though certain skeptical ideas are found in earlier
Greek thinkers like Heraclitus (544-483 B.C.),
Xenophanes (580-485 B.C.), Cratylus (fl. 410
B.C.) and the Sophists Protagoras (490-410 B.C.)
and Gorgias (483-380 B.C.), skepticism as a philosophical
method is considered to have originated with
Pyrrho (365-270 B.C.) in the beginning of the
Hellenistic period. The great post-socratic systems
of Plato and Aristotle were dissolving into several
philosophical schools who rivaled in their attempts
to find a satisfactory explanation about the
human condition. Both Überweg (I, p.34)
and Bury (p.xxi) explain this preoccupation with
ethics by the difficult historical situation
of Greece from Alexander's times onward. Bury
calls the political and social conditions depressing,
so that the speculative theories about nature
and science predominant earlier needed to be
replaced with the more pragmatic focus of leading
a happy life in spite of adverse surroundings. "Philosophy,
in fact became the substitute for an out-of-date
and exploded religion, and had for its aim, not
the attainment of objective truth, but the provision
for a subjective spiritual salvation from the
manifold ills of life." (Bury, p.xxii). Überweg
(p.34) sees a more positive impact of these times
in the widening of horizons since the cultural
contacts established through Alexander's campaigns.
For him, the resulting cosmopolitanism causes
the trend towards practical subjectivism also
pointed out by Zeller. However, Überweg
(p.37) rightly underlines that this direction
is more important for the dogmatic schools of
Stoicism and Epicurism, whereas the skeptical
current, in spite of its aims, is grounded in
epistemological principles. Ernst von Aster (p.98)
considers it one of the most peculiar phenomena
that skepticism has been made the foundation
of a philosophical way of thinking and acknowledges
its importance in the climate of late antiquity,
where it merges with neoplatonic and stoic elements
into the kind of eclecticism typical for Cicero
and later Plutarch.
following discussion of skeptical thought will
adopt the historical classification outlined
by Brochard (p.37-39) whose masterpiece Les
sceptique grecs (1887) is still one of the
best treatises on the subject. Already Nietzsche,
who was a scholar of classical philology and
wrote a prize-winning article on Diogenes Laertius
(1868) as a student in Leipzig, comments in Ecce
homo (Werke, IV, p.1087) about "the
excellent study" and then proceeds to call
the skeptics the only honorable type amongst
the more than ambiguous tribes of philosophers
("dem so zwei- bis fünfdeutigen Volk
der Philosophen"). Brochard distinguishes
four periods of skepticism, and terms them moral
or practical skepticism (Pyrrho and Timon), dialectical
skepticism (Aenesidemus and Agrippa), and empirical
skepticism (Sextus Empiricus). Between the
first and the second period he considers the probabilistic
skepticism of the New Academy (Arcesilaus
and Carneades), where he also includes Philo
of Larissa and Antiochus of Ascalon. Goedeckemeyer
adopts a slightly different grouping with more
dangerous sounding labels, but both his and Brochard's
approach are basically chronological. In the
present paper, the chain of ancient skeptics
will therefore be discussed in the following
order: Pyrrho and Timon, Arcesilaus and Carneades,
Philo of Larissa and Antiochus, who accomplished
the return of the Academy to a dogmatic course,
Cicero, Aenesidemus and Agrippa, Menodotus and
Sextus Empiricus. Some less important philosophers
will also be considered.
Pyrrho to Sextus, roughly five centuries go by,
encompassing all of Hellenism (from Alexander's
death to the birth of Christ), the height and
decline of the Roman Imperium, and the rise of
Neo-platonism (Plotinus, 205-270 A.D., probably
was a contemporary of Sextus' disciple Saturninus,
ca. 250 A.D.). Skepticism has no place when strong
metaphysical needs become predominant, and Christianity,
fulfilling these needs, eclipsed the Greek philosophical
movement for centuries, until it was revived
during the Renaissance.
following diagram illustrates primitively the
time-frame and systematic filiation. The different
trends of skepticism are labeled in Brochard's
terminology, indicating Goedeckemeyer's in parenthesis.
Pyrrho (ca. 365-270 B.C.)
sources for Pyrrho's life and philosophical outlook
stem mainly from his immediate disciple Timon,
whose work however is only extant in a few fragments.
However, accounts of Timon's writings relevant
to Pyrrho can be found in Eusebios' (260-340
A.D.) Praeparatio evangelica (ch.XIV),
who uses Numenius, Nausiphanes and a certain
Aristocles (1st century
A.D.) who belonged to the peripatetic school;
Sextus Empiricus (Adv. math. I; XI; PH
I; III); Diogenes Laertius (ch.IX) who uses otherwise
little known authors like Antigonos of Carystos
(ca. 290 B.C.), Ascanios of Abdera, Nausiphanes
and Theodosius (ca. 175-242 B.C.?); and finally
Cicero (De fin. and Acad. I) and
Plutarch (Vita Alex.).
all of these sources then, Pyrrho's life and
intellectual development has been pieced together
by Brochard, Goedeckemeyer, Robin and various
others to give the following account: he was
born in modest surroundings in Elis on the Peleponese
around 365 B.C. Earning his living as a painter
of rather mediocre talent at first, he soon decided
to devote himself to the study of philosophy.
Two major influences are well documented. He
was first taught by a certain Bryson, who might
have been a disciple of Socrates (Brochard, p.52)
but was more likely of the Megarian school, renowned
for its brilliant dialectics, its mistrust of
sense impressions and its belief in the One.
More importantly, Pyrrho became the disciple
and friend of Anaxarchos of Abdera who introduced
him to the doctrines of Democritus and possibly
also to Cyrenaicism. He accompanied Alexander
the Great and Anaxarchos on the campaign to India
(ca. 327 B.C.), where he had the opportunity
to become acquainted with the wisdom of Eastern
philosophy. Anaxarchos, who is said to have combined
base flattery of the powerful in a way foreshadowing
Macchiavelli with more noble traits like disdain
of pleasure and prejudice (Robin, p.6), displayed
considerable courage when he was tortured to
death by Nicocreon of Cyprus (DL IX, 59). During
his ordeal, he braved his enemy saying that he
was not affected by the cruel treatment, and
when his tongue was cut to silence him, he spat
it into his oppressor's face.
his return from Asia, Pyrrho founded a school
in his home town and lived modestly with his
sister Philista, a midwife. Only twice did he
lose his much admired composure: once when he
sought refuge from a dog by climbing a tree,
and once when he lost his temper, scolding his
sister. These anecdotes are counterbalanced by
those reporting his brave attitude during a surgical
operation, and his indifference during a sea
storm, when he pointed out to his panic-stricken
fellow passengers a pig calmly eating away as
an example of philosophical behaviour. He died
in 270 B.C. greatly honoured and respected, at
the age of ninety.
from a poem dedicated to Alexander the Great
(SE, MI, 282), he wrote nothing, so that his
teaching is entirely known from secondary or
tertiary sources. He loved literature, in particular
Homer whom he quoted frequently. Especially often
he repeated the line "As leaves on trees,
such is the life of man." (Iliad,
VI, 146) and admired Homer's comparison of man
to wasps, flies and birds (DL IX, 67). The practical
goal of his philosophy was happiness. He defined
it similarly to Democritus' ataraxia as
a serene, trouble-free life and compared it to
the calm sea on a windless day. In order to achieve
an adequate state of mind for this inner piece
(adiaphoria), the wise man will strive
to free himself from strong emotions and desires
as well as from all prejudices. Philosophy is
the discipline showing him how to reach this
a fragment of Timon's Images repeated
in Sextus Empiricus (M XI, 20) Pyrrho seems to
have taken a rather dogmatic stance, affirming
to have a "standard of exact truth" and
a rule for "goodness" which allows
man a "life which is equal and just".
In disagreement with Brochard (p.63) and Richter
(v.1, p.315, n.84), Goedeckemeyer points out
that even with the skeptical restriction "as
it to me appears" in this passage, there
is no doubt about Pyrrho's conviction that he
knows and can teach the way to happiness. He
was apparently unaware of the inherent contradiction
with his own principles.
search for knowledge is, unlike the efforts of
the dogmatic schools, directed at the reality
of what appears rather than the truth of what
exists. And again unlike the dogmatics, his search
is seen as a means in achieving the goal of happiness.
Therefore, he starts his contemplation of the
objects in the natural, ethical or aesthetic
realms with a thorough investigation of the tools
used in gaining knowledge about them. He finds
that perception and judgement are necessarily
linked to the individual. They are therefore
subjective and of relative value. Since they
often reflect the objects in different and even
contradictory ways, man will never be able to
decide what the reality of things might be. As
a result he has to admit, that he is not properly
equipped to know and has to withhold judgement.
only is the reality inaccessible to man, it is
also useless and even harmful to attempt its
exploration. For all practical purposes, it is
sufficient to be guided by the appearances. In
an exploration of all philosophical systems known
to him he uses the dialectic method of weighing
the arguments for and those against them. This
leads him to the same result, namely that there
cannot be any decision in favour of any doctrine,
one being as valid (or invalid) as the next.
Again, suspension of judgement is the only sensible
solution. As Goedeckemeyer underlines (p.10,
n.5), there had been many attacks on the senses
and on reason before Pyrrho, but no one had ever
adopted similar criticisms as the very basis
of their philosophy.
each opinion can be opposed by another of equal
worth (isosthenia or antilogia),
it is best to follow the pyrrhonian formulas
of not knowing (akatalepsia), not leaning
towards any side (arrepsia), not saying
anything (aphasia) and remaining in suspense (epekeinten
sygkatathesin (?)). There also is the famous "neither
yes nor no" or "nowise more" (ouden
mallon, SE, PI, 191), which was later reformulated
to the even more uncertain interrogation ti
mallon (Brochard, p.55). Sextus Empiricus
explains extensively why these expressions only
seem to be affirmative or dogmatic statements:
they are meant subjectively, pertaining only
to what and how something appears. Furthermore,
like the fire consuming itself in burning or
the laxative being purged along with what it
eliminates, they are intended to be applied even
systematic doubt leading to these principles
of not-knowing does not, as has been immediately
suggested by the opponents of Pyrrhonian skepticism,
reduce those who endorse it to an entirely inactive,
vegetable- or plantlike mode of existence. When
Metrodorus of Chios, about two generations earlier,
opens his book On nature declaring that
we know nothing, not even if we know anything
or if anything exists or not (Goedeckemeyer,
p.3), he refers to ontological knowledge, which
is by definition of a theoretical and therefore
speculative nature. Just like Pyrrho, who knew
those opinions well through the quite similar
views of his teacher Anaxarchus, Metrodorus considers
the senses to be the insufficient, but necessary
source of knowledge. He emphasizes the fallacies
attached to man's subjective condition and the
impact of circumstantial relativity, concluding
that knowledge thus derived is bastardly and
illegitimate (Robin, p.6). He also points to
the indispensable need for order in the continually
changing stream of sense impressions, and he
sees this order guaranteed in social habits and
conventions, the most powerful expression of
them being language. On all these points, he
is in complete agreement with Pyrrho; unlike
Pyrrho, however, he gives some credit to the
rational means of knowledge and endorses Democritus'
theory of the atoms and empty space.
Note 12.5.2000: That sounds very much like Nietzsche in "Wahrheit & Lüge
im außermoralischen Sinn"... see Referee-Report,
rejection of theoretical knowledge is radical,
but his practical solution bears an obvious resemblance
to Metrodorus': there can be no doubt that something
appears white, that fire burns the skin, that
honey tastes sweet, that the day appears light
or the night dark. However, nobody knows if and
what these things are in themselves and outside
the perception of a particular person. The doubt,
then, is limited to the "hidden things" (adela),
to the unknowable essence or attributes of the
objects perceived. It does not pertain to the
appearances of these things (phainomena). For
living, it is entirely sufficient to follow the
rules of nature as clearly imposed by the senses
and those of the laws, customs and religions
of one's country, not because they are better
than others, but because all are of equal value,
and neither good nor bad.
may be a good deal of conservative laziness in
this ideal, but it displays down-to-earth common
sense. According to Brochard (p.59), "s'en tenir
au sens commun, et faire comme les autres, voilà la
règle qu'après Pyrrhon tous les
sceptiques ont adoptée." The skeptics in Pyrrho's wake
called themselves and were referred to by others
as described by Diogenes Laertius (IX, 69-70): "...
Pyrrhonian after the name of their master, but
Aporetics, Sceptics, Ephetics and even Zetetics,
from their principles, if we may call them such
- Zetetics, or seekers because they were ever
seeking truth, Sceptics or inquirers because
they were always looking for a solution and never
finding one, Ephetics or doubters because of
the state of mind which followed their inquiry,
I mean, suspense of judgement, and finally Aporetics
or those in perplexity, for not only they but
even dogmatic philosophers themselves in their
turn were often perplexed."
order to justify the not altogether obvious claim
that suspension of judgement or epoché should
lead to happiness, a somewhat meager argument
betraying sophistic rhetoric is advanced: dogmatic
opinions generate harmful side-effects in that
they present certain things as desirable, others
as undesirable. Unhappiness is therefore often
the direct result of such opinions: the privation
of a possession considered good causes envy,
restlessness, bitterness, etc., whereas its possession
solicits fear of loosing it, preoccupation about
securing it, etc. By eliminating the opinion
as to what is good or bad, all these emotional
disturbances detrimental to the goal of apathia, adiaphoria or ataraxia (Brochard,
p.58, uses any of these terms for the ideal of
inner peace shared by almost all ethical doctrines)
will disappear. Therefore, doubt is the
real and even the only good, since it leads to
the suspension of judgement which in turn is
the infallible cause for the inner peace called
(p.60) points out that Pyrrho is painted quite
differently, with much more stoic emphasis on
virtue and honesty and even reason by Cicero
and Plutarch, who probably use Posidonius as
one of their sources. Not much remains of Pyrrho's
doubt and epoché in their portrait.
Virtue has become the summum bonum, all
else is not only of equal importance and neutral,
but totally indifferent. Neither health nor sickness,
wealth nor poverty, life nor death represent
any interest whatever, and stoic apathia or
utter tranquility to the extent of numbness appears
as the desired consequence. The less rigid, more
common sense ideal of the pleasant calm on a
sunny, windless day corresponding to the adiaphoria mentioned
in older sources seems more in tune with Pyrrho's
character traits as far as they can be determined.
