Arcesilaus

Arcesilaus

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Arcesilaus (316/5-241/0 BC) was a Greek
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 philosopher and founder of the Second or Middle Academy
Platonic Academy
The Academy was founded by Plato in ca. 387 BC in Athens. Aristotle studied there for twenty years before founding his own school, the Lyceum. The Academy persisted throughout the Hellenistic period as a skeptical school, until coming to an end after the death of Philo of Larissa in 83 BC...

—the phase of Academic skepticism
Academic skepticism
Academic skepticism refers to the skeptical period of ancient Platonism dating from around 266 BC, when Arcesilaus became head of the Platonic Academy, until around 90 BC, when Antiochus of Ascalon rejected skepticism. Like their fellow Pyrrhonists, they maintained that knowledge of things is...

. Arcesilaus succeeded Crates
Crates of Athens
Crates of Athens was the son of Antigenes of the Thriasian deme, the pupil and eromenos of Polemo, and his successor as scholarch of the Platonic Academy, in 270/69 BC...

 as the sixth head (scholarch
Scholarch
A scholarch is the head of a school. The term was especially used for the heads of schools of philosophy in ancient Athens, such as the Platonic Academy, whose first scholarch was Plato himself...

) of the Academy c. 264 BC. He did not preserve his thoughts in writing, so his opinions can only be gleaned second-hand from what is preserved by later writers. He was the first Academic to adopt a position of philosophical skepticism
Philosophical skepticism
Philosophical skepticism is both a philosophical school of thought and a method that crosses disciplines and cultures. Many skeptics critically examine the meaning systems of their times, and this examination often results in a position of ambiguity or doubt...

, that is, he doubted the ability of the senses to discover truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

 about the world, although he may have continued to believe in the existence of truth itself. This brought in the skeptical phase of the Academy. His chief opponents were the Stoics and their belief that reality could be comprehended with certainty.

Life


Arcesilaus was born in Pitane
Pitane (Aeolis)
Pitane , near Çandarlı, Turkey, was an ancient Greek town of Aeolis, in Asia Minor. In ancient times it was a port city and a member of the Delian League. About 334 BC, Alexander the Great tried to take over the city, but was repulsed by Memnon of Rhodes and 5,000 Greek mercenaries provided by...

 in Aeolis
Aeolis
Aeolis or Aeolia was an area that comprised the west and northwestern region of Asia Minor, mostly along the coast, and also several offshore islands , where the Aeolian Greek city-states were located...

. His early education was provided by Autolycus
Autolycus of Pitane
Autolycus of Pitane was a Greek astronomer, mathematician, and geographer. The lunar crater Autolycus was named in his honour.- Life and work :Autolycus was born in Pitane, a town of Aeolis within Western Anatolia...

 the mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

, with whom he migrated to Sardis
Sardis
Sardis or Sardes was an ancient city at the location of modern Sart in Turkey's Manisa Province...

. Afterwards, he studied rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 in Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

; but adopted philosophy and became a disciple first of Theophrastus
Theophrastus
Theophrastus , a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He came to Athens at a young age, and initially studied in Plato's school. After Plato's death he attached himself to Aristotle. Aristotle bequeathed to Theophrastus his writings, and...

 and afterwards of Crantor
Crantor
Crantor was a Greek philosopher of the Old Academy, probably born around the middle of the 4th century BC, at Soli in Cilicia.-Life:Crantor moved to Athens in order to study philosophy, where he became a pupil of Xenocrates and a friend of Polemo, and one of the most distinguished supporters of...

. He subsequently became intimate with Polemo
Polemon (scholarch)
Polemon of Athens was an eminent Platonist philosopher and Plato's third successor as scholarch or head of the Academy from 314/313 to 270/269 BC...

 and Crates
Crates of Athens
Crates of Athens was the son of Antigenes of the Thriasian deme, the pupil and eromenos of Polemo, and his successor as scholarch of the Platonic Academy, in 270/69 BC...

, and eventually became head of the school (σχολάρχης).

Diogenes Laërtius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

 says that, like his successor Lacydes, he died of excessive drinking, but the testimony of others (e.g. Cleanthes
Cleanthes
Cleanthes , of Assos, was a Greek Stoic philosopher and the successor to Zeno as the second head of the Stoic school in Athens. Originally a boxer, he came to Athens where he took up philosophy, listening to Zeno's lectures. He supported himself by working as water-carrier at night. After the...

) and his own precepts discredit the story, and he is known to have been much respected by the Athenians.

Philosophy


Arcesilaus committed nothing to writing, his opinions were imperfectly known to his contemporaries, and can now only be gathered from the confused statements of his opponents. This makes his philosophy difficult to evaluate and partly inconsistent. This led scholars to see his skepticism in several ways. Some see his philosophy as completely negative or destructive of all philosophical views. Others regard him as taking the position that nothing can be known on the basis of his philosophical arguments. Others claimed he held no positive views on any philosophical topic, including the possibility of knowledge.

On the one hand, he is said to have restored the doctrines of Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 in an incorrupted form; while, on the other hand, according to Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

, he summed up his opinions in the formula, "that he knew nothing, not even his own ignorance." There are two ways of reconciling the difficulty: either we may suppose him to have thrown out such aphorisms as an exercise for his pupils, as Sextus Empiricus, who calls him a Sceptic, would have us believe; or he may have really doubted the esoteric meaning of Plato, and have supposed himself to have been stripping his works of the figments of the Dogmatists, while he was in fact taking from them all certain principles.

The Stoics were the chief opponents of Arcesilaus; he attacked their doctrine of a convincing conception (katalêptikê phantasia
Katalepsis
Katalepsis in Stoic philosophy, meant comprehension. It is a term that originally refers to the Stoic philosophers and was to them, a landmark ideological premise regarding one's state of mind as it relates to grasping fundamental philosophical concepts....

) as understood to be a mean between science and opinion - a mean which he asserted could not exist, and was merely the interpolation of a name. It involved a contradiction in terms, as the very idea of phantasia implied the possibility of false as well as true conceptions of the same object.

It is a question of some importance as to how the Academic skepticism
Academic skepticism
Academic skepticism refers to the skeptical period of ancient Platonism dating from around 266 BC, when Arcesilaus became head of the Platonic Academy, until around 90 BC, when Antiochus of Ascalon rejected skepticism. Like their fellow Pyrrhonists, they maintained that knowledge of things is...

 of the Middle and New Academy was distinguished from that of Pyrrhonism
Pyrrhonism
Pyrrhonism, or Pyrrhonian skepticism, was a school of skepticism founded by Aenesidemus in the 1st century BCE and recorded by Sextus Empiricus in the late 2nd century or early 3rd century CE. It was named after Pyrrho, a philosopher who lived from c. 360 to c. 270 BCE, although the relationship...

. Admitting the formula of Arcesilaus, "that he knew nothing, not even his own ignorance," to be an exposition of his real sentiments, it was impossible in one sense that skepticism could proceed further: but the Academic skeptics do not seem to have doubted the existence of truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

 in itself, only our capacities for obtaining it. It differed also from the principles of the pure skeptic in the practical tendency of its doctrines: while the object of the one was the attainment of perfect equanimity, the other seems rather to have retired from the barren field of speculation to practical life, and to have acknowledged some vestiges of a moral law within, at best but a probable guide, the possession of which, however, formed the real distinction between the sage and the fool. Slight as the difference may appear between the speculative statements of the two schools, a comparison of the lives of their founders and their respective successors leads to the conclusion, that a practical moderation was the characteristic of the Academic skeptics.

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