Cicero belongs to a fundamentally academic tradition. For him, Skepticism is academic, regardless of its defects, and he therefore does not link Pyrrho’s doctrine to that of the creators of Academic Skepticism. According to Cicero’s concept of philosophy, Skepticism and Pyrrhonism are two completely different lines of thought. Moreover, Cicero does not acknowledge any skeptical elements in Pyrrho’s philosophical views (let us not forget that we are referring only to Academic Skepticism). In consequence, Presocratic authors such as Democritus, Anaxagoras or Empedocles are, in Cicero’s opinion, the predecessors of a skeptical philosophic position that does not culminate in Pyrrho as we know, but in Socrates and Plato, for all formed part of this philosophical movement which held that nothing could be grasped or known17. Cicero, then, does not acknowledge Pyrrho to be the originator of the gnoseological tradition that gave rise to Skepticism18.
But the question arises: why this silence with regard to Pyrrho? The answer may lie in the fact that Pyrrho left nothing in writing, thus preventing his philosophic views from being clearly understood or known, so that all that remained was his attitude towards life19. This might explain the reason why Cicero did not acknowledge the skeptical elements of Pyrrho’s thought, for the legitimate and original line of Skepticism would not be restored until after Aenesidemus20.
Although here I define Academic philosophy as being skeptic, I am, in fact, referring to two forms of Skepticism with some clearly defined differences. A text by Aulus Gellius is fundamental in clarifying both forms of Skepticism. Gellius, who was born around 130 AC, was the pupil of the African Sulpicius Apolinarius. As he explains in the preface to Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights), he wrote the book for use by his own
17 “... which had brought Socrates to an admission of ignorance; and before him already, Democritus, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, and almost all the ancients, who said that nothing could be grasped or cognized or known”; Cicero, Acad., I, XII, 44. See also De Oratore, III, XVIII, 67 where he presents the same idea.
18 Furthermore, when Cicero names Pyrrho in Academicas, he associates him with Aristo of Chios a stoic and disciple of Zeno who is principally concerned with matters of ethics. Cf. Cicero, Acad., II, XLII, 130. This is not the only reference by Cicero to Pyrrho’s relationship with Aristo. See other passages, for example, De officiis, I, 2; De finibus, II, IV, 11 and 13; V, III, 8 and Tusc. disp., V, 30. This ethical attitude is clearly insufficient to classify Pyrrho as a skeptic as it does not treat the problem of the possibility or impossibility of knowledge.
19 See my book on Pyrrho (supra note 2) where I discuss the relevance of his life to his philosophy, pp. 183-201.
20 For a more detailed study of this question see the article by Decleva Caizzi, “Aenesidemus and the academy”, Classical Quarterly, 42, (1992), pp. 176-189. See also my article Román Alcalá, R., “La nueva academia: dogmatismo o skêpsis”, Pensamiento, 51 (1995), 455-465.