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THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM? - page 11 / 19

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According to Diogenes36, Arcesilaus arrived in Athens where he became the disciple of Theophrastus. Later, however, he abandoned the Lyceum (much to the regret of his teacher) and listened to Crantor in the Academy, who bequeathed him his fortune. Upon Crantor’s death, Arcesilaus became the disciple of Polemo37 and Crates.  It is also worth noting that Arcesilaus considered his philosophical stance to be a continuation of the academic tradition38.  Based on the Chronicles of Apollodorus, Diogenes reports that Arcesilaus flourished in the CXX Olympiad (296 BC). This last date, however, cannot be correct for if he was born in 315 BC, he would have reached maturity at the age of nineteen.  However, if we add fifteen more years to this date, Arcesilaus would have reached maturity around 281 BC (when he became head of the Academy) and died at the age of 75 in the year 240 BC39.

What most interests me here in this jumble of dates (all too common in ancient times) is that Arcesilaus was elected head of the Academy approximately 66 years after the death of Plato, succeeding Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo and Crates of Athens. It is a well-known fact that among the scholarchs and members of the school there was disagreement as to Plato’s doctrine, including the postulates that were deemed fundamental to the theory of ideas. In fact, Plato’s successors appeared to move away from Platonism, the first of whom was Plato’s own nephew Speusippus who eschewed the theory of ideas. That the Academy survived in spite of its changing philosophical views therefore becomes all the more significant.

It was at this time when Arcesilaus appeared with the Books of Plato, too far removed in time to speak from memory of the written and unwritten Platonic doctrines, yet too close to reduce the importance of Plato’s work to a merely erudite and conventional source.  Today we know that the problem of the Platonic a)/grafa do/gmata calls for elucidation either to justify the thesis that Plato expounded his genuine philosophical views orally or to refute this claim. No one can negate the fact that

36 Cf. D.L., IV, 29-32. Although he studied mathematics with Autolycus in his native city, he soon moved to Athens.

37 Cf. Sextus, P.H., I, 220.

38 Plutarch, Adv. Col., 26

39 For more details about his life, compare the work by Von Arnim, H., s.v. “Arkesilaos von Pitane”, Realencyclopädie des klassischen Altertumswissenschaft (RE), eds. Wissowa, Kroll et al., Stuttgart, 1917, II, 1 (1895) coll. 1164-1168 and the book by  Brochard, V.,  Les Sceptiques grecs, Op. cit., pp. 99-101.

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