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THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM? - page 15 / 19

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and reviving contrarieties of argument50. According to Cicero, these dialectical strategies, which were a Socratic practice to ascertain the opinions of those with whom he was arguing, had been abandoned by Plato’s followers51.  It was Arcesilaus who revived the Socratic-Platonic method which states nothing positively, makes no certain statements and argues both sides of a question, compelling suspension of judgment52.  

This reformation of Platonism (although it only signified the reestablishment of old formulas) was based on Arcesilaus’extensive knowledge of Plato’s philosophy.  Socrates’ use of irony, the continual negation of everything and the contrary and the use of dubitative formulas, points to a renovation of the Academy within the framework of Platonic tradition.  It would be mistaken, then, to define the Academy under Arcesilaus as “New” in order to emphasize a break with classic Platonism.  Instead, it would be sensible to assume that the use of the term “New” Academics, in reference to Arcesilaus and his followers as a result of their supposed philosophical distancing from the “true” academics of the Old Academy under Plato, was proposed by his adversaries and later Platonists such as Numenius in an attempt to generate a certain amount of controversy in their opposition to the Skeptic Arcesilaus.

The epithet “New” was deemed an excellent strategy by Arcesilaus’ opponents to denounce his modifications and betrayal of Platonic thought.  Arcesilaus, however, faithfully followed his teacher Plato and continued to expound his philosophy in an attempt to discover truth, but also to habituate his interlocutors and disciples to reflection rather than authority.  Perhaps this explains why he left nothing in writing.

50 Diogenes seems to attribute the creation of a dialectic method of pro and contra to Protagoras, D.L., IX, 51.  Protagoras was the first philosopher to espouse the impossibility of the ontological debate as such when he makes the controversial statement that it is not possible to contradict: “ou)k e)/stin a)ntile/gein”, cf. my article “Logos and antilogos in Protagoras: The inexhaustibility of the truth field”, in the Seventh International Conference on Greek Philosophy, Samos, August 1995.  This contrariety of arguments, these alterations of the logoi, re-emerged in Arcesilaus’ effective philosophical system.

51 “Socrates was in the habit of drawing forth the opinions of those with whom he was arguing, in order to state his own view as a response to their answers. This practice was not kept up by his successors; but Arcesilaus revived it (Qui mos cum a posterioribus non esset retentus, Arcesilas eum revocavit instituitque)”, Cicero, De Fin., II, I, 2. I would like to call attention to the abandonment and subsequent revival by Arcesilaus of a method (the Socratic-Platonic) that had been lost with Plato’s disciples. Again, Plato’s writings and the dialectical aspects of Plato’s dialogues are recuperated by Arcesilaus, bestowing them with a renewed prominence in the Academy, perhaps at the expense of the theory of principles founded on Plato’s oral teachings.

52 According to Diogenes, he was the first to suspend (e)pisxw\n) equal and opposed arguments (e)nantio/thtaj) in discourse, Cf. D.L., IV, 28.  Accounts by Cicero, Sextus Empiricus and Plutarch have provided us with brief examples of Arcesilaus’ dialectical virtuosity cf. Cicero, Acad., II, 67, 76-78; Sextus, M., VII, 150-158 and Plutarch, Adv. Col., 1122 a-f.

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