Skepticism of the new academy: a weak platonism

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The most celebrated work by Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, begins by distinguishing three recognizable philosophical systems: dogmatic, academic and skeptic. While the divergences between the first and the last two are evident, a great many scholars are in disagreement as to the differences and similarities of the other two philosophical schools. Skeptics and Academics share common features that vigorously oppose any dogmatic system, but what is the distinction between the two? What are the singular differences that define and characterize the radical Skepticism of Sextus with its Pyrrhonic roots from the moderate Platonic Skepticism of Arcesilaus or Carneades? In his work1, Sextus goes on to explain that the dogmatists believe they have discovered the truth (albeit every school claimed to have discovered it in something different), while the Skeptics and the Academics differ only slightly in that the former investigate the truth, while the latter declare it to be “non-apprehensible.”

Clearly, the discrepancies between Academics and Skeptics (Pyrrhonic2) are at best, difficult to discern. However, the differences between these two philosophic schools and dogmatism are striking. In any case, and in spite of the critique by certain Pyrrhonean Skeptics (Timon or Sextus) of the Academics, members of both movements acknowledged “a certain family atmosphere”, as an illustrious Skeptic would later claim. In a study of this kind, therefore, our first task shall be to examine and define the form of Skepticism professed by these philosophers.

The Platonic Academy was a singular philosophical nucleus continued by Speusippus and Xenocrates upon the death of its founder Plato, albeit with a certain amount of independence with regard to their teacher in questions of philosophical relevance. Thus, we will first address the issue of the relationship between Skepticism and the Platonic Academy and secondly, the differences with regard to radical Pyrrhonean Skepticism from a two-fold perspective: 1) Can we speak in strict terms of Academic Skepticism? and 2) What characterizes or defines the similarities and differences between the Academic and Pyrrhonic movements? These two questions will inevitably lead us to consider, on the one hand, if these are similar or incompatible philosophical traditions, and, on the other hand, if the transformation of the Platonic postulates towards less dogmatic postures, as one would deduce from this so-called Skepticism, reveal the fidelity or hermeneutical infidelity of Plato’s successors concerning his postulates. In short, what exactly was the position of the Academics with regard to Skepticism? Should they be viewed as Presocratic radical Pyrrhonists or as Platonists who were faithful to the Socratic tradition?

  1. Academic Skepticism

The study of Plato’s work was never abandoned in the Academy and any attempt to clarify the relationships and developments in Academic philosophy after Plato should be founded on this affirmation. However, what transpired in the Academy after Arcesilaus that would lead to a Socratic-Platonic form of Skepticism which was, at least in principle and superficially, far removed from classically recognized Platonism?

The most plausible hypothesis, and one which I shall defend, is that due to the vigorous battles waged between schools (especially against Stoicism), Arcesilaus revived the skeptical elements of the Socratic-Platonic tradition for dialectical reasons in an attempt to preserve Plato’s philosophic thought. By doing so he not only gave rise to something both original and novel, but propounded one of the many faces of Plato3.

The evolution of the Platonic school towards a skeptical position came about as a consequence of the transformation of Socratic doubt (used as a learning method by its own right); a process which was the result of the Platonic postulates’ trend towards a less dogmatic position. This transformation of the Platonic school, however, would come as a great surprise, for it precisely set out to maintain the dogmatism of Plato’s postulates. That this was a polemical issue in ancient times is evidenced by the fact that contemporary philosophers had already attempted to define and clarify the changes occurring in the Academy.

