platonic basis, we can safely say that Arcesilaus was a genuine exponent and interpreter of Plato’s philosophy.

The work of Plato, then, is the starting point for Arcesilaus “e)%/kei dh\ qauma/zein kai\ to/n Pla/twna kai\ ta\ bibli/a e)ke/kthto au)touª35.  However, this passage has yet to be clarified. The claim that Arcesilaus personally possessed Plato’s works is certainly interesting.  It is clear that in addition to Plato’s manuscripts, some written copies of Plato’s work existed in the Academy and that Arcesilaus, as head of the Academy, would have had easy access to them.  If this is so, why say such a thing? Why the decision to personally acquire Plato’s ta\ bibli/a?.

The answer is either extremely simple or exceptionally complex. If we opt for the first, we confirm Arcesilaus’ wish to avoid a certain amount of inconvenience (which we have all experienced) in consulting Plato’s works by making or having made his own copy of them for use at his own convenience without having to resort to borrowing the works from the Academy’s library. The answer to the second question is not as simple.

32“non arbitrari se scire quod nesciat”, Cicero, Acad., I, 4, 16.

33 “So Arcesilaus was in the practice of denying that anything could be known (Itaque Arcesilas negabat esse quicquam quod sciri posset), not even the one thing Socrates had left for himself - the knowledge that he knew nothing: such was the extent of the obscurity in which everything lurked (sic omnia latere censebat in occulto), on his assessment, and there was nothing which could be discerned or understood. For these reasons, he said, no one should maintain or assert anything or give it the acceptance of assent”, Cicero, Acad., I, XII, 45. This position is also defended by Moreau, J. in “Pyrrhonien, Académique, Empirique?”, art. cit., pp. 311-313 and Robin, L. in Pyrrhon et le Scepticisme grec (Les Grands Philosophes), Paris, 1944, pp. 43-44.

34 Cf.Brochard, V., Les Sceptiques grecs, Paris, 1887, pp. 432; II ed. Paris, 1923; repr. 1932; repr. 1957; III ed. in accordance with the first, 1969, p. 9.

35 “He certainly seems to have admired Plato, and he had acquired his books”, D.L. IV, 32.

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