He not only advocated this ideal, he applied
it to living with fairly good success. He seems
to have won the esteem of his contemporaries
and the enthusiastic admiration of his disciples.
are Nausiphanes, who was Epicure's teacher, Hecataeus
of Teos, who also had cynic and stoic affinities;
Theodorus, the Cyrenaic philosopher, who used
pyrrhonian arguments for hedonistic purposes;
Eurylochus who had difficulties mastering his
temper according to an anecdote showing him in
pursuit of his cook with a spit in hand (DL,
IX, 68); Philo of Athens, who kept to himself
and was indifferent to glory; and, most importantly,
Timon (ca. 325-235 B.C.)
for Timon are the fragments of his work, and
accounts by Diogenes Laertius who draws from
Apollodorus' Chronika as well as from
Hippobotus and Sotion; Antigonus of Carystes' Life
of Timon, Sextus Empiricus, Athenaios, and
Aristocles in Eusebius (XIV, 18, 2) whose account
relating to Timon is translated in Brochard (p.54).
was born around 325 B.C. in Phlius and was orphaned
at an early age. First he became a dancer, but
then took up philosophy with the Megarian Stilpo,
who also taught Zeno and is believed to have
influenced Stoicism. When he returned to Phlius,
he married and met Pyrrho, who was on his way
to Delphi. This encounter caused Timon to move
with his wife to Elis, where he gathered a widespread
philosophical knowledge under Pyrrho's instruction.
Driven by poverty, he left for Chaledon and Byzanz,
where he acquired a fortune through sophistic
teachings. He seems to have known Aratus, whom
he advised in matters related to a planned edition
of Homer's works (SE, M, I, 53; DL, IX, 113).
Around 275 B.C., he settled for the rest of his
life in Athens, where he died in 235 B.C. at
the age of ninety.
greatly admired Pyrrho, comparing him to the
sun illuminating mankind with his particular
wisdom, and made it his major task to give an
orderly, because written account of Pyrrho's Weltanschauung.
He was very productive, and wrote "in the
time he could spare from philosophy" (DL,
X, 111ff.) poems, tragedies, satires, comedies,
and prose works of some 20,000 lines. Most important
are his Silles or Lampoons (about
150 lines extant) and his Indolmoi or Images (only
13 verses known), small fractions of which are
all that remain today. As shown by the testimony
of Aristocles (Eusebius XIV, 18, 2), Timon deviates
little from Pyrrho's position.
Wachsmuth (p.29), Goedeckemeyer (p.22, n.9) does
not believe that Aristocles' account stems from
an independent treatise by Timon entitled Peri
Eudaimonias, but rather from his earliest
work Python, where he relates his first
encounter with Pyrrho, and expounds the theoretical
and practical principles of skepticism as proven
by the use of the ouden mallon and the
emphasis on appearances quoted by Diogenes
Laertius (IX, 76 and 107). It states that happiness
is the goal of man's thriving. In order to achieve
it, three questions need to be explored: what
is the nature of things, how should man relate
to them, what is the result of man's attitude
answers are: the investigation of the nature
of things shows that conflicting arguments put
forth for their explanation are of equal value,
which demonstrates that they cannot be known.
Our senses and judgement are of no help, since
they are necessarily subjective. Consequently,
in answer to the second question, one must remain
in suspense and abstain from adopting opinions
of any sort. The result then is the epoché (according
to Goedeckemeyer (p.24, n.4) both Pyrrho and
Timon used of this term), causing aphasia, or
the non-voicing of any opinion, on a practical
without any link to the contemporary stoic emphasis
on the goal (telos) in ethical matters,
the epoché is now identified with
the telos, since it automatically brings
about the desired peace, i.e. happiness: "The
end (telos) to be realized (Pyrrho and
Timon) hold to be suspension of judgement (epoché),
which brings with it tranquility (ataraxia)
like its shadow" (DL, IX, 107). "The
skeptics found that quietude (ataraxia),
as if by chance, followed upon their suspense
(of judgement, epoché), even as
a shadow follows its substance." (SE, P
goes beyond Pyrrho's refutation of the senses
and judgement, rejecting also their combined
forces. As reported by Diogenes Laertius (IX,
114), "he was constantly in the habit of
quoting to those who would admit the evidence
of the senses when confirmed by judgement of
the mind, the line - Birds of a feather flock
together" (synelthen Attagas te kai Noumenios).
Attagas and Noumenios being two notorious thieves,
this amounts to saying that if two crooks (the
senses and reason) work together, the result
has to be crooked.
reproach from dogmatic directions, that the epoché makes
all decisions necessary for living impossible,
Timon counters that the phenomena and habit are
perfectly sufficient guides for this purpose
(SE, M VI, 30; DL, IX, 105). The Indolmoi must
have been a treatise on ethics not devoid of
dogmatic tendencies (Brochard, p.85). Timon insists
that nothing is good by nature and that the laws
are of conventional origin (Hirzel, p.56). Happiness
is jeopardized by the false opinions (or conceits as Indolmoi are
rendered in DL, IX, 105) with which the dogmatics
abuse the public. Real happiness can only be
achieved through the freedom from such harmful
and misleading "images" and by not
deviating from the appearances as given by the
senses. There is a noticeable polemic streak
in these argumentations. Robin (p.34) believes
that Timon loved this sort of dispute, and Brochard
(p.84) compares his belligerent verve to those
of the Cynics.
satirical element is especially strong in the Silles,
where Timon subjects old and contemporary philosophers
to a merciless, sardonic scrutiny. Wachsmuth,
the ingenious editor of the Silles, has
shown that each of the extant hexameters can
be seen as the travesty of a Homerian verse (Brochard,
p.82). He distinguishes three books: in the first,
the shadows of ancient philosophers are evoked
in a continuous exposition, reminiscent of Homer's Nekyia in
the eleventh chant of the Odyssey. All
of them receive their share of insults. The second
and third books consist of a dialogue, where
Xenophanes answers Timon's questions. The philosophers
first engage in a furious discussion (2nd book)
ridiculing themselves, until Pyrrho appears,
who then wins everyone's applause. In the third
book, they are depicted in an enormous fish tank.
The dogmatics, especially the Stoics and Epicureans,
try to capture the others with nets far too delicate,
so that their prey can easily escape. The Academicians
are a swarm of fish, with Plato in front and
protected by Pyrrho from behind. Arcesilaus,
whom Timon liked to mock more than anyone else,
is a poor little fish hiding behind others (Robin,
few of these philosophers are acknowledged to
have some skeptical virtues. Timon displays here
the extent of his philosophical learning and
provides an interesting genealogy of skepticism. Xenophanes is
admitted into the illustrious circle because
of his resigned saying that all human knowledge
is nothing but opinion; even if someone chances
upon the truth, he would not be in a position
to know it. Parmenides, because he questioned
the trustworthiness of the senses; Zeno,
because of his dialectics against both thesis
and antithesis; Melissus, because he is
freer from speculations than most dogmatics; Protagoras,
because of his statement that neither the existence
nor the essence of the gods can be known; Democritus,
because his reservations about the senses and
knowledge in general; Socrates, because
of his wise refusal to speculate about the nature
of things and his preoccupation with ethics;
and finally Arcesilaus is credited, But
only later, in his Funeral Banquet of Arcesilaus (Arcesilaou
Perideipnon), Timon gives him the honorary title
of a skeptic.
a treatise against the philosophers of nature
(Pros tous physicos, SE, M III, 2), which
could be part of the Silles (Brochard,
p.81), Timon refuses the validity of hypotheses,
and underlines that even axiomatic assumptions
such as the coming into existence and the cessation
of existence, spatial and temporal movement and
qualitative and quantitative change are impossible
to explain rationally because of the problem
of time. Since the present constantly changes
into the past and the future constantly turns
into the present, it is impossible to make any
statements about what is. Brochard (p.88) points
out that the objection against hypotheses anticipates
already one of the five tropes attributed to
Agrippa. In Timon's opinion, all such speculative
philosophy is utterly useless for living. The
pragmatic tendency already evident in the particular
ethical bend of his and Pyrrho's philosophy is
further emphasized by this total rejection of
any inquiry into the essence of being. Typical
is therefore his leniency towards the practical aspect
of philology, and to some extent also medicine.
Sextus Empiricus (M I, 53ff.) explains that Timon
judged the art of reading and writing to be useful
to life, whereas endless discussions about which
sounds are naturally vowels or consonants and
whether they are long or short are "boastful
and needlessly inquisitive".
Pyrrho, Timon applied his philosophical principles.
His temperament being more gregarious than his
master's, he had to apply himself harder to achieve
the desired adiaphoria. He was renowned
for his fondness for wine and witty disputes.
But he also was said to enjoy quiet retreats
in the gardens. When studying, he was sensitive
to the disturbances caused "by maids, servants
and dogs" (DL, IX, 113). On the other hand,
he gave evidence of near perfect indifference
in that he easily could forego his dinner, and
gave no importance to his written output, letting
his writings lie about so that the mice could
gnaw at them, and he seemed never able to find
a particular part when he was looking for it.
Laertius (IX, 115-116) reports two conflicting
opinions about the further development of Pyrrhonism.
According to Menodotus, there was an eclipse
after Timon until Ptolemy of Cyrene. According
to Sotion and Hippobotus, Timon's disciples Dioscurides
of Cyprus, Nicolochus of Rhodes, Euphranor of
Selencia, and Praylus of the Troad carried on
the tradition. From Euphranor, there is a steady
line of successors up to Sextus Empiricus.
(p.29) does not see any contradiction in these
statements. In his opinion, it can be explained
by different viewpoints, Menodotus looking at
the pyrrhonian content, Sotion and Hippobotus
at the historical filiation of skeptical teaching.
He remarks that the centre of influence seems
to have moved from Athens to Alexandria, and
that already after Euphranor there was a blending
of skeptical principles with empirical medicine.
Both he (p.30) and Brochard (p.90) agree that
philosophical skepticism was continued in the
Academy, having been introduced there by Timon's
contemporary Arcesilaus who first was his adversary
and later seems to have become his friend.
Arcesilaus (ca. 315-241 B.C.)
main sources on Arcesilaus are Cicero, Antigonus
of Carystos in Diogenes Laertius, Numenius in
Eusebius, St. Augustine and Plutarch. He was
born in Pitane to wealthy parents around 315
B.C., and was destined to become a rhetorician
by his eldest half-brother, Moreas. His favorite
brother, Pylades, helped him to follow his inclination
for philosophy, smuggling him first to Chios,
and from there to Athens, where he avidly studied
a variety of subjects including mathematics and
Theophrastus appreciated him as an extremely
gifted pupil, he was convinced by Crantor to
join the Academy, where he entered into the circle
of Polemon and Crates. Crantor is reported to
have left him his fortune when he died. He knew
Plato's writings well and admired them profoundly;
Homer and Pindar were his favorite literary authors.
Apart from some epigrams and an exposition of
his philosophical viewpoint for King Eumenes
I (DL, IV, 38), he appears to have written nothing
for publication. After Crates' death, he succeeded
him in the direction of the Academy.
description of his character is somewhat contradictory,
but Brochard (p.101), Goedeckemeyer (p.31) and
Robin (p.41) agree that the reports in Diogenes
Laertius of loose morals, in particular the accusations
of homosexual leanings, not excluding his friendship
with Crantor, and of his excessive fondness of
wine have to be attributed to the slanderous
efforts of a certain Aristippus. They are counterbalanced
by more favorable accounts in Cicero's and especially
Plutarch's writings (Goedeckemeyer, p.33), showing
his generosity towards friends in need, his modesty,
tolerance and unusual lack of flattery towards
King Antigonus Gnonatas.
extraordinary rhetorical gift, supported by a
pleasant appearance, seems to be acknowledged
unanimously by foe and friend alike, and his
enormous success may account for some of the
jealousy documented. Epicure (Plutarch, Adv.
Col., 26), for instance, has been reportedly
envious of Arcesilaus' popularity. Admittedly,
he was a bon-vivant, enjoying both his wealth
and social contacts. He furthermore favoured
controversial arguments of any sort, not because
he was convinced of a certain view-point, but
because he loved arguing while demonstrating
the uncertainty of any particular position in
principle. Being himself often attacked by Timon,
he liked to refute Zenon's views. Some say that
the founder of the Stoa was his fellow student
in Polemon's Academy, others reject this as chronologically
impossible (Brochard, p.119).
Arcesilaus' versatility, and his widespread education
in philosophical and related matters, his personal
acquaintance with Zeno is at least possible,
as is his contact with Pyrrho and Menedemus;
only the Megarian Diodorus Cronos (d. 307) he
cannot have known. Nevertheless, a famous, much
quoted persiflage of a verse in Homer's Iliad (VI,
181) by the Stoic Ariston of Chios describes
Arcesilaus as being Plato in front, Diodorus
in the middle and Pyrrho in the back, and illustrates
his non-dogmatic acceptance of varied influences.
It is generally interpreted to mean that Arcesilaus
claimed to be of the Academy, but really was
a Skeptic using Megarian dialectics (Robin, p.41).
Antiquity there has been much debate about Arcesilaus'
particular kind of skepticism. The point in question
is whether he continued the Pyrrhonian or rather
the Socratic-platonic tradition. Brochard (p.96)
sees him developing skeptical germs already contained
in Plato and Socrates, and rebukes Hirzel (v.III,
p.36) for affirming a return to Socratic ideas.
Goedeckemeyer (p.33), in opposition to both Hirzel
and Brochard, maintains that he follows Pyrrhonian
skepticism to its logical consequences, only
using Socratic methods in achieving this goal.
He also sees Cyrenaic influences at work (p.32),
whereas Robin (p.48) finds a resemblance with
certain Cynic elements. All agree, that Arcesilaus'
predominant preoccupation is his opposition to
contemporary Stoic dogmatism.
to Goedeckemeyer (p.32), Arcesilaus became familiar
with Pyrrhonian skepticism through the Cyrenaic
Theodorus, the Atheist (Diocles, in Eusebius,
XLV, 66) and found a Weltanschauung in
total agreement with his own inclinations. In
order to reconcile the Academic position with
this kind of attitude, he used a large amount
of quotations illustrating the presence of doubt
in Socrates, Plato, Parmenides and Heraclitus
(Plutarch, Adv. Col. XXVIL, 2), in Empedocles,
Anaxagoras, Democritus and Xenophanes (Cicero, De
orat., III, 18, 67). Socrates seemed to him
much better suited than Plato for this purpose,
since he consistently advocated the impossibility
of knowledge (Laktantius, Instit. div.,
III, 6). In agreement with the basic Pyrrhonian
precept, Arcesilaus maintains that everything
is cloaked in absolute and impenetrable darkness,
and neither the senses nor reason can shed enough
light to gain any sort of assurance about the
essence of being. In close argumentation along
Stoic lines, he first acknowledges true and false
representations, then underlines the impossibility
to distinguish between them.