Cicero was the first philosopher to attempt to divide the Academy into three different periods. In his work Academica4, he presents two opposing theses on this point: the first supported by Philo of Larissa and the second defended by Antiochus. Following upon Philo of Larissa, Cicero denies the existence of more than one Academy, claiming that throughout its history the Academy had never splintered into different factions or abandoned its philosophical position5. Philo was committed to the continuity of the Academy, negating any type of fissure or even a minimal change in Plato’s philosophy, thereby defending the position that all subsequent developments were founded upon Plato6. The second thesis, defended by Antiochus, disciple of Philo, contradicts the first. He claims that Arcesilaus turned Platonic philosophy - a transformation carried on by his successors - to a skeptical direction with the premise that nothing can be grasped or known with certainty. From this time onwards - as Cicero himself remarks7- a New Academy is distinguishable from an Old Academy8. Antiochus, on the other hand, held that two philosophical schools existed side by side within the same Platonic Academy.

Later, in an attempt to clarify the distinction between dogmatic (including Academic philosophy) and skeptical philosophy (in reference solely to the Skepticism of Pyrhho), Sextus Empiricus makes a distinction between the Early Academy of Plato and his contemporaries, the Middle Academy of Arcesilaus and the Late Academy of Carneades and Clitomachus9. Diogenes Laertius would do the same. Plato, he reports, was the founder of the first (th\n a)rxai/an A)kadh/meian), the Early Academy, Arcesilaus was responsible for introducing a series of reforms that led to the creation of something novel known as the Middle Academy (th\n me/shn A)kadh/meian), and finally, Lacydes, Arcesilaus’ successor, invented the New Academy (th\n ne/an A)kadh/meian), with Carneades and Clitomachus its most important successors10.

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

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

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

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

2. e)fektikh\, suspension of judgment; the investigator’s state of mind after investigating and finding nothing certain which is not dubitable.

3. a)poretikh\, dubitative, a result of the habit of doubting and indetermination as nothing can be affirmed or denied.

Sextus finally adds, and this is very interesting, that the skeptical school is also known as the “Pyrrhonic” school, since it unequivocally depends on a master, Pyrrho of Elis13. This passage is evidently valuable in understanding Sextus´ position with regard to Pyrrho. But first, let us turn our attention to two terms that appear in the last part of the text in the footnote: phaínesthai and epiphanésteron. According to Decleva Caizzi, the terms do not refer to Pyrrho’s reputation as such but to that which he expounded, what we know of his life and thought, to the phenomenon associated with him14.

Writing shortly after Sextus, Diogenes Laertius conveniently clarifies that Skepticism is not a school if by school we understand the allegiance to coherently developed doctrines. Yet, if we understand school simply to be that which follows or appears to follow a manner of reasoning according to phenomena, then it is a school15. In the above text, Diogenes equates Pyrrhonism with Skepticism. Adorno16 asserts that this text refers to another text from Sextus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism, according to which the Skeptic can be said to have a school if by school we understand an orientation in accordance with a determined way of thinking, for example, that which dictates a manner of living correctly.

Cicero belongs to a fundamentally academic tradition. For him, Skepticism is academic, regardless of its defects, and he therefore does not link Pyrrho’s doctrine to that of the creators of Academic Skepticism. According to Cicero’s concept of philosophy, Skepticism and Pyrrhonism are two completely different lines of thought. Moreover, Cicero does not acknowledge any skeptical elements in Pyrrho’s philosophical views (let us not forget that we are referring only to Academic Skepticism). In consequence, Presocratic authors such as Democritus, Anaxagoras or Empedocles are, in Cicero’s opinion, the predecessors of a skeptical philosophic position that does not culminate in Pyrrho as we know, but in Socrates and Plato, for all formed part of this philosophical movement which held that nothing could be grasped or known17. Cicero, then, does not acknowledge Pyrrho to be the originator of the gnoseological tradition that gave rise to Skepticism18.

But the question arises: why this silence with regard to Pyrrho? The answer may lie in the fact that Pyrrho left nothing in writing, thus preventing his philosophic views from being clearly understood or known, so that all that remained was his attitude towards life19. This might explain the reason why Cicero did not acknowledge the skeptical elements of Pyrrho’s thought, for the legitimate and original line of Skepticism would not be restored until after Aenesidemus20.

