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THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM? - page 2 / 19

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will inevitably lead us to consider, on the one hand, if these are similar or incompatible philosophical traditions, and, on the other hand, if the transformation of the Platonic postulates towards less dogmatic postures, as one would deduce from this so-called Skepticism, reveal the fidelity or hermeneutical infidelity of Plato’s successors concerning his postulates.  In short, what exactly was the position of the Academics with regard to Skepticism?  Should they be viewed as Presocratic radical Pyrrhonists or as Platonists who were faithful to the Socratic tradition?

1.

Academic Skepticism

The study of Plato’s work was never abandoned in the Academy and any attempt to clarify the relationships and developments in Academic philosophy after Plato should be founded on this affirmation.  However, what transpired in the Academy after Arcesilaus that would lead to a Socratic-Platonic form of Skepticism which was, at least in principle and superficially, far removed from classically recognized Platonism?

The most plausible hypothesis, and one which I shall defend, is that due to the vigorous battles waged between schools (especially against Stoicism), Arcesilaus revived the skeptical elements of the Socratic-Platonic tradition for dialectical reasons in an attempt to preserve Plato’s philosophic thought. By doing so he not only gave rise to something both original and novel, but propounded one of the many faces of Plato3.

The evolution of the Platonic school towards a skeptical position came about as a consequence of the transformation of Socratic doubt (used as a learning method by its own right); a process which was the result of the Platonic postulates’ trend towards a less dogmatic position.  This transformation of the Platonic school, however, would come as a great surprise, for it precisely set out to maintain the dogmatism of Plato’s postulates.   That this was a polemical issue in ancient times is evidenced by the fact that contemporary philosophers had already attempted to define and clarify the changes occurring in the Academy.

3 “All the faces of Plato-wrote Robin-have their truth in each of the mirrors of tradition (Tous les visages de Platon ont leur vérité sur chacun des miroirs de la tradition)”, Robin, L., Platon, Paris, 1968 (2d), p. 239.  Consequently, the change brought about by Arcesilaus in the Academic position was a return to the tradition of the School; it was a revival and not a revolution.  For more on this see the article by A. Carlini “Alcuni dialoghi pseudoplatonici e l'accademia di Arcesilao”, Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, 1962, pp. 33-63, esp. pp. 60-63, or the article by Moreau. J., “Pyrrhonien, academique, Empirique?” La Revue Philosophique de Louvain, 77, (1979), pp. 303-344, esp. p. 326.

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