Stoic criterion for truth being the katalepsis or
comprehension, he applies himself to discredit
its validity, compiling examples for ambiguous
realities like erroneous sense-impressions, dreams,
drunkenness, demented visions, simply identical
appearances, like two eggs or twins, or the Megarian sorites,
making it impossible to decide, for instance,
when a weak kataleptic impression turns into
a strong akataleptic one. It follows that certain
knowledge is impossible. Brochard (p.106) declares
that the Stoics had to admit defeat in matters
concerning the criterion, but that they took
revenge by asking how life could be possible
for someone who advocates the suspense of judgement
in all matters.
(p.37) considers Arcesilaus' consequential reasoning
to be the only justifiable position from an epistemological
viewpoint. Arcesilaus accuses Socrates of dogmatism,
since he affirmed that nothing can be known.
He goes beyond this negative-dogmatic position
and equivalent Pyrrhonian statements in including
them in his form of absolute doubt (Cicero, Acad. I,
12, 45): that we know nothing is as uncertain
as everything else. Paradoxically, the total
negation of knowledge does not preclude further
scientific investigation, and the search for
truth, in agreement with traditional Academic
goals, remains unmolested. It therefore allows
a more positive attitude than the resigned, passive
acceptance of existant laws and customs advocated
by the Pyrrhonians.
the Stoic ethical dogmatism Arcesilaus argues
on relativistic lines, that neither wealth nor
poverty, pain nor death could be considered good
or bad, and that nothing he knew of was in itself
of firm, absolute value. Applying the polemic
gift characteristic of him, he added that if
anything could be considered good, it would be
the epoché or suspension of judgement,
whereas the bad must be seen in rash consent.
Happiness (eudaimonia) is for him, as
for many others, the goal of ethical conduct,
but Goedeckemeyer (p.42) points out that it remains
undefined and therefore completely vague. Arcesilaus
had to refute, however, the Stoic charges of
the inability to live, and prove that the goal
of happiness could well be attained on Skeptical
principles. Action, he underlined, is not dependent
on knowledge; even quite nebulous impulsions
lead to action. He argued in favour of a purely
practical wisdom (phronesis), based on
the natural inclinations of a given individual.
The criterion for action is the eulogon,
or what is reasonable, and this may be considered
a synonym for common sense. (Brochard, p.111).
Empiricus (P I, 234), Cicero (Acad. II,
18, 60) and Numenius (Eusebius, VI, 6) report
that Arcesilaus was accused by some of advocating
Skepticism on the surface only, hiding the treasures
of an esoteric (Platonist ?) dogmatism exclusively
for worthwhile candidates or for better, less
Skeptical times (Brochard, p..115). Brochard
(p.116) and Robin (p.69) reject this rumour,
the latter on the grounds that any sort of Pythagorean
or other mysticism are incompatible with Arcesilaus'
characteristics. Brochard (p.116) points out
that this speculation was nevertheless tenacious,
being still endorsed, for instance, by Saint
Augustine. Clearly putting forth a personal opinion,
the father of the Church claims (Contra acad.,
I, 17, 38) that Arcesilaus had to put up with
Stoicism because of its popularity. The mortality
of the soul and a generally materialistic conception
of existence gaining in acceptance, he had to
pretend to agree, while hiding Platonic truth
for a more enlightened posterity. Brochard himself
intimates (p.97) that Arcesilaus might have had
in mind, with his radical criticism of the senses
and reason, "a higher kind of certitude,
and of a different nature" (my transl.).
It seems more convincing to assume with Goedeckemeyer
a less religious and more philosophical, in particular
epistemological, direction in the aims of the
Greek thinker, who introduced skepticism into
Lacydes (d. 204 B.C.)
was succeeded by Lacydes, whose life was recorded
by Diogenes Laertius and and also by Numenius.
He headed the Academy for twenty-six years (230-204
B.C., DL, IV, 61), was renowned for being a hard
worker and drinker, and was said to have a pleasant
personality. Suidas' article Lacydes mentions
two treatises, Philosophia and Peri
physeos, and there as in general Lacydes
apparently adhered to Arcesilaus' opinions without
much modification. His disciples, Telekles and
Evandrus, headed the school towards the end of
his lifetime (from 223 onwards), and were succeeded
by Hegesinus of Pergamos. According to Goedeckemeyer
(p.50), he established a short-lived peace with
the Stoic school (Numenius, Eusebius XIV, 8,
1). But his disciple Carneades, considered by
many (Strabo, XVI, 838; Cicero, De orat. III,
36, 147; Plutarch, De comnot. I, 4) the
most important representative of the Middle Academy,
returned to Arcesilaus' opinions and renewed
the old feud on a much larger basis.
Carneades (214-129 B.C.)
main sources for Carneades are Diogenes Laertius
and Plutarch, but both report little on his philosophy.
Cicero, Numenius and Sextus Empiricus give detailed
accounts of his teaching as they were described
in the numerous writings of Carneades' disciple
Clitomachus. Unlike Carneades, who wrote nothing,
Clitomachus is reported to have composed some
four hundred treatises; none of them are extant.
Carneades professed a severe or milder form of
Skepticism was a matter of heated debate among
his successors, Clitomachus advocating a stricter
tendency, two other disciples of Carneades, Charmadas
and Metrodorus of Stratonicea a milder interpretation.
Hirzel (v.III, p.172) compares the situation
to the conflicting indications about Socrates
in Plato's and Xenophon's writings. Both Hirzel
and Goedeckemeyer (p.102) agree that Charmadas
and Metrodos were victorious and that theirs
became the generally accepted interpretation
of Carneades' skepsis for all subsequent classical
was born in Cyrene, on Plato's birthday, in 214
B.C. When he came to Athens, he acquired a thorough
philosophical knowledge, studying all existing
schools and the older philosophers before joining
the Academy under Hegesinus. In particular, he
applied himself to Chrysippus' writings from
which he retained the terminology and a large
number of arguments, using them for his purposes.
He acknowledged this influence by saying that
if Chrysippus had not existed, there would have
been no Carneades (DL, IV, 62). Brochard (p.124)
considers him to be the most important philosopher
between Aristotle and Plotin; only Chrysippus
may come close to him, in his opinion.
was a tireless worker, readily neglecting his
appearance and foregoing his meals in order to
study. His rhetorical gifts were extraordinary;
he spoke with a powerful voice, and he excelled
when piqued by anger. Antipater could not match
him in public, and had to compose his attacks
against him in private, which earned him the
title "feather-screecher". Except for
the famous embassy to Rome in 156, his life was
exempt from noteworthy changes. He lived to be
ninety and suffered from blindness in his old
age. When his opponents reproached him for not
committing suicide like his Stoic adversary Antipater,
he replied that nature had assembled him and
would know when and how to dissolve him. His
death coincided with an eclipse of the moon which
was interpreted as a sign of celestial mourning.
philosophical position is largely determined
by his defense of Skepticism against the violent
attacks from all sides, in particular from the
Stoa. Robin (p.74) points out the similarity
with Chrysippus' situation: he had come to the
rescue of his school against Arcesilaus' criticisms,
applying many of his opponent's arguments to
his own Stoic system. Carneades had to defend
Arcesilaus' views and he now turned points elaborated
by Chrysippus into support for Academic skepticism.
Chrysippus and Antipater, the Peripatetic Hieronymus
Rhodius and the Epicurean Colotes insisted that
suspension of judgement was unnatural to man,
preventing him from making decisions and from
acting. They refused to accept Arcesilaus' solution,
that to act was possible without making decisions
and declared that without some kind of consent
one could not even decide, if a given being was
man or ant. Carneades agreed that man is endowed
with feelings and reason, and that some kind
of criterion is necessary for living. He thus
modified Arcesilaus' position to some extent,
so that the third or new Academy is said to originate
starts out by saying like other Skeptics before
him that everything is shrouded in complete darkness,
and denies the existence of a criterion for truth
in principle, not limiting his objections to
the Stoic criterion alone: neither the senses,
nor the general representations, nor reason,
nor custom suffice. For the senses, the relativity
of perception shows that they are like bad messengers:
a tower seems round when seen at a distance,
square from proximity; an oar seems straight
on land, bent in the water, etc. Since the senses
don't always provide us with reliable information,
they cannot be considered trustworthy. But since
they are the very basis of our apprehension of
reality, the resulting mental representations
are questionable also.
Stoa believed the relation between thing and
representation to be like a mirror-reflection,
and a large arsenal is newly employed to refute
this conception. First of all, there are representations
not reflecting any reality, such as monsters
in dreams, or hallucinations, and they can be
cause for quite real emotions, like fear. But
apart from this fundamental swipe at the Stoic
concept of a one-to-one representation, false
representations have been known; they cannot
provide certain knowledge, not coming about directly;
one cannot decide which ones are true; and there
are always cases of mimicry.
debate was centered around this last argument,
and Carneades compiled an impressive inventory
of anecdotes to prove his point: Castor and Pollux,
two eggs, two hairs, two grains of wheat, the
bronze statues of Lysippus and wax seals are
all confusingly alike. Furthermore, representations
differ both according to the subject and to circumstances:
in a fit of madness, Hercules believes he is
killing the children of his enemy, while he really
kills his own. The aspect of the skin in summer
is different from its appearance in winter, the
skin of the baby different from that of the old
person. Disease, movement, temperature and other
conditions will make it look different in the
same person, so who can decide what skin is?
and judgement depend entirely on uncertain representations
based on not less uncertain sense data. They
are attacked with the sorites of the heap
already used by Arcesilaus: where exactly does
a number of individual grains make a heap, and
when does a right judgement turn into a wrong
one? Carneades adds another sorites, the
liar: if you say that you lie and you speak the
truth, you are lying; now your are saying that
you lie and you speak truly, therefore you lie.
With its help he shows how dialectics as a typical
product of reason and as the very art of proof
eliminates its own foundation, and he compares
dialectical argumentation to Penelope's weaving
being constantly unraveled, or to a polyp devouring
its own arm.
relativity of customs served Carneades just like
the multitude of conflicting sense-impressions
to argue for the impossibility of certain knowledge.
Galen (De optima doctrina) reports that
Carneades did not even exclude some mathematical
propositions from relativity, as for instance
the one stating that two quantities being equal
in relation to a third are equal among themselves.
The only valid consequence of not knowing anything
is the epoché.
calls Carneades' doubt "radical", and
distinguishes it from Chrysippus' and Descartes
form of doubt, where it serves the role of attaining
truth. For Carneades, truth and certitude do
not exist in an absolute sense (Robin, p.95),
and accordingly his philosophy is of an entirely
subjective and relative nature (Brochard, p.137).
As with his predecessors, the existence of reality
is not in question, only man's means to apprehend
it as it is are doubtful. To Antipater's objection
that declaring things to be unknowable implies
at least this knowledge, Carneades retorts that
it is subjected to uncertainty along with all
the rest (Cicero, Acad. II, 9, 28).
spite of this radical form of epistemological
doubt, Carneades brings about a loosening of
the strict requirement of suspension of judgement
in the following manner: each thing can be viewed
from the standpoint of the object and the subject,
bringing about two categories of representation
(SE, M VII, 166ff.). In relation to the object,
they appear either true or false, and any conclusive
judgement about them has proven impossible. In
relation to the subject they appear either probable
or improbable to varying degrees. Our judgements
and actions are to be based on those more or
properties of objects are never perceived in
an isolated fashion, since our perceptions are
always composite: a man is seen in his size,
in his movements, with colour and clothing, and
along with him the background is taken in. The
concurrence of all these factors emphasize probability;
if there is conflicting evidence, the probability
fades. In everyday life, most representations
are accepted on these grounds with a high degree
of probability, but some circumstances call for
a closer examination of the facts.
someone enters a dark house and sees a coil of
rope, there is a possibility that it is a snake.
The object is immobile; so are sluggish snakes.
But when poked, it does not move, while a snake
would; therefore, in all likelihood, it is a
rope and not a snake.
a less leisurely situation, a man running from
his enemies towards a shelter believes seeing
an opponent inside; since there is no time to
investigate the matter, he changes his course,
the possibility of danger being sufficient to
decide not to enter.
conclusion, the strictest epoché is
to be maintained in judgements concerning things
in their objective perspective or related to
their being, whereas affirmations are perfectly
in order for any subjective or practical evaluation.
Even as far as scientific endeavours are concerned,
Carneades' position allows for opinions as long
as they are not claiming to be truth, and are
clearly understood for what they are: more or
less likely probabilities.
(p.65) underlines Carneades' systematic approach
in the antidogmatic argumentation; he does not
attack so much individual dogmata, but combines
historical with methodological strategies in
order to point out the weakness of a given problem.
His aim is to prove its inherent and fundamental
uncertainty. But because the Stoa is the fiercest
opponent of the academic tradition, Zeno's, Chrysippus'
and Antipater's arguments are refuted in much
more detail than any other. In particular, for
questions concerning natural philosophy, theology
and ethics his argumentations have been preserved,
constituting a mine of examples and anecdotes
exploited by philosophers of all times (Brochard,
explain nature, he compiles the opinions of Thales,
Anaximander, Anaxagoras, Xenophanes, Parmenides,
Democritus, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Plato and
Pythagoras to conclude with the question whose
explanation is the most convincing. Since it
is impossible to choose, it must be admitted
that nature remains unknown. Even our own nature
is subject to diverse opinions, concerning both
the body and the soul, as well as any possible
relation between the two.
advocates a chance assembly of atoms moving without
cause; Heraclitus, Democritus, Empedocles and
Aristotle believe in universal causes and necessity.
The Stoic explanation of nature postulates an
animate universe, gifted with reason and organized
to the best interest of man, a conception closely
resembling Leibniz' best of all possible worlds.
The concentration of a superior rational power
inherent in all observable existence is God or
Jupiter, many partial manifestations finding
expression in less important deities. The Stoic
pantheon represents a problem related to the sorites of
the heap: since Jupiter has brothers like Neptune
and Pluto, why not consider the Nile and any
other body of water to be gods? If the sun is
a god, why not the day, the morning, the evening,
the month and the year? Temples have been erected
for allegorical notions like Faith, Concord,
Honour and Hope. Where is the dividing line of
conclude the existence of a superior being because
of the regular movement of the stars or similar
natural phenomena is not justified, nature itself
being quite sufficient a cause, as already the
Peripatetic Strato had advocated a century earlier.