Although here I define Academic philosophy as being skeptic, I am, in fact, referring to two forms of Skepticism with some clearly defined differences. A text by Aulus Gellius is fundamental in clarifying both forms of Skepticism. Gellius, who was born around 130 AC, was the pupil of the African Sulpicius Apolinarius. As he explains in the preface to Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights), he wrote the book for use by his own pupils to distract himself during the long winter nights he spent in Attic21. Aside from the anonymous text referred to by Philo22, Aulus Gellius’ testimony is the oldest extant text on the methods and pretensions of these two forms of Skepticism. Its merit lies in expounding some differences between the two main varieties of Skepticism: Pyrrhonic and Academic, and the fact that the term “skeptiko/j” appears for the first time in a technical sense.

The passage in question appears in book XI, chapter V of Attic Nights. The title reads: “Some brief notes about the Pyrronian philosophers and the Academics; and of the difference between them (De Pyrroniis philosophis quaedam, deque Academicis strictim notata; deque inter eos differentia)” and constitutes a clear expression of Gellius’ intention23. Following Favorinus24, whose views were founded on Aenesidemus, Aulus Gellius explains that the term "skeptikoí" designates both Pyrrhonics and Academics. This is surprising as we know that when Sextus Empiricus writes "sképsis" or "skeptiké philosophía" the terms are already in common use in Pyrrhonic philosophy, but not in the Academic philosophy that Sextus himself refers to as skeptical25. However, the situation is not as clear in Gellius, as he indistinctly refers to Academics and Pyrrhonics as skeptikoí, perhaps in an attempt to reduce them, albeit mistakenly so, to a single philosophical trend26. It is interesting to note, however, that initially it is the Pyrrhonics "Quos pyrrhonios philosophos vocamus", and not the Academics, to whom the text refers, as if it were a Greek cognomen:
“Those whom we call the Pyrronian philosophers are designated by the Greek name skeptikoí, or “sceptics,” which means about the same as “inquirers” and “investigators.” For they decide nothing and determine nothing, but are always engaged in inquiring and considering what there is in all nature concerning which it is possible to decide and determine.”27
Further on, however, Gellius uses the terms "skeptikoí", "ephektikoí" and "aporetikoí" to refer to both Pyrrhonics and Academics. This is interesting because although for Gellius this label was correct in defining both Pyrrhonic and Academic philosophy, there seems to be no doubt that the first to have this name, skeptikoí, were the Pyrrhonics, a name which also suited the Academics. Thus, it would appear that the subsequent use of the term served to explain and broaden the meaning of the word “skeptic”, thereby allowing Gellius to settle the dispute regarding the differences between these two schools of thought. Both Pyrrhonics and Academics were given the title of skeptikoí, ephektikoí, aporetikoí, but it is also true that the differences between the two schools respond, as we will see, to the different foundations upon which they were constituted: for the former, a firm skeptical tradition carried on by Presocratic thinkers; for the latter, the dogmatic thought of Plato.

  1. Platonic heritage and the strength of tradition

I believe that I have demonstrated reasonably well28 that Skepticism, used in a general sense, is an adequate description not only of Pyrrhonism but also of certain alterations witnessed in the Platonic Academy. I agree, however, with Levy when he states that Arcesilaus could not define himself as anything other than an Academic29 and a follower of the academic tradition, although this attitude did not prevent his investigative method from sharing similarities with the dubitative philosophers. Clearly, there are differences between both forms of Skepticism, based above all on the different traditions in which they are encompassed30, but there are also numerous similarities.

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

Undeniably, there is a certain dialectical and hence, skeptical seed in Plato’s philosophical stance, leading us to speak of a model wherein philosophy is conceived of as a shared search (suz/h/thsij) aimed at attaining the knowledge of reality. Consequently, it can be assumed that the single philosophic line of the Academy did not propound an abrupt transformation of Platonic dogmatism in a skeptical direction, but the development of “quasi-skeptical” suppositions.

