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THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM? - page 14 / 19

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of them made for his personal use, we have the sensation that Arcesilaus wanted to mitigate the philosophical views that were inconsistent with Plato’s written doctrine. Arcesilaus’ efforts to keep Plato’s written discourse and the lo/goj swkratiko/j that it contained may have been a response to the enormous confusion that abounded regarding prevailing theories46, hence Diogenes Laertius’ claim that Arcesilaus was a bridge between Plato and the Late Academy of Lacydes and Carneades47.

Given this context, it is necessary to understand the precise doxography that Diogenes Laertius 48 produced on Arcesilaus’ thought.  As the originator of the Middle Academy49, Arcesilaus transformed the Academy by propounding Socrates’ dialectical method of questions and answers, arguing both for and against philosophical positions,

46 We are before a new literary genre, the dialogue.  This new formula did not belong to Plato, but all  Socratic philosophers who were attentive to the living word of their teacher, which, perfected by the active practice of the dialectic, was eventually transformed into a singular mi/mhma o ei)/dwlon that would give rise to a particular form of Socratic braxulogi/a discourse. This idea would prompt Isnardi Parente to defend the position that Plato’s dialogues are not merely abstract forms,  but in fact, the best type of written discourse, particularly the “Discourse of Socrates”.  See Isnardi Parente, M., “Platone e il discorso scritto”, Rivista di storia della filosofia, 3, (1991), pp. 451-453.

47 It is interesting to note what happened as a consequence of the changes and successions in the Academy. The diadoxaiªj provide us with insight into the Platonic Academy (D. L., I, 19; Sextus,.P.H. I, 220 and Eusebius, XIX, 4, 16) The successions are interrupted in the first century, prompting Glucker, J., Antiochus and the late Academy, (“Hypomnemata” Heft LVI), Göttingen, 1978 to assume that the Academy disappeared with Philo of Larissa, Cicero’s teacher (Tarrant, H., Scepticism or Platonism? The Philosophy of the Fourth Academy, Cambridge, London, New York, New Rochelle, Melbourne, Sydney, 1985) shares the same opinion). In spite of these successions, no one explains, although everyone assumes, that changes did, in fact, occur in the different Academies.  No one says if this change was a result of modifications in philosophical orientation, institutional changes or both.  Nothing is found regarding this question in commentaries by Sextus, Eusebius or Diogenes, leading us to believe that they knew nothing about the matter.  In any case, the changes occurring in the Academy were most likely not a break with tradition but a continuation of it; the problem arises when justifying and evaluating these reforms.

48 Cf. D.L., IV, 28. A detailed study of Diogenes’ biography of Arcesilaus can be found in Dorandi, T., “Il quarto libro delle <Vite> di Diogene Laerzio: l'Academia da Speusippo a Clitomaco”, in Austieg Und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, Band II. 36.5, Berlin, New York, 1992, pp. 3761-3792, esp. pp. 3777-3784.

49 D.L. , I, 14. Plato initiated the first  (Early Academy).  Arcesilaus introduced reforms that gave rise to the Middle Academy  and finally Lacydes was responsible for the New Academy. When characterizing the different Academies, Sextus makes the distinction between 1) the Early Academy of Plato and his followers, 2) the Middle Academy of Arcesilaus and 3) the New Academy of Carneades and Clitomachus, cf. Sextus. P.H. I, 220. Sextus is well aware of the distinction between Platonic and Skeptic philosophy (Pyrrhonic Skepticism).  It is therefore worth noting that he included Arcesilaus’ philosophic views within a broader analysis of the Academy, clearly emphasizing the Platonic origins of the originator of the Middle Academy.

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