To Chrysippus' metaphor of the world as the well
built mansion of God, Carneades therefore opposes
a world not built, but formed by nature. To the
extrapolation from supposed world harmony (sympatheia)
to a principle of universal reason (logos)
he polemically proves that the principle could
be equally seen in mathematics, music or philosophy
the gods are considered to be animate and corporeal,
reasonable and virtuous, Carneades points out
the illogical consequences: everything living
being subject to change, the gods must be mortal
rather than eternal. They cannot be perfect if
they possess reason and virtue, those qualities
being useful only to understand the unknown and
to practice the good; should they be neither
omniscient nor virtuous?
anthropomorphous concept of the Epicurean Gods
he counters with animal deities of the Egyptians
and other peoples, and with the relativity of
all esthetic judgements, questioning the superior
beauty of the human body. Why the Gods, living
in continual bliss, would need a body at all,
having no use of it, is a question for which
the Epicureans never found any satisfactory explanation.
alleged provision for man is questioned on the
grounds of all sorts of creatures being absolutely
useless, unpleasant, or dangerous to man, such
as whales, flies or scorpions. And is the pig's
purpose of being, as Chrysippus claimed, really
to be slaughtered and eaten by man?
for the most marvelous present of the gods, reason,
Carneades points out that it is more often than
not used for questionable or criminal ends, citing
Medea and Atreus as examples. They would have
been both better and happier without it. The
Stoics insist that it is only the application
of reason which is bad, whereas the present remains
valuable in itself. Carneades retorts that already
the possibility of bad application makes the
assumption of a gift by solicitous, kind and
omniscient gods unlikely. And how can it be explained
that many virtuous humans live in utter misery,
whereas most of the ruthless prosper?
pointed are his attacks on stoic divination,
showing the contradiction between this practice
and the assumption of necessity. The Stoics reject
chance, everything being planned from all eternity.
But this begs the question, why there should
be any anticipation of the future in the first
it is incompatible with the freedom of will.
Without freedom of will, there is no reason for
making choices between good or bad actions, and
human responsibility is annihilated. The sophisticated
distinctions put forth by Chrysippus between
absolutely necessary and only potential causes
are rejected. Carneades accepts only necessary
or natural causes, and claims that voluntary
actions do not come about in the same causal
way, the will being itself the cause for action.
He accuses the stoics of confusing temporal succession
and causality. Hecuba can hardly be considered
the cause of Troy's ruin because she gave birth
to Paris; the well clothed traveler is not the
cause of robbery. Precedence in time is
not a sufficient condition for being a cause;
some inevitable consequence has to be present,
as is the case with a wound causing death, or
fire generating heat.
Against "scientific" divination,
in particular astrology, Carneades advances that,
unlike other sciences such as mathematics or
music or the arts, it does not have a proper
field of operation. The haphazard interpretation
of less than certain signs can be demonstrated
by the disagreement between diviners of various
origin, and by the rare accuracy of their prognostications.
continuity is obvious to anybody, ebb and flow
as well as the menstrual cycle and oysters' growth
are known to be related to the moon. But how
could the personal wishes of somebody be linked
to the earth, the sky and the entire universe?
How can it be explained that amongst so many
people born under the same constellation there
is only one Plato? And did all those perishing
in a shipwreck have an identical astrological
chart? If a mule and a man are born on the same
day, why is one destined to carry loads all his
life, while the other accedes to great honours?
for the so-called natural divination through
ecstasy, dreams or oracles, why, if the gods
want to communicate with man, do they have to
do it in such an unclear way? As far as the oracles
go, Demosthenes even accused the Pythea of having
partial views and of "philippising"! The
oracles are becoming rarer and rarer; is this
because the people are more educated and consequently
reports of a man, who dreamt of an egg and was
told by a diviner that he would find a treasure,
and he did. But haven't others dreamt of eggs
without finding gold, and couldn't the dream
have been more explicit? It is much more likely
that dreams are based on impressions gained during
the day than that they are muffled voices of
the gods. In last analysis, it is better not
to inquire about the future at all, and especially
not by such uncertain means.
his famous embassy to Rome in 156 B.C. Carneades
lectured on justice, the first day exposing all
the arguments for, the second all those against
it. Especially the latter are well known. He
defined justice as a human invention. Nature's
law is invariable and valid for all existence,
each living being looking for what is necessary
and good for it. Human law, apart from the obvious
relativity of legal rules and customs, changes
constantly even in one place and cannot be but
based on convention, contract and brute force.
The true root of the law is therefore injustice
rather than justice, and selfish gain is the
ruling principle, be it for the individual or
claims that the unjust lives in constant fear
and unrest, whereas the just has inner peace
and no worries may consider whether it is not
more desirable to be unjust but live as master
rather than being just and suffering under someone
man wanting to sell a rebellious slave or an
unsanitary house has interest in keeping these
flaws to himself, or else he will not be able
to sell. To ascertain his advantage, he will
be quiet and dishonest rather than vocal and
honest. A shipwrecked man encountering a weaker
victim perched on a plank will be just, but suicidal
if he doesn't secure the plank for himself; especially
if nobody looks on, he will be wise to opt for
such rather unethical survival. Powerful states
like Rome would abandon their conquered territories
and be content cultivating their own fields if
they were obeying "natural" justice.
Slavery and the exploitation of animals would
not exist if there were a natural law prescribing
the best for all beings. In conclusion, though
this is not put forth affirmatively, there is
no justice in the sense of a natural law.
was accused of preaching immorality, and Cato,
worrying about the strong impression Carneades'
accomplished rhetoric had made on Roman youth,
hurried to send the Greek delegation home.
the question of the ethical goal, the summum
bonum, Carneades attacks the stoic ideal
of virtue as supreme and unique good. Since the
Stoics also advocate a life according to nature,
they should acknowledge the natural advantages
as well, rather than trying to suppress or overcome
them. Antipater was forced to admit defeat on
this point (Brochard, p.157).
a systematic account of the highest good, Carneades
enumerates pleasure, absence of pain, and the
enjoyment of natural gifts like health, intellectual
faculties, the body, and similar things, and
lastly, the pursuit of the natural advantages
in themselves. Although in his usual fashion
he avoids declaring himself in favour of any
of these possibilities, it is believed that he
advocated following nature's leads, since they
impose themselves as a practical criterion for
the conduct of life without requiring any a
priori position. This is at least Brochard's
conclusion (p.160) after considering the diverging
opinions on Carneades' concept of the summum
bonum in several of Cicero's writings. Brochard
(p.162) defines Carneades' moral philosophy as
a position close to Aristotle's rule of the golden
mean and practical common sense. Easily accessible,
it allows a life of wise moderation not just
for a chosen few.
Clitomachus (ca. 187-110 B.C.)
or Hasdrubul by his original name, was born around
187 B.C. in Carthage and moved to Athens at the
age of twenty-four. For four years, he diligently
studied with Peripatetic, Stoic and Academic
philosophers, and then decided to join Carneades.
After nineteen years in the Academy he had a
dispute with his master, and founded at the age
of 47 (139 B.C.) his own school, which he led
for ten years. After Carneades death in 129 B.C.,
he returned as head of the Academy and kept this
position until his death.
rhetorically inclined than Carneades, he must
have devoted considerable time to the writing
of 400 works mostly based on his teacher's philosophy.
Brochard (p.187) considers him the father of
all Consolations, since he composed such
a treatise on the occasion of the destruction
of his hometown (Cicero, Tusc., III 22,
54). He also wrote four books on the epoché (Hirzel,
III, p.163) which were used extensively by Cicero
in his Academica (II, 31, 98: De sustendis
assensionibus). Two other works on the same
topic were dedicated to the poet C. Lucilius
and the consul L. Censorinus (Cicero, Acad.
II, 32, 102).
(p.98) attributes an austere Skepticism to Clitomachus
which also affected the influential interpretation
he gave of his teacher Carneades, and was followed
by his disciples Philo of Larissa and Heraclitus
of Tyrus. As mentioned earlier, Clitomachus'
outlook was not uncontested, since in Athens
the factions of Charmadas and Metrodorus of Stratonicea
were rivaling with him and with each other. The
Academy also appears to have had branches in
Larissa (Callicles), Naples (Aeschines), Rhodus
(Melanthius) and Alexandria (Zenodorus of Tyrus).
After Clitomachos' suicide in 110 B.C., the milder
form of skepticism advocated by Metrodorus and
Charmadas eventually became predominant in the
last important representative of the Skeptical
Academy, Philo of Larissa.
Philo of Larissa (ca. 150-78 B.C.)
main sources for his life and works are Cicero,
who uses him in his Academia, Sextus Empiricus,
Numenius, St. Augustine and Stobeus. He was born
around 150 B.C., and before he became the most
influential disciple of Clitomachos, he had been
studying for nine years with the Carneadean philosopher
Callicles in his hometown Larissa. During the
first Mithridatic war (89 B.C.) he fled to Rome,
where he supposedly stayed until his death (around
79 B.C.). While he headed the Academy after Clitomachos'
death, he represented the stricter tendency of
Skepticism in the same way as his predecessor.
disciple Antiochus of Ascalon, at one time a
fervent defendant of Philo's position, defected
to become an equally fervent advocate of Stoicism.
Using mainly the counter-skeptical arguments
of Antipater, he virulently attacked his former
mentor. In particular, he accused the Skeptical
Academicians of unjustly seeing their roots in
the doctrines of ancient philosophers, who might
have been expressing doubt here and there, but
who had been really quite dogmatic in many ways.
Especially Socrates, who used his doubting irony
only as a method, and Plato who founded a complete
philosophical system, could hardly be regarded
as skeptics. He pointed out that the probability
advanced by Carneades was of no help, since the
probable can be evaluated only in relation to
truth. He compared this solution to the blind
man who, after loosing his sight is assured that
he really has lost nothing since all can still
the zeal of the newly converted, he defended the
validity of the senses, rejecting Skeptical reproaches
because of the strictly pathological realms of
their arguments: drunkenness, insanity, mystical
ecstasy, etc. are hardly normal states, and in
the average situation the senses are perfectly
adequate. Even the likeness between certain objects
is no obstacle, the senses being amenable to training:
no mother would ever be in doubt about the distinctiveness
of her twins. Some peasants have been known to
identify, by glancing at an egg the hen who laid
it. Since the sense impressions are essential for
establishing notions, and since these are the foundation
of all arts and sciences, the Skeptics, by refuting
the senses, destroy the possibility of living,
and alienate man from his natural purposes.
though none of these arguments were new, they must
have been the most complete and systematic catalogue
brought forth so far (Goedeckemeyer, p.111). Under
their impact, Philo was forced to modify his strict
view of probability to a milder one. He defended
the Skeptical elements in the old philosophers,
and added Stilpo, Diodorus, the Cyrenaics and even
Chrysippus to the list. Against the senses, he
pointed out that they couldn't be all that perfect
if they had to be supported by art, science and
training, and that even under perfectly normal
conditions bronze statues and seals remain indistinguishable.
And failing once, they are untrustworthy for all
other purposes. Also, the sorites cannot
be destroyed by calling them silly or immoral,
but only by disproving them.
for the probable, he underlined that it was not
only sufficient for living, but that it was de
facto used as a criterion also by the Stoics.
The Skeptics, far from disavowing the existence
of truth, only refuse to acknowledge the possibility
of its apprehension. Abstaining from rash assent
was still the best attitude for the wise man in
matters not readily discernable, and even Panaitios
had refused to endorse an important dogma of his
school, namely divination. Compiling with more
systematic care than anybody before him arguments
from all schools and times, he concluded against
Antiochus that certainty had not been gained so
far in any aspect of philosophy. Epoché was
still as necessary as ever, all of the conflicting
positions being of equal strength.
accusation that the New Academy since Arcesilaus
wrongly claimed to be the continuation of the Old
Academy, he countered with the argument that Plato
was in his opinion a Skeptic. Important evidence
was Plato's method of exploring problems under
all possible aspects without ever advancing a firm
solution. Even in the question of knowing versus
opining there was hardly any difference between
the two Academies, the younger one being the rightful
successor of the older. Antiochus' attempt to reconcile
Stoicism with the Peripatos and Plato's Academy
he regarded as totally unjustified. But he added
that he was open to convincing arguments, and should
they be produced, he might abandon his Academic
affiliation to become a Stoic himself.
was furious (Cicero, Acad. II, 4, 11) and
accused Philo in his Sosus to have changed
direction in an unacceptable way. Philo countered
sharply, reaffirming his Academic position. He
underlined that the quest for truth in the multifaceted
Academic way was in itself of value, and far removed
from dogmatic intolerance. Any position should
never be fanatically defended, but be abandoned
in good grace whenever proven unlikely.
main concern of Philo's philosophy is ethics. Important
related issues in natural philosophy, like the
existence and direction of the world, the essence
of human nature and particularly the soul, he discarded
as being impenetrable. Establishing a parallel
between philosophy and medicine, that became important
later on with the tradition of Sextus Empiricus,
but had apparently been introduced by older philosophers,
as for instance Chrysippus, Philo gives ethics
a practical and psychological turn reminiscent
of Socrates (Goedeckemeyer, p.126).
(Eclog. II, 40 ff.) has preserved the resume
of an untitled moral treatise in six parts which
is attributed to Philo. The first is an exhortation
to lead a virtuous life (protreptikon);
the second lists remedies against bad and good
influences on the soul (therapeuticon);
the third sees happiness as the goal of philosophy,
using the medical metaphors of mental and psychological
health; the fourth prescribes means to preserve
this health in the way of living (peri bion)
and is divided into two parts, the second of which
counts for a separate (the fifth) division because
of its importance. The first deals with particular
concerns, such as whether the wise man should marry;
the second of more general import, such as the
foundation and administration of states. Finally,
considering the lack of wisdom predominant among
the masses, and due to their lack of leisure to
philosophize and to develop idle theoretical viewpoints,
a sixth part outlines in brief handbook form precepts
(hypothetikos logos) for all sorts of situations.
