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THE SKEPTICISM OF THE NEW ACADEMY: A WEAK FORM OF PLATONISM? - page 9 / 19

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states that Arcesilaus could not define himself as anything other than an Academic29 and a follower of the academic tradition, although this attitude did not prevent his investigative method from sharing similarities with the dubitative philosophers.  Clearly, there are differences between both forms of Skepticism, based above all on the different traditions in which they are encompassed30, but there are also numerous similarities.

Two well-defined lines on the skeptical interpretation of Plato are commonly accepted.  Either we accept the supposition that Plato acknowledged that theorizing, contained in his dialogues and unwritten explanations, was necessarily subject to the limitations inherent to any philosophical investigation; that is, to the dialectic; or we admit the vigorous dogmatism of Plato and lines of thought elaborated by later Stoics and Neoplatonists.  If we accept the latter case, neither Plato, nor Arcesilaus or Carneades can be considered Skeptics and the title would be suitable only in reference to the Pyrrhonics. Unquestionably, the history of philosophy has been marked by both interpretations. Augustine of Hipona, who confirmed the esoteric dogmatism of the Academy31 is a qualified representative of the second, while Hegel, for whom the philosophy of the new Academy is indeed skeptical, clearly represents the first.

Undeniably, there is a certain dialectical and hence, skeptical seed in Plato’s philosophical stance, leading us to speak of a model wherein philosophy is conceived of as a shared search (suz/h/thsij) aimed at attaining the knowledge of reality.

29 Doubtless, the term “skeptic” would have meaning for Arcesilaus, as C. Lévy rightfully states in “La nouvelle académie a-t-elle été antiplatonicienne?”, in Contre Platon, Tome I, Le platonisme dévoilé, Textes réunis par Dixsaut, M., Paris, 1993, pp. 140-141, just as the same term does not appear to have much meaning for Pyrrho.  Aenesidemus was responsible for reconstructing his Pyrrhonic model (earlier I made the distinction between Pyrrhonic-the awareness of being immersed in a skeptical tradition-from Pyrrhonean- to follow Pyrrho ’s thought-, see Román Alcalá, R., El escepticismo antiguo, Op. cit, p. 28, note, 20) on the abderite-Pyrrhonean tradition, which is different from the Socratic-Platonic tradition. However, it does not mean that the use of the term “skeptic” as a suitable description-as I stated above-of an investigative method, which is also academic, is to isolate this philosophical thought from its historical context.

30 In order to clarify this question we must turn to one of Gellius’ fundamental texts that proposes the basic distinction between Academics and Pyrrhonics: “because the Academics do, as it were, “comprehend” the very fact that nothing can be comprehended, and, as it were, decide that nothing can be decided, while the Pyrronians assert that not even that can by any means be regarded as true, because nothing is regarded as true, Gellius, Noct. Att., XI, V. Sextus would use this same argument, cf. P.H., I, 226.

31 Cf. Augustine of Hipona, Confessions, VI, 11, 18 or Against the Academics, III, 20, 43. The notion that the dogmatic elements of Platonism were preserved in the Academy, revealed to only a select few, has been widely disputed; in my opinion successfully so by Levy, C., “Scepticisme et dogmatisme dans l'académie: l'ésotérisme d'Arcesilas”, Revue des Études Latines, 56, (1978), pp. 335-348.

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