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THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM? - page 4 / 19

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was responsible for introducing a series of reforms that led to the creation of something novel known as the Middle Academy (th\n me/shn A)kadh/meian), and finally, Lacydes, Arcesilaus’ successor, invented the New Academy (th\n ne/an A)kadh/meian), with Carneades and Clitomachus its most important successors10.

Cicero’s is the most complete and trustworthy account handed down to us due to its proximity in time. In it he maintains that although a single philosophical line had existed since Plato, Arcesilaus and Carneades corrected it, thereby affirming that the germinal ideas of Skepticism had already existed in Plato’s time which would be subsequently developed by later philosophers. It is clear, then, that we are speaking of a transition in the Platonic Academy, but not of the introduction of a novel and independent philosophical system11.  According to Cicero, the Academic Skeptics found their inspiration and model in Plato as nothing in his work is affirmed, all is argued and nothing can be known with certainty (“cuius in libris nihil adfirmatur et in utramque partem multa disseruntur, de omnibus quaeritur, nihil certi dicitur” )12.

To accept this premise is to confirm the transformation of the dogmatic school of Plato into a skeptical school.  This is notable given the traditional prominence of Platonism within the dogmatic movements.  Furthermore, Cicero held that Skepticism was a unique and characteristic attitude of the Platonic Academy. Hence when he names the precedents to Skepticism he solely refers to the Socratic declaration “I only know that I know nothing.”

The subtle development of Skepticism in the Platonic Academy parallels the development of the Skepticism of Pyrrho of Elis, traditionally accepted to be the most radical expression of the Greek movement. Sextus Empiricus, the great skeptical historian, classified it three ways:

1. zhthtikh\, meaning the act of searching, inquiry and consideration of things, that is, a commitment to investigation and examination.

10 Cf. D.L., I, 14; see, IV, 28

11 All of these differences demonstrate the difficulties that already existed in ancient times to encompass the Skepticism of the Middle and New Academy of Arcesilaus and Carneades within the Platonic tradition.  If this were already true for the contemporary philosophers of the late Academics, it is logical that we would encounter even greater difficulties.  Whether we demonstrate that Academic Skepticism was a vital, methodological and pedagogical system or not, there is no question that it was indeed skeptical.

12 Cicero, Acad., I, XII, 46. Cicero firmly acknowledges the germinal ideas of Skepticism in the discussion and absence of definition in Platonic philosophy.

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