(p.207) finds a reflection of this "excellent" moral
writing in Cicero's De officiis, and, obviously
fond of Philo, he defines his wisdom as less "farouche" than
Pascal's and yet firmer than Montaigne's. Although
Brochard does not mention Montaigne explicitly,
he paraphrases a well known saying of his with
these words: "Il (Philo) n'estime pas ...
que l'ignorance et l'incuriosité soient
deux oreillers pour une tête bien faite" (see
for comparison Montaigne, III, 13, p.1073).
Philo's consideration for the masses, contrasting
so sharply with the Stoic distaste for the common
man, seems endearing. Brochard
considers Philo to be one of many representatives
of several Skeptical Academicians mistreated or
neglected by the history of philosophy, and described
in the following way: "Esprits déliés
et subtils, éloquents sans affectation et
ennemies de tout pédantisme, ouverts à toutes
les idées justes sans être dupes des
mots, sûrs dans leurs amitiés, les
nouveaux académiciens furent les plus aimables
de tous les philosphes" (p.208). With Philo, the New Academy
comes to an end, Antiochus giving it a decisive
turn towards the eclecticism which links it to
Cicero (106-43 B.C.)
to Goedeckemeyer (p.201), Cicero is the last blossom
of Academic Skepticism, and in agreement with this
opinion, he dedicates roughly seventy pages to
him. Considering Cicero's eclectic position, such
a treatment seems somewhat exaggerated. The detailed
profile does not give any convincing justification
for Cicero's prominent position in a history of
Greek skepticism. In many, if not all, essential
points Cicero appears closer to Stoicism, Platonism,
and the Peripatos.
wrote his philosophical works late in life during
more of less involuntary political retirement.
They reflect the extensive philosophical education
he received as a young man. The Epicurean Phaedrus
had an early influence on him, but Philo's teaching
in Rome made a more decisive impression, and Cicero
always considered himself an Academician. On Philo's
advice, he became acquainted with other major schools
of philosophy. He studied dialectics with the Stoic
Diodorus, and during his 78-77 educational journey
to Greece and Asia Minor, he met in Rhodus (where
he wanted to hear the famous rhetorician Apollodorus
Mola) one of the most eminent Stoics, Posidonius.
In Athens, he heard his former teacher as well
as the Epicurean Zeno, Phaedrus, Antiochus, and
perfected his rhetorical skills with the help of
a certain Demetrius.
he returned to Rome, he became Quaestor (76 B.C.),
and his subsequent political career left him, with
the exception of the short interruption of his
exile in 58-57, little time for philosophical studies
beyond mere reading. Greatly affected by the death
of his daughter Tullia in February of 45 B.C.,
he retired to his country domain in Asturia, where
he wrote in quick succession a Consolatio,
the Hortensius, and the two versions of
the Academica. In 44, he produced five books
on the highest goods and evils (De finibus bonorum
et malorum), five books of Tusculanae disputationes,
three on the gods (De natura deorum), two
on divination (De divinatione), a discussion
of old age (De senectute), one about fate (De
fato), one on friendship (Laelius),
two on glory (De honoribus), and finally
three on duty (De officiis).
Caesar's murder (March, 44) he had hoped in vain
for a renewal of the Republic. Most of 43 B.C.
he was leader of the Senate, in strong opposition
to Marcus Antonius, who had him murdered in December
of that year.
own writings are the principal source for his philosophical
evaluation. All closely follow Greek predecessors,
but not without critical selection and comment,
and all are displaying a particularly accomplished
the Academica, where he defends the skeptical
position of the New Academy against Lucullus' viewpoint
(based on Antiochus) and in the Tusculanae Disputationes,
Cicero most clearly reflects Academic skepticism.
According to Hirzel (III, p.314, 479), Philo is
the main source for both these treatises, but Goedeckemeyer
(p.146) considers Clitomachos' influence equally
important, and for this reason sees him advocating
the more severe form of Skepticism.
centre of Cicero's philosophy is the search for
happiness and truth, but for the practical aspects
of life the probable is much emphasized. Like Philo,
he considers the Old Academy, including Socrates,
as a predecessor of the New Academy, and he is
particularly fond of the Socratic goal of self-knowledge.
in his ontological viewpoint he closely follows
the Stoic opinion of a harmonious universe reflecting
the benevolent intentions of a superior reason.
Consequently, his pantheistic theology and his
anthropocentric conception of man clearly bear
resemblance to Stoic ideas, but with the exclusion
of fatality and divination. Further influence of
a milder stoicism represented by Panaitios and
Posidonius can be observed in the identification
of virtu with the summum bonum, and turpe (or
brutishness) with the summum malum. Man
is naturally good, but this characteristic is implanted
like a seed needing appropriate conditions to develop
its potential in the best possible way. Often it
is crippled by wrong education or detrimental experience.
But since man is endowed with free will, he can
and has to strive towards the fulfillment of his
fundamental dualism in Cicero's conception of the
world (the supralunar realm is ethereal, perfect,
and eternal, the sublunar region, although beautiful
and balanced in many ways, is material, has flaws,
and is subject to decay) and of man (the soul reflects
the qualities of supralunar essence, the body those
of sublunar characteristics) is in its spiritual
tendency modelled after Platonic doctrines. In
particular, Cicero's theory of learning and of
the soul suggests this affinity. The astounding
ability to learn and to remember can, in his opinion,
only be explained by the recollection of a knowledge
prior to one's existence. He sees in the soul the
only element in the sublunar region to escape decomposition,
because its reasonable part, being specifically
human, is of divine origin. Whereas discussions
about its nature - be it fiery, airy, liquid, ethereal
or otherwise - and its location are of no concern
to him, he believes in its special status, so that
death means nothing else but a deliverance from
earthly bounds. In other words, he is convinced
of the immortality of the soul and of a better
life after death.
is seen in a rather gloomy light: for most of us
it is nothing but never-ending plight and pain;
it is the exile from our original and perfect domain;
it is a cumbersome journey towards a safe haven.
The ancient philosophers were right when they considered
it a punishment to live, and believed it best not
to be born at all, second best to die as fast as
possible. However, it is not permissable to escape
cowardly by committing suicide. Everything has
to be supported with courage and only with explicit
invitation by the divinities may one exit life
(Tusc. II, 27, 66ff.), as for instance in
case of unbearable pain.
reasonable part of the soul is identified with
virtue. Its role is to master the unreasonable
part, which manifests itself in passions and affects,
and, when out of control, represents sheer brutishness
(turpe). Since happiness depends on virtue,
we can be in command of it by eradicating evil
with the suppression of demeaning emotions.
this stern emphasis on virtue seems at first glance
entirely stoic, Cicero really agrees with the Academic
and Peripatetic position in granting importance
to a certain degree of physical well-being and
even favourable external circumstances. But then
for him, there is no contradiction with the Stoic
doctrine, since the differences do not lie in unreconcilable
opinions, but rather in a quibbling over words.
Also, in the practical application of his moral
principles he advocates a road accessible to all,
reminiscent of the Peripatetic rule of the golden
mean already supported by Carneades and Philo,
but also by the Stoic Panaitius. To be just, to
be charitable and clement, to be moderate, not
to harm anybody,including slaves, to be courageous,
those are the norms to obey.
agreement with his own practice in life, Cicero
stresses participation in state affairs for the
well being of the social organism. Among the social
duties to be observed are religion (without superstition),
the fatherland, and one's parents. Rhetoric has
a prominent position in his philosophy, since it
is useful in political enterprises as well as moral
education. He sees it closely related to the Academic
method to argue pro and contra any
argument in an objective way. The aspect of duty
seems to be inspired by Panaitius (Bieler, p.121)
and adapted to Roman circumstances, but the pronounced
conservative tendency may be considered a skeptical
(Grundriss, p.247) sees Cicero's affiliation
with the Skeptical Academy in a purely formal light,
lying in the Academic method of argumentation.
Whatever doubt there is found in Cicero can be
related to general confusion due to the many conflicting
opinions advanced by the major philosophical schools.
He denies any originality on Cicero's part, and
considers Stoic dignity, laced with Platonic spirituality,
to be the predominant element.
opinion is more convincing than Hirzel's, who tries
to present Cicero as a firmer Skeptic than he really
is by minimizing the spiritual tendencies, and
Goedeckemeyer's who does not agree with Hirzel
on this point, but who grants Cicero a prominent
place in the history of skepticism. Bieler (p.118)
states that Cicero's philosophical works had little
impact on his contemporaries, who were for the
most part well acquainted with Greek philosophy
themselves. The Patristic and Renaissance, however,
drew heavily on these writings, so that Cicero
does have an important position in the history
of ideas as a mediator of Skepticism (Popkin, Skept.,
Aenesidemus (ca. 50 B.C.-10 A.D.)
Aenesidemus, Skepticism enters a new phase. Although
only remnants of his work have survived through
a summary in Photius, paraphrases in Sextus, or
discussions in Tertullian and Diogenes Laertius,
his philosophical opinions are relatively well
known. Biographical information about him is, unfortunately,
almost nonexistent. As Brochard points out, any
date between 80 B.C. and 130 A.D. has been proposed
for the height of his activity. Like many others,
Brochard sees him as a contemporary of Philo of
Larissa, Antiochus of Ascalon and the young Cicero
in the eighties or seventies of the first century
(p.211) advances quite convincingly that he was
influential during the second half of that century,
from the low forties to the late twenties. He offers
the most elaborate network of cross-references
ranging form Philo Judaeus (30 B.C. - 50 A.D.)
to Photius (9th century
A.D.) and concludes that Aenesidemus' Pyrrhoneioi
logoi in eight volumes, dedicated to his friend
and fellow-student in the New Academy, L. Tubero,
must have appeared shortly before or after Cicero's
death in 43 B.C. Cicero, who was also a friend
of L. Tubero, and roughly of the same age, does
not seem to have known Aenesidemus' works. Aenesidemus'
reproach that certain representatives of the New
Academy were almost entirely Stoic might not have
been aimed at Philo, but his disciples Eudorus
or Arius Didymus, and perhaps even Cicero (Goedeckemeyer,
is known that Aenesidemus came from Knossos in
Crete and taught in Alexandria (DL IX, 116). According
to Diogenes Laertius (ibid.), a Pyrrhonian trend
of Skepticism was extant there at that time, and
a certain Heraclides (of Erythrea ?) seems to have
been Aenesidemus' teacher. He also must have been
closely associated with the mitigated skepticism
of the New Academy. The Pyrrhonian sentences were
apparently meant to explain and justify to his
fellow student Tubero why he rejected the Academy
and adopted Pyrrhonian Skeptical principles. All
eight books are summarized in Photius (Cod. 212).
the first, Aenesidemus accuses the New Academicians
of dogmatizing along the lines of Stoicism in distinguishing
between good and bad, true and false, wisdom and
folly, and just stopping short of accepting the phantasia
kataleptike. The Pyrrhonians, in contrast,
are not affirming or denying anything. Since nothing
has yet been established with certainty, suspension
of judgement is indicated as outlined in the Pyrrhonian
doctrine or rather direction (agoge). The
second book treats causality, movement, generation
and destruction; the third, sensations and thought;
the fourth, signs and ontology (nature, the world,
the gods). The fifth presents the eight tropes
of etiology, showing that causes are unknowable.
The sixth deals with good and evil, the seventh
with virtues. The eighth book demonstrates that
neither happiness, nor pleasure, nor wisdom can
be the ultimate goal (summum bonum), and
that there is nothing man could postulate as final
objective (Brochard. p.248-249).
famous ten tropes (or topoi, logoi;
Brochard, p.254) enumerated in Diogenes Laertius
(IX, 78; 87) and, less reliably, in Sextus Empiricus
(P I, 36-163) constitute a methodological catalogue
of Skeptical arguments against certainty, be it
of a sensible, rational or scientific nature, and
are meant to lead as a logical consequence to the
suspension of judgement. They stem from Aenesidemus' Hypotyposis
eis ta Pyrrhoneia (DL, IX, 78; Aristocles,
Eus. XIV, 18,11), and may be either the title (Haas)
or part of the Pyrrhoneioi logoi (Ritter),
or an independent treatise (Zeller; Saisset). Certain
things produce in us similar effects, so that they
seem certain because of their habitual occurrence.
However, the opposite beliefs are just as founded
as the ones we tend to believe in. Distinguishing
between them is impossible, since they carry equal
first trope points out that animals (including
man) are born and equipped in different ways, and
that therefore perceptions are quite varied. For
instance, the sense of touch differs with the surface
of skin, feather, scale or shell. There is no reason
to believe that human perception is superior to
that of the animals', it being impossible to decide
whose senses capture reality more adequately.
second trope deals with the differences among the
physical and mental constitution of man. How can
one chose a valid criterion? The consensus of the
majority is impractical, since it can never be
determined in a satisfactory way due to the inexhaustible
dimension of time and space.
third trope addresses the diversity in human perception.
A painting seems to reflect a relief to the eye,
yet the touch reveals no prominence. Perfume smells
good, but tastes bad. An apple could have qualities
not detected by the human sensual apparatus, just
as a blind man cannot conceive of colours.
fourth trope points out that perception varies
with situational factors: depending on whether
he is awake or asleep, drunk or sober, healthy
or diseased, young or old, resting or moving, man
sees things in a different light. Love sees beauty
where there isn't any, and who could decide which
among so many conflicting ideas corresponds to
fifth trope deals with changes in perception because
of spatial considerations. A ship, small at a distance,
appears big from close by; a tower seems square
from far away, and round in proximity. The neck
of a dove changes colour depending on its position.
sixth trope addresses mixtures: perception comes
about globally, so that light, temperature, movement
may modify the object observed. The facial colour,
for instance, varies with hot or cold air, age,
and health. The voice is susceptible to changes
due to strain, temperature and colds. The colour
purple adopts a different shade in the sun than
in candle light. Man cannot distinguish what really
is any better than he can detect oil in a well
seventh trope points out that quantity can change
the aspect of objects. Examples are the horn of
the goat (usually black, it appears white when
shaved), sand (while individual grains are hard,
it feels soft in large quantities), and wine (salutary
in moderate amounts, it becomes debilitating when
enjoyed in excess).
eighth trope deals with relation: everything appears
in relation to something else, and to the perception
of somebody. Right and left, big and small, high
and low, are meaningless without a specific context
and a perceiving subject. The same applies to notions
like father and son. Therefore, nothing is known
in itself, all things being relative to our mind.
ninth trope maintains that frequency affects our
outlook: the sun does not seem amazing because
we are used to its regular appearance. A comet,
being considerably smaller, but rare and unexpected,
has a much greater impact. Catastrophes like earthquakes
are especially frightening when experienced for
the first time, but frequent repetitions will build
up the dulling effect of habit.
tenth trope insists on the relativity of human
customs, laws and opinions. The Egyptians embalm
their dead, the Romans burn them, the Paeonians
throw them into lakes (DL IX, 84). The Persians
allow marriage between father and daughter, the
Greeks do not. On the subject of beauty, justice,
religion, and existence different countries advance
a never-ending stream of different views, all believed
to be true in a given society at a given time.