Emphasizing the Socratic declaration “do not claim to know that nothing can be known”32 (in reference to the Socratic claim that “I only know that I know nothing”), which establishes that all is obscure and nothing can be grasped or understood33, Arcesilaus eschewed Plato’s skeptical doctrine, advancing Socrates and Plato’s dubitative and aporetic formulations instead34. Given that the method and foundation for Arcesilaus’ theories have an unquestionably Socratic and Platonic basis, we can safely say that Arcesilaus was a genuine exponent and interpreter of Plato’s philosophy.

The work of Plato, then, is the starting point for Arcesilaus “e)%/kei dh\ qauma/zein kai\ to/n Pla/twna kai\ ta\ bibli/a e)ke/kthto au)touª”35. However, this passage has yet to be clarified. The claim that Arcesilaus personally possessed Plato’s works is certainly interesting. It is clear that in addition to Plato’s manuscripts, some written copies of Plato’s work existed in the Academy and that Arcesilaus, as head of the Academy, would have had easy access to them. If this is so, why say such a thing? Why the decision to personally acquire Plato’s ta\ bibli/a?.

The answer is either extremely simple or exceptionally complex. If we opt for the first, we confirm Arcesilaus’ wish to avoid a certain amount of inconvenience (which we have all experienced) in consulting Plato’s works by making or having made his own copy of them for use at his own convenience without having to resort to borrowing the works from the Academy’s library. The answer to the second question is not as simple.

According to Diogenes36, Arcesilaus arrived in Athens where he became the disciple of Theophrastus. Later, however, he abandoned the Lyceum (much to the regret of his teacher) and listened to Crantor in the Academy, who bequeathed him his fortune. Upon Crantor’s death, Arcesilaus became the disciple of Polemo37 and Crates. It is also worth noting that Arcesilaus considered his philosophical stance to be a continuation of the academic tradition38. Based on the Chronicles of Apollodorus, Diogenes reports that Arcesilaus flourished in the CXX Olympiad (296 BC). This last date, however, cannot be correct for if he was born in 315 BC, he would have reached maturity at the age of nineteen. However, if we add fifteen more years to this date, Arcesilaus would have reached maturity around 281 BC (when he became head of the Academy) and died at the age of 75 in the year 240 BC39.

What most interests me here in this jumble of dates (all too common in ancient times) is that Arcesilaus was elected head of the Academy approximately 66 years after the death of Plato, succeeding Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo and Crates of Athens. It is a well-known fact that among the scholarchs and members of the school there was disagreement as to Plato’s doctrine, including the postulates that were deemed fundamental to the theory of ideas. In fact, Plato’s successors appeared to move away from Platonism, the first of whom was Plato’s own nephew Speusippus who eschewed the theory of ideas. That the Academy survived in spite of its changing philosophical views therefore becomes all the more significant.

It was at this time when Arcesilaus appeared with the Books of Plato, too far removed in time to speak from memory of the written and unwritten Platonic doctrines, yet too close to reduce the importance of Plato’s work to a merely erudite and conventional source. Today we know that the problem of the Platonic a)/grafa do/gmata calls for elucidation either to justify the thesis that Plato expounded his genuine philosophical views orally or to refute this claim. No one can negate the fact that Plato’s explanations were transmitted orally, the question does not lie in accepting that these unwritten teachings did in fact exist, but rather in determining what this doctrine corresponded to40.

Whether or not we interpret the doctrine of principles (the principal focus of later indirect testimonies) as part of Plato’s oral teachings or as a subsequent and highly scholastic interpretation of Plato’s doctrine in an Academy impregnated by Pythagoreanism41, we are faced with a very confusing situation indeed regarding Platonic philosophy. It is possible that the doctrines of Plato had been so contaminated by the subsequent developments introduced by his direct disciples42 that by Arcesilaus’ time they had reached a point of no return. In light of the hypothesis of the unwritten theories, it would be reasonable to assume that the views developed in later doctrines would eventually alter Plato’s written doctrine to such a degree that it would be difficult to distinguish genuine Platonic principles from those espoused by his disciples, especially by the members of the Academy who had not had direct access to his teachings.

