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THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM? - page 3 / 19

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Cicero was the first philosopher to attempt to divide the Academy into three different periods.  In his work Academica4, he presents two opposing theses on this point: the first supported by Philo of Larissa and the second defended by Antiochus. Following upon Philo of Larissa, Cicero denies the existence of more than one Academy, claiming that throughout its history the Academy had never splintered into different factions or abandoned its philosophical position5. Philo was committed to the continuity of the Academy, negating any type of fissure or even a minimal change in Plato’s philosophy, thereby defending the position that all subsequent developments were founded upon Plato6. The second thesis, defended by Antiochus, disciple of Philo, contradicts the first. He claims that Arcesilaus turned Platonic philosophy - a transformation carried on by his successors - to a skeptical direction with the premise that nothing can be grasped or known with certainty.  From this time onwards - as Cicero himself remarks7- a New Academy is distinguishable from an Old Academy8. Antiochus, on the other hand, held that two philosophical schools existed side by side within the same Platonic Academy.

Later, in an attempt to clarify the distinction between dogmatic (including Academic philosophy) and skeptical philosophy (in reference solely to the Skepticism of Pyrhho), Sextus Empiricus makes a distinction between the Early Academy of Plato and his contemporaries, the Middle Academy of Arcesilaus and the Late Academy of Carneades and Clitomachus9.  Diogenes Laertius would do the same. Plato, he reports, was the founder of the first (th\n a)rxai/an A)kadh/meian), the Early Academy, Arcesilaus

4 For a study of the problems of the text see the classic introduction by Reid, J., Tulli Ciceronis Academica, London, 1885, pp. 1-73; and the introduction by Pimentel, J., Cuestiones Académicas, México, 1980, esp. pp. VII-XI. (Herein Cicero, Acad.)

5 Cf. Cicero, Acad., I, IV, 13, Cicero claims to have heard this same thesis from Philo himself (quod coram etiam ex ipso audiebamus,).

6 In Acad., I, XII, 46, Cicero himself admits his perplexity regarding this question and with a certain amount of uncertainty denies any distinction between the Old and the New Academy. For him the distinction is unnecessary as nothing is affirmed in Plato’s writings, but all is argued and investigated and nothing is said to be certain. Immediately following, however, he appears to accept the distinction without argument: “But, none the less, let the one you expounded be called the Old, and this one the New: it stuck firmly to Arcesilaus’ philosophy right down to Carneades, who was its fourth head after Arcesilaus.”

7  See Cicero, Acad., I, XII, 46.

8 Cf. Cicero, Acad., II, V, 15. Here he compares Arcesilaus to Tiberius Graco who disrupted the political harmony of the republic in the same way that Arcesilaus picked apart the consolidated philosophy of Plato.

9 Cf., Sextus Empiricus, P.H., I, 220.

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