Since it is impossible to decide in favour of any
of them, suspension of judgement is the only solution.
number and the order of the ten tropes is lengthily
debated by the critics and is rather confusing.
As outlined above, they appear in Sextus Empiricus
(PI , 36-163). Diogenes Laertius (IX, 78-88), following
either Favorinus or Theodosius, has a more logical
grouping in Brochard's (p.260) opinion: the first
four and the tenth are related to the subject;
tropes five, six, seven and nine, to the object,
and the eighth trope provides a link between subject
the insufficiency of the senses, Aenesidemus adds
the refutation of science. By mind boggling logical
summersaults inspired by Megarian dialectics (Goedeckemeyer,
p.222), he proves that neither truth, nor causes nor signs can
exist. Brochard (p.290ff) expresses a similar confusion
we have experienced: he feels that Aenesidemus'
argumentation is chameleon-like: "Si on consulte
le bon sens, si on voit où l'on va, on resiste énergiquement;
si on considère les raisons invoquées,
elles sont claires, simples, irréprochablement
enchaînées: on hesite, on est inquiet;
on se demande si ce n'est pas le bon sens qui a
tort et le sceptique qui a raison. Tour à tout, ... l'argumentation paraît irrésistible ou
ridicule". He concludes that for Aenesidemus
the relation between existence and perception is
analytic, whereas "for us" , it is synthetic.
any dogmatic theory of cause and effect, Aenesidemus
advances eight tropes of etiology. Brochard (p.266)
calls them a list of sophisms, and enumerates with
them the concrete examples from natural philosophy
assembled by Sextus' editor Fabricius (1718). In
Sextus Empiricus (PI, 180-185), Aenesidemus' etiological
tropes read like this: "... the First ...
shows that, since aetiology as a whole deals with
the non-apparent, it is unconfirmed by any agreed
evidence from appearances. The Second Mode shows
how often, when there is ample scope for ascribing
the object of investigation to a variety of causes,
some of them (the dogmatics, G.D.) account for
it in one way only. The Third shows how to orderly
events they assign causes which exhibit no order.
The Fourth shows how, when they have grasped the
way in which appearances occur, they assume that
they have also apprehended how non-apparent things
occur ... In the Fifth Mode it is shown how practically
all these theorists assign causes according to
their own particular hypotheses ... In the Sixth
it is shown how they frequently admit only such
facts as can be explained by their own theories,
and dismiss facts which conflict therewith though
possessing equal probability. The Seventh shows
how they often assign causes which conflict not
only with appearances but also with their own hypotheses.
The Eighth shows that often, when there is equal
doubt about things seemingly apparent and things
under investigation, they base their doctrine ...
upon things equally doubtful". Furthermore,
mistakes related to a mixture of the above points
have been observed.
thus denounced the theory and practice of causality
and induction, he attacks the theory of signs.
According to the Stoics, phenomena are interpreted
by reason as effects of causes, and can therefore
be seen as signs. Aenesidemus points out that these
effects or signs are frequently interpreted in
contradictory ways. Symptoms of fever, such as
a high temperature, sweat, a speedy pulse also
lead to different conclusions amongst physicians:
one sees them as an indication of strong blood,
another of high tension, etc. If the signs were
perceptible or intelligible, they would be as obvious
as whiteness, appearing in like manner to everybody
in good health.
ethics, Aenesidemus seems to have given some emphasis
to pleasures (hedone), but Brochard (p.271)
believes that this term is meant in a very large
sense including perhaps ataraxia (as for
Epicure) or eudaimonia (as for Pyrrho).
On the whole, he followed closely the old Pyrrhonian
line. Stating that the highest good is inexistant,
he hasten to add that this is only seemingly an
affirmation. It is not a dogma but a subjective
opinion, misleading only by the constraints of
language, which is naturally dogmatic and lends
itself to the expression of Skeptical viewpoints
in very unsatisfactory ways (Photius, 170a 12,
in Goedeckemeyer, p.228).
discussion revolves around the question whether
Aenesidemus did or did not embrace Heraclitus'
doctrines, as certain textual indications suggest.
Some, like Natorp, Saisset, Zeller and Diels cannot
accept this view, in seemingly blatant contradiction
with Aenesidemus' skepticism. Others, like Brochard
(p.284) and Goedeckemeyer (p.229), agree that he
must have changed direction twice: from the diluted
Skepticism of the New Academy he turned to radical,
Pyrrhonian Skepticism, and ended up with a negative-dogmatic
position in the wake of Heraclitus.
(p.285) sees in this last turn an understandable
psychological development, especially, since Aenesidemus
is known to have declared that Pyrrhonism is the
road leading to Heraclitism. First, Aenesidemus
doubts and sees opposites in a balance not allowing
any judgement. But, since the mind is always looking
for answers, he does not find this position acceptable
for long, and discovers in Heraclitus a satisfactory
explanation for both doubt and opposites.
is great affinity between Heraclitus' view of the
flux of things and Aenesidemus' intuition
of an ever-changing world of appearances.
As for the opposites, he turns from believing that
things are "neither this nor that" (ou
mallon) or an "absolute-relativistic position" (Goedeckemeyer,
p.214) to Heraclitus' opinion that they really
are the same in their extremes, or to the coincidentia
oppositorum later exploited by Nicholas Cusanus
and Nietzsche (Philosophisches Wörterbuch).
the oneness of opposites obviously goes beyond
mere appearances and resembles a metaphysical dogma.
So does the postulation of air, number, and time
as first principles, all being identical with unity. This
first principle is material, and also is the source
of all existence, or, as Brochard (p.273) amplifies
his source of information (SE, M IX, 337): "...
malgré la diversité des apparences,
c'est la même essence qu'on retrouve au fond
de toute chose, et grâce à cette communauté d'essence,
on peut dire que le tout est identique à chaque
partie, et chaque partie identique au tout". Goedeckemeyer
(p.232) points out that while Aenesidemus believes
to adopt Heraclitus' ideas, he really sees him
through stoical spectacles, and that his dogmatic
viewpoints reflect the "Kompromiß-Philosophie" characteristic
of his age. Like the New Academicians, trying to
reconcile in good faith Stoicism with their philosophy,
Aenesidemus is possibly quite unaware of blending
Stoic, Peripatetic and Neo-pythagoreic (p.234)
components with predominantly Heraclitean elements.
agreement with the fundamental theses of perpetual
change and all-transcending unity, he sees the
soul like Heraclitus, but also like Strato, as
the place where both perception (sensual) and thought
(rational) take place. Goedeckemeyer (p.235) calls
him therefore an advocate of a monism of the soul
("Anhänger der Einheit der Seele").
Similarly, his conception of common notions (our
present-day universals?) is a mixture of Heraclitean
and Stoic ideas: seeing the universal agreement
on certain ideas, he relates them to an omnipresent
reason, and accepts them as a criterion for truth:
phenomena common to all humans are true, those
particular to individuals are not (Brochard, p.275).
Natorp (p.117) and Goedeckemeyer (p.231) insist,
however, that "truth" in Aenesidemus'
usage really is the equivalent of probability.
(p.288) sees the dogma of common notions and the
conception of the soul as the logical consequences
of Aenesidemus' fundamental monistic position,
and he maintains that Aenesidemus "... en
se ralliant au dogmatisme héraclitéen
... n'abandonne aucune des thèses qu'il
avait précédemment soutenues".
Things in themselves, meaning a reality independent
from its context and a conscious mind, remain unknowable;
causes and demonstrations are equally uncertain,
and still nothing can be advanced with certainty.
(p.286, like Natorp, p.84, 293, and Hirzel, III
p.64ff.) compares Aenesidemus to Protagoras who,
in his opinion, is a dogmatic Skeptic because he
accepts the coexistence of as many individually
restricted worlds as there are minds. He furthermore
defends Aenesidemus' dogmatic turn by considering
it stronger, more open and honest than the Pyrrhonian
position (p.287). In fact, Brochard accuses the
Pyrrhonians of "lip service" since they
claim that they do not know anything whereas they
really are quite sure they do not and cannot know.
He also considers them hypocritical, anxious to
save appearances and not to shock generally accepted
values. Their attitude "est une sorte de pis-aller".
Firmly admitting, like Protagoras and Aenesidemus,
that truth cannot be known in principle seems to
him a more satisfactory declaration in spite of
the negative-dogmatic overtones. He also insinuates
(p.288) that subsequent Skeptics counted Aenesidemus
among their ranks in spite of his defection, and
that they understood his motives well.
Brochard (p.297) and Goedeckemeyer (p.235) assign
to Aenesidemus a transitional role, seeing him
in complete agreement with neither the Academic
nor the strictly Pyrrhonian direction of Skepticism,
nor with the later trend of empirical investigation.
His concern to find a metaphysical system and his
dialectical argumentation are decisive in their
opinion. Brochard (p.298, 2) points out that the
Empiricists have a more material orientation and
concentrate on purely practical concerns. He compares
them to modern time Positivists, like Auguste Comte,
whereas Aenesidemus, still preoccupied with metaphysics,
resembles Kant. Even though Aenesidemus opened
up the possibility of scientific investigation
by saying that nothing had been proven true so
far instead of affirming everlasting and unchanging
darkness, he himself did not have any scientific
inclinations. His later successors, however, continued
precisely in this direction, and to the detriment
of metaphysical concerns.
followers seem to have adhered to his Pyrrhonian
direction. Listed in Diogenes Laertius (IX, 106)
are Zeuxis of Tarent and Antiochus of Laodicea.
Goedeckemeyer (p.237) adds Apollonides of Nicaea
who dedicated a commentary on Timon's Silles to
Tiberius, and seems to have revived an historical
interest in Pyrrhonian origins.
Agrippa (ca. 100 A.D.)
probably a young contemporary of those mentioned
above, is not named in Diogenes Laertius' list
of Neo-pyrrhonian leaders, and also Sextus Empiricus
does not mention him at all. Nothing much is known
of him, but he must have lived at the end of the
first century A.D. He added five tropes of logical
importance to Aenesidemus' ten. They were meant
to uproot any kind of dogmatic belief: the first
is the general disagreement of opinions; the second
is the regressum ad infinitum; the third
points out subjective and objective relativity;
the fourth sees in any hypothesis an a priori assumption,
and the fifth is the diallelus, or circular
argument. With these weapons he attacked individual
dogmatic theories like those of the criterion,
the sign, the causes and movement, and also denied
that anything can be taught (DL IX, 100). In his
argumentation he displayed considerable historical
knowledge and polemic inclination (Goedeckemeyer,
Aenesidemus, Agrippa excludes the very possibility
of attaining truth, and sees in the phenomena sufficient
guidance for living. Reason is inadequate, so that
there is logically no road to certitude. Brochard
sees in Aenesidemus a dialectician, in Agrippa
a logician. He points out (p.306) that modern Skeptics still
draw on these five tropes he describes as "irresistible" and
as "la formule la plus radicale et la plus
précise qu'on ait jamais donnée au
Favorinus (ca. 80-150 A.D.)
important but better known than Agrippa, Favorinus,
who was predominantly a rhetorician and politician,
had pronounced Skeptical leanings. Born around
80 A.D. in Arles (Arleate), he lived in Rome and
received his rhetorical education under Dion Chrysostom
(ca. 40-120), who had loose connections with Cynicism.
During an extended stay in Athens (ca. 106), he
met with the Cynic Demonax, the Academician Herodes
Atticus and, most importantly, Plutarch (ca. 45-125)
who had a lasting influence on him (Goedeckemeyer,
there is some debate about whether his Skepticism
was Academic or Pyrrhonian, it seems that to Favorinus'
mind, there was not much difference between the
two trends. He used arguments familiar to both,
such as relativity, differences in opinions, the
ten tropes, and he advocated probability like Carneades.
Successful, rich, popular and befriended by Epictetus
(60-138) and Hadrian (76-138), he led a privileged
life until his death.
(p.328) mentions that he was not much respected
by contemporary philosophers. Lucian (ca. 125-180)
draws a satirical picture of him, suggesting that
because of his high voice and effeminate behaviour
he must have been a hermaphrodite or eunuch. Galen
mocks his method of eloquently defending at least
two sides of any subject. His disciple Aulus Gellius,
on the other hand, remembers him fondly all his
life in his Attic nights. Plutarch also
thought highly of him, and devoted De primo
frigido to him.
(p.256) accuses him of calculated mass-appeal and
greed. Apparently, he defended notoriously immoral
clients to increase his fame and fortune, so that
the judgement of a well educated sophist or at
most a popularizing philosopher seems justified.
Whatever Academic Skepticism there remained at
that time was totally extinguished with him.
Menodotus (ca. 150 A.D.)
Menodotus who according to Brochard (p.310) lived
around 150 A.D. in Alexandria, the fusion between
Neo-pyrrhonian Skepticism and medical Empiricism
takes place. Already his predecessor and teacher,
Antiochus of Laodicea, was presumably a physician,
but Menodotus combined the leadership of the Empirical
medical school with the direction of Pyrrhonian
Skepticism. According to Goedeckemeyer (p.258),
he reduced Agrippa's five tropes to two of relativity,
stating that nothing can be comprehended by itself,
nor by any other means. He wrote several treatises,
and was important enough to be attacked by Galen,
who seems to have followed one of Menodotus' works
in De subfiguratione empirica (Brochard,
p.312). Apparently, he dedicated one of his efforts
to Septimus Severus, advocated the arts and sciences
in the specifically Skeptical understanding of
these concepts, and forgot about any Skeptical
reserve in bluntly calling the theories of the
famous physician Asklepiades incorrect.
(De subf. emp., 63) draws an unpleasant
picture of him, accusing him of seeing in medical
practice only a means to become rich and famous.