It seems clear, then, that because there was no written account of these explanations or as a result of later developments, the Platonic principles of Plato’s followers differed to a greater or lesser degree from those espoused by Plato himself. This is not surprising, since from the beginning Plato’s thought presented, due to its investigative generosity, an incomplete, unfinished edifice full of perplexity and doubt, an essential feature of all thought, which after much effort, compelled one towards a non-established truth. This may explain why the dialectical contradictions that fed Plato’s creative prolificacy became the strongest recommendation for his successors upon his death. Given the almost sacred cult to their founder Plato, it is likely that the successors of the Academy moved in a climate of freedom that paid honor to their teacher and not only generated numerous contradictions in the correct exegesis of his written and unwritten doctrines43, but more importantly, a true and profound crisis of philosophical identity.

Hence, it is likely that in Arcesilaus’ time it was necessary to clarify this disconcerting panorama under the auspices of “indirect tradition.” According to Wilamowitz and Bickel44, a complete edition of Plato’s work ordered into tetralogies was authorized by the Academy in the third century BC; precisely at the time when Arcesilaus was a scholarch or immediately thereafter. It is quite possible, then, that it was Arcesilaus himself who ordered the works to be edited. Although it is true that the edition included several interpolations, spurious writings in the corpus of the tetralogies45, its authoritative character and excellence are not so much a result of its grammatical semantics, but the fact that Plato’s legacy was able to survive in the Academy for so long.

It is therefore likely that Arcesilaus referred solely and exclusively to the Books of Plato in his attempt to clarify what must have been a very confusing situation indeed. This would explain Diogenes’ curious and yet explicit reference to the fact that Arcesilaus possessed or had acquired (eképteto) his books. That Diogenes chose to use the verb eképteto, the pluperfect of the verb kta/omai, hints at Arcesilaus’ very personal relationship with Plato’s books. Whether Arcesilaus bought the books or had a copy of them made for his personal use, we have the sensation that Arcesilaus wanted to mitigate the philosophical views that were inconsistent with Plato’s written doctrine. Arcesilaus’ efforts to keep Plato’s written discourse and the lo/goj swkratiko/j that it contained may have been a response to the enormous confusion that abounded regarding prevailing theories46, hence Diogenes Laertius’ claim that Arcesilaus was a bridge between Plato and the Late Academy of Lacydes and Carneades47.

Given this context, it is necessary to understand the precise doxography that Diogenes Laertius 48 produced on Arcesilaus’ thought. As the originator of the Middle Academy49, Arcesilaus transformed the Academy by propounding Socrates’ dialectical method of questions and answers, arguing both for and against philosophical positions, and reviving contrarieties of argument50. According to Cicero, these dialectical strategies, which were a Socratic practice to ascertain the opinions of those with whom he was arguing, had been abandoned by Plato’s followers51. It was Arcesilaus who revived the Socratic-Platonic method which states nothing positively, makes no certain statements and argues both sides of a question, compelling suspension of judgment52.

This reformation of Platonism (although it only signified the reestablishment of old formulas) was based on Arcesilaus’extensive knowledge of Plato’s philosophy. Socrates’ use of irony, the continual negation of everything and the contrary and the use of dubitative formulas, points to a renovation of the Academy within the framework of Platonic tradition. It would be mistaken, then, to define the Academy under Arcesilaus as “New” in order to emphasize a break with classic Platonism. Instead, it would be sensible to assume that the use of the term “New” Academics, in reference to Arcesilaus and his followers as a result of their supposed philosophical distancing from the “true” academics of the Old Academy under Plato, was proposed by his adversaries and later Platonists such as Numenius in an attempt to generate a certain amount of controversy in their opposition to the Skeptic Arcesilaus.