His temper was quick and his tongue sharp, insulting
his medical or philosophical opponents so readily
that Galen compared him to a barking dog. Through
his polemic verve he reminds Brochard (p.312) of
scientific methodology, Menodotus follows a purely
phenomenological line: he attacks medical dogmatism
and the questionable researching of causes, adopting
a position of negative dogmatism himself in affirming
the impossibility of knowledge per se. He
distinguishes the endeiktic sign from the hypomnetic
sign, rejecting the former as dogmatic, since
it infers causal relations. The latter is acceptable,
since it only remembers previously noted observations.
in the empirical sense relies on the succession
and coexistence of phenomena, and frequency plays
as important a role as regularity. Instead of definitions
based on a priori assumptions, a complex
of symptoms founded on observation and experience
leads to an understanding of the phenomena and
provides a practical guideline to similar appearances.
These allow the compilation of instructive sentences
or theorems recording past experience for
the use of future analogous cases (Goedeckemeyer,
contemporary and successor Theodas of Laodicea
also attracted Galen's scorn. Two works are known
by him, an Introduction (Eisagoge)
and the Main Principles (Kephalaia),
where he ascribed three parts to medicine: signativa, curativa,
and sanativa. The bases of medical knowledge
are observation (teresis, a term introduced
by him), experience including historical tradition,
and analogy. In addition, the use of reason is
accepted and opposed to the simple and mindless
heaping of observational data (Brochard, p.211).
younger follower of the same generation, Theodosius,
wrote a commentary on Theodas' Kephhalaia (mentioned
in Suidas), of which "not a syllable subsists" (Goedeckemeyer,
p.264, transl. g.d.). Unlike Menodotus, who fiercely
opposed any reconciling tendencies, Theodosius
accepted Homer, the seven wise men, Euripides,
Xenophanes, Zeno, Democritus, Plato, Empedocles,
Heraclitus and Hippocrates (DL, IX, 71ff.) as precursors
of Pyrrhonian Skepticism. This attempt to reconcile
ancient elements with his position is the exact
parallel to attempts on the Neo-academic side,
as witnessed in Cicero's Academica and in
Plutarch (Adv. Colotes, 26,2).
Herodotus of Tarsus, the master of Sextus Empiricus
(DL IX, 116), the skeptical school moved from Alexandria
to Rome, say Haas (p.14) and Sepp (p.88), to "the
East" believe Pappenheim (Lebensv.,
p.48ff.) and Goedeckemeyer (p.265). If he was the
famous physician mentioned in Galen (Bk. Viii,
751) and lived in Rome under Trajan (98-117 A.D.),
as Sepp (p.121) speculates, he could hardly have
been Sextus' teacher, since Sextus' dates are fairly
unanimously placed in the second half of the second
Sextus Empiricus (ca. 150-210 A.D.)
to nothing is known about the life of this man,
to whom we owe the most important and complete
source of ancient Skepticism.
he often refers to "we" and "us" in
the context of Greek customs, it is assumed that
he was of Greek origin. He seems to have been to
Alexandria, Athens and Rome, but lived and taught "where
(his) teacher was talking" (P III, 120), probably
somewhere in the East. The main argument for Goedeckemeyer's
(p..265, n.6) assumption is the Romans' obvious
ignorance of Pyrrhonian Skepticism which contrasts
with the attention it receives later on by Eastern
writers like Gregory of Nazantius, Agathias and
Georgius who refute Sextus and Skepticism as dangerous
in much the same way as Saint Augustine opposes
Cicero's Academic Skepticism (Goedeckemeyer, p.331).
who has a pronounced tendency to detect Skepticism
in almost anybody anywhere, believes it to be quite
influential in Rome. He even identifies Sextus
Empiricus with the teacher of Marcus Aurelius (121-180),
a certain Sextus of Chaeronea who along with his
illustrious disciple was, in Sepp's opinion, falsely
considered a Stoic by Capitolinus (p.86).
if this highly speculative connection, not alluded
to in any of the other critical works consulted,
were not enough, he also finds by means of some
complicated mental arithmetic and erroneous information
(Brochard, p.316) in the article Sextos in
Suidas sufficient reason to link Sextus to the
Libyan lawyer Sextus Caecilius Africanus, makes
Apuleius his nephew (p.89) and Plutarch his uncle
(p.90). The amazing composite picture of the skeptical
philosopher is then presented like this (p.90): "Der
Lehrer des Mark Aurel und früher des Verus
war also nach dem oben Gesagten Arzt, Jurist und
Pyrrhonischer Philosoph und heißt Sextus
Cäcilius Empirikus aus Chäronea, Africanus
prefer to this highly creative and rather unskeptical
statement the wiser admissions of Brochard (p.314),
Goedeckemeyer (p.266, n.2), Bury (p.xli) and others,
that little else but the approximate time of his
life is known. Goedeckemeyer (ibid.) bases it on
a system of references in Sextus, Diogenes (ca.
230-250) and Hippolytus (ca. 220-230), as well
as on Sextus' remark (P I, 65) that the Stoics
of his times are his main opponents. Stoicism,
deteriorating rapidly in the third century, could
not have played this role had Sextus lived then.
(p.268) describes him as a successful physician
and cultivated philosopher, who proves not only
his extensive readings - Timon is the skeptic most
often cited - but also his personal philosophical
preferences, however subtly and modestly presented.
He leads the positivistic tendency established
under Menodotus to its fullest accomplishments,
and taking back Agrippa's negative-dogmatic touches,
returns to the absolute-skeptical viewpoint of
being blind to Sextus' stylistic flaws and tiresome,
schematic proofs, both Brochard (p.325-326) and
Goedeckemeyer (p.268) appreciate his thoroughness,
exactitude and systematic approach, and reject
the much repeated opinion of Zeller, Haas and Bury
that Sextus is nothing but a mindless compiler
of the type later represented by Diogenes Laertius.
philosophical works have survived almost completely
and constitute what Brochard (p.322) calls in analogy
to scholasticism the summa of Skepticism.
Bury (p.xlii) considers them "immense arsenals
stored with all the weapons of offence and defense
of every conceivable pattern, old and new, that
ever were forged on the anvil of Scepticism".
Brochard points out (p.322) that Sextus very truthfully
exposes the views of all the main Skeptics, not
only or mainly those of Aenesidemus, as Zeller
believes. Rarely mentioned by name - neither Agrippa
nor Menodotus are referred to, although their doctrines
are described at length - their opinions are blended
into one collective statement, including the author's
own opinions. His impartiality lets him expose
the positions and arguments of his opponents with
equal precision and they often have great value
in their historical evaluation. For instance, his
account of Stoic epistemology is so well presented,
that one almost forgets the purpose, which is to
refute them in the long run. His ideas are usually
clear and his style is free of pretensions. Thanks to his writings, Skepticism is the best
known philosophy of antiquity: "Nous ne connaissons
pas bien les sceptiques, mais, grâce à Sextus,
nous pouvons connaître parfaitement le sceptisisme" (Brochard,
of Pyrrhonism (Pyrrhoneioi hypotyposes)
are like a "bréviaire du scepticisme" (Brochard,
p.322) in three parts, of which the first establishes
Skeptical principles, while the other two refute
all kinds of dogmatic theories.
the eleven books probably regrouped after Sextus'
times as Pros mathematikos, five (M VII-XI)
are an amplification of the Outlines. Rather
than an outline - commentary relation, Goedeckemeyer
(p.291) sees in them an application to the theory.
The other six parts (M I-VI) examine the individual
arts and sciences from a skeptical point of view.
can be divided into things perceived through the
senses and common to all,and things non-evident.
The latter are subject to much disagreement. Some
affirm to know something about them, and are therefore
dogmatics; others, namely the Academics admit that
they don't know anything about them, while the
Skeptics still attempt to find an answer (P I,
2). Quite expressively, the dogmatics are compared
to men shooting in the dark (M VIII, 325), where
nobody even knows when he hits a target. Xenophanes
already expressed that idea. The firm intention
of the Skeptics, being philanthropic, is to cure
the dogmatics of their conceit and rashness; for
that purpose, and depending on the gravity of the
individual case, the remedy will vary in kind and
dose (P III, 280).
Skeptical tendency is called Pyrrhonian for
its origin, zetetic for its search for truth, aporetic for
weighing different arguments and ephectic for
its refusal to make any decisions (PI, 7). Since
there is no criterion evident to all to determine
the hidden truth, suspension of judgement is at
method is to oppose to each opinion one contradicting
it, and if there isn't any, to point out the possibility
of its future discovery. The Skeptic does not dogmatize,
since he remains aware of the purely subjective
and relative nature of his statements (P I, 14).
Just as he would never deny sense impressions like
sweetness and warmth, he does not have to withhold
judgement on complex givens, like number, movement,
growth and decline, as long as he does not venture
beyond the phenomena. Even imaginary concepts are
acceptable, if they clearly come about by resemblance
to observable facts, such as the giant being an
enlarged human, and a centaur a synthesis of horse
and intelligent observation of the appearances
are the main guides of the Skeptic in deciding
his actions. Nature (P I, 23ff) in the sense of
both biological needs particular the the species
and as individual inclination, as well as the customs,
laws and religious beliefs of one's country provide
further guidance for conduct. The goal, quietude,
is quite easily reached by such a moderate, middle-of-the-road
approach. It follows naturally the suspension of
judgement in all matters metaphysical (P I, 26),
whereas the dogmatic must battle for inner peace
and is not likely ever to achieve it. The handy
form of the ten tropes help the Skeptic to reach epoché in
the Stoic accusation that the Skeptics cannot grasp
their metaphysical concepts, Sextus replies with
an analysis of grasping: in one sense, and
fully acceptable to the Skeptic, it means "imagining";
in another, it has the meaning of "comprehending",
and this is impossible not only to the Skeptics,
but just as much to the dogmatics who flatter themselves
to understand, even though they fight amongst themselves
over various assertions of equal absurdity (P II,
he takes apart the criterion of truth, dealing
first with the criterion, then with truth separately.
Three possible means of apprehension could serve
as the criterion: one is natural, like the senses;
the other is artificial, like a measuring tool;
the third is logical. Given the endless disputes
raging over each of these possibilities, no conclusive
answer can be given.
logical means can be seen in three further components,
all of them turning out to be just as inadequate:
man is the subject of apprehension, the senses
and/or reason are the means, and the appearances
are the object (M VII, 38-45; P II, 80-84). The
notion of man, in order to be the criterion,
would have to be satisfactorily defined, which
has never been achieved yet; the senses are often
contradicting each other, and even more uncertain
when compared to different individuals. As for
reason, there is already disagreement on its very
existence, never mind its essence.
the senses precede any rational operation, there
is question about how trustworthy their information
is. They well might be like dishonest servants,
falsifying or withholding messages meant for their
master. Finally, the relation between thing and concept is
far from being clear, as proven by the large number
of theories on the subject. The stoics believe
the concept to be a reflection of the thing, but
then imaginary things like centaurs would have
no status of any sort.
Sextus deals with truth, refuting first various
opinions about its existence, then about its essence,
and finally concludes that its location can be
found neither in the judgement, nor in verbal expression,
nor in the thinking process.
result of this detailed investigation shows the
ineradicable uncertainty of "truth" and
its equally obscure criterion (M VIII, 141ff.).
Since anything transcending the sensual apparatus
has to be revealed by some indirect evidence, Sextus
deals with signs and demonstrations.
non-evident objects, some are altogether non-evident
(the number of stars), some are naturally non-evident
(pores, evidenced by sweat) and some are occasionally
non-evident (Athens to Sextus, writing elsewhere)
(P II, 97ff.). The first category (kathapax
adela) cannot be apprehended at all, as the
stoics will concede. The second (phystei adela)
is revealed by indicative signs and the
third (pros akairon adela) by commemorative
signs. While commemorative, or suggestive,
signs are based on observation, and represent associative
processes by recalling something temporarily absent
from the mind, indicative signs are highly speculative
and based on a priori assumptions of a logical
nature (M VIII, 152ff.; P II, 102ff.). Far from
maintaining "that no sign exists, as some
slanderously affirm of us" (M VII, 157), the
Skeptics readily infer from smoke that there is
fire, and from a scar that there once was a wound,
many such instances having been observed to support
these connections. Their objections are directed
at the indicative sign, which is the only one known
in stoic theory.
sign in this sense postulates a necessary link
between itself and the reality it denotes. Therefore,
a sign cannot be conceived of as an absolute; it
is by definition part of a relation (M VIII, 273).
Like all relative concepts, such as right and left,
the sign never is perceived in isolation, but together
with the object it refers to. But if they appear
together, what need is there for the sign (M VIII,
Epicureans hold the sign to be sensible, the Stoics
see it as being of a rational nature. It cannot
be sensible, since it is far from the universal
acceptance attached to sensually perceived phenomena
like warm temperature and bitter taste. Also, if
man were equipped with a special sense able to
capture these signs, they would be directly perceived
and he would not have to put so much effort into
learning them. They cannot be rationally dealt
with either, as is obvious from countless conflicting
interpretations given to a single sign. For example,
that the body moves is not necessary nor convincing
evidence of the soul. In conclusion, the existence
of the sign is doubtful, and its essence, thought
to lie in unveiling the unknown, is in great need
of revelation itself (M VII, 244ff.).
the indicative sign has such a precarious status,
it follows that logical demonstrations, consisting
of signs and proofs, are similarly problematic,
and after long discussion turn out to be totally
arbitrary and unintelligible postulates advanced
by the Stoics and Epicureans.
the accusation that his own explanations are endangered
along with the dethronement of the sign and of
demonstrations, Sextus replies that they are entirely
subjective and that even if they were meant to
be proof they would be eliminated along with the
argument such as the purgative, or the fire consuming
itself with the wood, or a ladder being knocked
over once a high place has been reached (M VIII,
natural philosophy, he discusses God as the universal
principle of activity and passivity. The notion
of God does not prove his existence, as shown by
the example of the Centaur or the Scylla (M IX,
49). The controversy about God's existence becomes
even fiercer when it moves on to His possible essence.
to the active principle is the question of cause
and effect (M IX, 194ff.). The Stoics point out
the necessity of such a cause in order to explain
living and dying, becoming and dissolving. Without
such regulative law, chaos would reign everywhere.
For the Skeptics, cause is a relative connection
(M IX, 208ff.), without existence of its own. Because
of this its conceptualization is extremely difficult.
principles of agens and patiens are
questioned because they imply material contact
and change. Both the material and the immaterial
essences turn out to be major philosophical problems
in themselves and in relation to causes. In particular,
the immaterial entities of space and time, movement,
number, and quantitative or qualitative change
are a source of the wildest speculations.
Ethics, Sextus follows the usual distinction of
general and applied moralities (ethike theoria,
and peri tou bion techne). Everybody is
in disagreement about the good to look for and
about the bad to avoid. It is obvious that, contrary
to the claim of the Stoics and the Epicureans,
these moral notions are not implanted by nature,
and this conclusion is furthermore supported by
their geographical and historical relativity (P
III, 198-234; M XI, 96ff.).
considers the dogmatic moral theory to be outright
harmful, since only wise suspension of judgement
is helpful in attaining happiness (M XI, 110ff.).
But dogmatic practical ethics are not any more
acceptable; they tend to cultivate various vices
such as the ruthless pursuit of glory or pleasures.
The dogmatic claim of moral philosophy being an
art or science is refuted because first of all
it lacks a proper subject; secondly, it cannot
be taught, which is proven, apart from any theoretical
difficulties of instruction, by the discrepancies
observed between the dogmatics' own lives and precepts,
and thirdly, the rules proposed are of such general
nature - one's parents should be honoured, a debt
repaid, etc. - that most ignorant people, totally
ignorant of moral education, would act accordingly
anyway. Finally, in the inability to control the
affects and in the efforts to suppress them, dogmatic
ethics lead their followers to unhappiness. The
immoral giving in to his impulses finds at least
some relief (M XI, 210ff.; P III, 273ff.), and
arts and sciences are not in principle useless,
as the Epicureans believe. Where Philology is concerned,
reading and writing are most useful subjects and
an invaluable help in combating forgetfulness.
Certain dogmatic attempts, however, discussing
the nature and length of vowels, are insubstantial.
Nobody has ever agreed on phonetic units, so that
diphthongs and long vowels are included in the
twenty-four letters of the alphabet, although they
are twice as long as other elements (M I, 169ff.).
Orthography does not contribute anything necessary
for life, and nobody has ever died from misspelling
words (M I, 169ff.). Emphasis on the normative
rules of "good Greek" are equally silly
and more often than not in opposition to current
language usage (M I, 175ff.).
objections are raised against Rhetoric (M II),
Geometry (M III), Arithmetic (M IV), Astrology
(M V), carefully distinguished from Astronomy which
is a useful art based on the close observation
of appearances, and finally Music (M VI).
Sextus, his disciple and empirical physician Saturninus
is the last known representative of Skepticism.
He probably was a contemporary of Diogenes Laertius
(Brochard, p.328), but is not reputed to have introduced
any original elements into the declining Skeptical
last aspect has to be mentioned briefly. It relates
to the empirical concept of science and its subsequent
influence. Science in the dogmatic sense departs
from a priori assumptions and thus has a
transcendent or metaphysical basis. Science in
Sextus' sense is based on strict observation of
the phenomena, and any abstractions within this
framework keep their practical orientation and
verifiable validity. The Empirical approach, free
of metaphysical speculations, is typical for the
Skepticism he represents, and has close affinities
with modern scientific methods. Deichgräber
(p.340-346) devotes an interesting chapter to Bacon,
and also draws suggestive parallels with philosophers
of his own time, in particular with Vaihinger's Philosophie
des Als-Ob (p.280, 345). Brochard (p.310, 360,
375, 378) frequently points out arguments that
are still used "today", and notes many
similarities with the Positivists of his time,
for instance with Renouvier and Claude Bernard
(p.372). Speaking of Menodotus (ibid.) whose methods are
essentially the same as Sextus', he departs from
his usual objective style by giving the following
definition: "Sa méthode est celle qui éclaire
et féconde l'expérience par le raisonnement,
et se défie d'une vaine dialectique sans
se borner à amasser des faits. C'est la vraie." Even
though he (p.377) sees differences in the use and
abuse of dialectics (for the Skeptics only), and
in the goal ("purement morale" for the
Skeptics, "utilitaire" for the Positivists),
he considers the Empiricists as "les véritables
ancêtres du positivisme" (p.378).
(p.298) invokes Auguste Comte and Kant, Pappenheim
(Einleitung, p.18) mentions Hegel and Schopenhauer,
Richter makes innumerable allusions to modern Skeptics
and deals at great length with Montaigne, Hume
and Nietzsche. Somewhat more briefly he considers
Kant (a partial Skeptic in his eyes), "Aenesidemus" (Gottlob
Ernst) Schulze (v.2, p.435) and Platner (v.2, p.439)
who both defended a more radical Skepticism and
were possibly influenced by Hume. Hegel (Verhältnis,
p.213-272) hands out many polemic swipes against "Herrn
Schulze", whom he considers much inferior
to classical Skeptics. That Hegel has a thorough
knowledge of ancient philosophy is obvious throughout
this long (60 pages!) book review and also in his
lectures (Werke, Bd.19; roughly 500 pages
are on Greek philosophy, 170 on Skepticism).
his chapter on Positivism (II, p.445-454) Richter
mentions next to Comte and Stuart Mill philosophers
like Herbert Spencer, Helmholtz, Avenarius and
Mauthner. Especially noteworthy are several explicit
references to Ernst Mach, who had an enormous influence
on the generation of his time. Among other impacts,
he can be directly linked to the so-called Sprachkrise in
Austrian authors like Hermann Bahr, Hofmannsthal,
Schnitzler, Musil and Rilke. But in contemporary
literary criticism the filiation or even the really
quite striking similarity with Greek Skepticism
is not recognized. The very term skepticism seems
to be absent from the field of "Germanistik",
and phenomena related to this philosophical position
are subsumed under names like pessimism, nihilism, negativism, solopsism,
etc. The historical perspective never extends beyond
Nietzsche (d. 1900!), or at the very utmost, Schopenhauer
abundance of historical links between late nineteenth
century philosophers, scientists or literary authors
(the latter are mentioned frequently in Richter)
and classical Skepticism is probably due to the
predominantly diachronic "Zeitgeist" of
prestructuralism and Gestalt theory (ca. 1910),
but also to the substantial classical education
common during that time and sadly missing today.
Mach's empirical tendencies are perhaps related
to Kant's and Hume's influence only because ancient
Skepticism is not well known any longer. It is,
however, at least conceivable that Mach had first
hand experience with classical Greek texts, including
those discussed in the present paper.
would like to conclude with a citation by Brochard
(p.376) comparing the Positivists of his century
to the Greek Skeptics: "Les positivistes
protesteraient peut-être contre le nom
de sceptiques, et ils en auraient le droit, car
ils affirment beaucoup, et quelquefois trop de
choses. Les sceptiques, de leur coté,
repoussaient le nom de savants. Mais la différence
est ici dans les mots plutôt que dans les
choses. Tout positiviste est sceptique, au sens
où l'entendaient les médecins comme
Sextus; tout sceptique était positiviste,
au sens que donnent aujourdhui à ce mot
ceux qui l'ont inventé! Les uns sont sceptiques
en métaphysique, les autre ne sont sceptiques
qu'en métaphysique: c'est bien près
d'être la même chose."
Gaby Divay, Archives & Special
Collections, University of Manitoba
Annas, J. and J. Barnes The
modes of scepticism: ancient texts and modern
interpretations. Cambridge: Campridge Univ. Press, 1985.
H. v. "Quellenstudium zu Philo: Philo
und Änesidem." Philosophische
Untersuchungen 11(1888), p.53ff.
E. v. Geschichte der Philosophie. 14.ed. Stuttgart:
A. Kröner, 1963.
academicos] Against the academics. Westminster:
Newman Press, 1951.
E. Stoics and Sceptics. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1913.
L. Geschichte der römischen Literatur. 4.ed. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1980.
Bréhier, E. Histoire de la philosphie. Paris: F. Alcan, 1926-32.
F. Geschichte der Philosophie. Bern: Francke, 1963.
Brochard, V. Les sceptiques grecs. Paris:
J. Vrin, 1923.
Bury, R.-G. "Introduction to Sextus Empiricus". In: Sextus Empiricus, Works,
R. "Hume's scepticism". Journal
of the history of ideas 20(1959), p.413-19.
Medicina. Leipzig: C. Daremberg,
Cicero, Academica secunda.
Cicero, De finibus bonorum et
Cicero, De natura deorum.
Cicero, De officiis.
Cicero, De oratione.
Cicero, Tusculanae disputationes.
Couissin, P. "L'origine et l'évolutaion
de l'époché". Revue
d'études grecques 42(1929), p.373-97.
Deichgräber, K. Die griechische Empirikerschule. Berlin: Weidmann, 1930.
of Philosophy and Religion. Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Humanities Press. 1980.
H. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. 3v. Berlin:
Laertius Lives of eminent philosophers. Trans. D. D. Hicks London: Heinemann, 1925.
and dogmatism: studies in Hellenistic epistemology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.
of Philosophy. 8v. New York: Macmillan, 1967.
evangelica] Ecclesiastical history. Washington: Catholic University
of America Press, c1953-55.
R. Agnosticism. Edinburgh,
Fogelin, R. Hume's
skepticism in the treatise of human nature. London: R. & K. Paul, 1985.
A. Die Geschichte des griechischen Skeptizismus. Aalen: Scientia, 1968.
W. A history of Greek philosophy. Cambridge:
Haas, L. Leben des Sextus Empiricus. Bürghausen: s.n., 1883.
G. Geschichte der Philosophie. His Werke,
G. Verhältnis des Skeptizismus zur Philosophie. His Werke,
G. Werke. 20v. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp,
Hirzel, R. Untersuchungen
zu Ciceros philosophischen Schriften. 3v. Leipzig: S.
Index Herculanensis. ed. Bucheler. Greifenwald: Gymnasium, 1869.
Walter. Nietzsche. 20v. Frankfurt:
Kleines Lexikon der Antike. 2.ed. München: L. Lehmer, 1950.
Kreibig, J. Geschichte
und Kritik des ethischen Skepticismus. Wien: A.
H. "Der Ausgang der antiken Skepsis". Archiv
für Geschichte der Philosophie. 37(1926), p.100-116.
A. Hellenistic philosophy. London:
N. The Greek sceptics from Pyrrho to
Sextus. London: Macmillan, 1869.
Montaigne, M. de Les Essais. Paris: P. U. F., 1965.
P. Forschungen zur Geschichte des Erkenntnisproblems
im Alterthum. Berlin: W. Hertz, 1884.
F. Beiträge zur Quellenkunde des
Diogenes Laertius. Basel, 1870.
F. Werke in sechs Bänden. Hrsg.,
Karl Schlechta. 5.ed. München: C.
Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen
Sinn," Bd. 5, 309-322.
J. A history of ancient Western philosophy. New
Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1959.
E. "Einleitung". In: Sextus Empiricus, Pyrrhoneische
Grundzüge. Leipzig: Dürr,
E. Erläuterungen zu des Sextus
Empiricus Pyrrhoneischen Grundzügen. Leipzig:
F. Meiner, 1881.
E. Die Lebensverhältnisse des Sextus
Empirikus. Berlin: [s.n.],1875.
E. "Der Sitz der Schule der pyrrhonischen
Skeptiker". Archiv für Geschichte
der Philosophie 1(1888), p.37-52.
M. Sextus Empiricus and Greek Scepticism. Cambridge: Deighton Bell & Co., 1899.
(Pauly-Wissowa). Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1895.
Philosophisches Wörterbuch. 21.ed. Stuttgart: A. Kröner, 1978.
Photius. Myriobiblion. ed.
de Bekker. Berlin: 1824.
M. "Das Lebensziel der Skeptiker". Hermes 39(1904),
M. Die Stoa. 2v. Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1948-49.
R. "Skepticism". In: Encyclopedia
of Philosophy, v.7, p.449-461.
R. The high road to Pyrrhonism. San
Diego: Austin Hill Press, 1980.
K. "Skeptisches bei Lukian". Philologus 51(1892), p.284-293.
Renouvier, C. Manuel de philosophie
ancienne. Paris: Paulin, 1844.
R. Der Skeptizismus in der Philosophie.
2v. Leipzig: Dürr, 1902-08.
R. "Die erkenntnistheoretischen Voraussetzungen
des griechischen Skeptizismus". Philosophische
Studien 20(1902), p.246-299.
H. Geschichte der Philosophie. Hamburg:
F. Perthes, 1829-53.
Robin, L. Pyrrhon et le scepticisme
Grec. Paris: P. U. F., 1944.
Russell, B. Sceptical essays. London:
Allen & Unwin, 1929.
Saisset, E. Le scepticisme. 2.ed. Paris: Didier, 1865.
M. "Über die Schriften des Cornelius
Celsus". Rheinisches Museum,
N.F. 36, p.362ff.
A. Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie. 3.ed. Hrsg..,
K. Köstlin. Freiburg: J. C. B. Mohr,
S. Pyrrhonische Studien. Freising:
A. Fischer, 1893.
Empiricus. Works. 4v. London:
W. Heinemann, 1939.
C. Geschichte und Geist des Sceptizismus.
2.v. Leipzig, 1794-95.
et florilegium. Hrsg., Wachsmluth & Hense. Berlin: Weidmann, 1884-1912.
C. Greek scepticism. Berkeley:
Univ. of Calif. Press, 1969.
F. Geschichte der griechischen Literatur
in der Alexanderzeit. 2v. Hildesheim: Olms, 1965.
skeptical tradition. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, 1983.
A. Greek civilization and charachter. New
York: New American Library, 1953.
F. Grundriß der Geschichte der
Pilosophie. Berlin: Mittler, 1926-28.
Vollgraf, W. "La vie de Sextus Empiricus". Revue
de Philologie 1902, p.195-210.
Wachsmuth, C. De Timone Phliasio. Leipzig,
Wachsmuth, C. Sillographorum graecorum
reliquiae. 2.ed. Leipzig, 1885.
Waddington, C. Pyrrhon et le pyrrhonisme. Paris: A. Picard, 1877.
A. Cicero und die neue Akademie. 2.ed. Münster:
philosophie Grecque. Paris: Payot, 1938.
C. Philosophische Skepsis. Königstein:
J. The sceptical realism of David Hume. Minneapolis:
Univ. of Minn. Press, 1983.
E. Grundriss der Geschichte der griechischen
Philosophie. 14.ed. Ahlen: Scientia,
E. Die Philosphie der Griechen. 6v.
in 3. Leipzig:
O. R. Reichland, 1903-22.
E. The Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics. rev.
ed. New York: Russell & Russell, 1962.
Originally prepared as an Independent
Study in 1987/8
to cite this e-Version:
Divay, Gaby. "Greek Skepticism.". e-Edition, ©November
at http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~divay/ps/skept.html Accessed
ddmmmyyyy [ex: 18nov2005]. [browser preview: 41 p.]