The epithet “New” was deemed an excellent strategy by Arcesilaus’ opponents to denounce his modifications and betrayal of Platonic thought. Arcesilaus, however, faithfully followed his teacher Plato and continued to expound his philosophy in an attempt to discover truth, but also to habituate his interlocutors and disciples to reflection rather than authority. Perhaps this explains why he left nothing in writing. For, on the one hand, he hoped to prevent a cult which might render him and his work useless, and on the other hand, he wanted to expound Plato’s work and establish its authority in the event of conflict. The change in the Academy of Arcesilaus should, then, be seen as a return to the traditional Socratic-Platonic values of the school – it is a revival and not a revolution of Academic forms53.

Clearly, there are differences with the so-called “Old” Academy of Plato. To view Arcesilaus exclusively in terms of his relationship with Socrates and Plato would be to simplify the historical and philosophical context in which the “New” Academy evolved. Furthermore, to ignore the philosophers who headed the Academy such as Speusippus, Xenocrates, Crantor or Polemo is to underestimate later developments that would bring about a maturity of the germinal ideas of skeptical Platonism; not spontaneously as Robin claims54, but as an essential element of the anti-Stoic dialectic. The recognition of the controversial and dialectical value of many of Arcesilaus’ and Carneades’ arguments as formulas55 reducto ad absurdum of the views of their Stoic adversaries is, without question, fundamental to interpreting the history of Academic Skepticism.


I believe to have shown that the philosophical phenomenon that gave rise to the new orientation of the Platonic Academy cannot be explained by one or two factors alone. It is evident that Arcesilaus, scholarch of the Academy, held Plato, the founder of his school, in high regard. Nevertheless, we should not overlook the fact that Arcesilaus’ desire to refute any possible dogmatic system, and Stoicism in particular, led him to propound only those features of Plato’s philosophy that he deemed useful in opposing all forms of dogmatism.

It is widely accepted today that Arcesilaus’ philosophic stance was constructed in opposition to Stoicism. Yet, I also think it reasonable to affirm that alongside this clear aim to destroy Stoicism, there is a positive doctrine which is not wholly compatible with rigorous or radical Skepticism56, bestowing Arcesilaus’ doctrine with an unquestionable originality.

Following the studies by Coussin57, and later by Kramer58, it is accepted that the terminology employed by Arcesilaus proceeded from the doctrines of his adversaries. Given that the Stoics were an attractive target for the Skeptics, it follows that Arcesilaus’ terminology would, in turn, be wholly stoic. Anna Maria Ioppolo59, however, questions this radical thesis in light of two postulates:

  1. Arcesilaus’ criticism is directed against Zeno and his disciples, but not against other members of the Stoa such as Chrysippus.

  2. That the stoic terminology employed by Arcesilaus resembles Zeno’s concepts is due more to the fact they had shared the same teachers rather than the anti-stoic focus of his Academic philosophy60.

In effect, I have already stated that Arcesilaus’ philosophical thought cannot be limited to one or two factors alone. To reduce his stance to a deconstruction of Stoicism would be to dismiss the importance it has in its own right. The Skepticism of Arcesilaus maintains a particular and original constructive position which weakens the strength of his philosophical views and, interestingly enough, would prompt Pyrrhonists such as Timon to criticize Arcesilaus’ outrageously irreconcilable dogmatic tendency with regard to Pyrrhonism.

Thus, although the theories of Arcesilaus’ expounded by Cicero share some similarities with those of Pyrrho, they are recognized to be a destructive element of his battle against dogmatism; false arguments that hide or disguise dogmatism. For Timon, the renovation of the Academy not only furnishes a Socratic method which is very similar to Skepticism, but also a doctrinal dogmatism which is coherent with Academic practice. Timon is evidently more interested in the differences61 than the similarities, as he believes to have found in them the split between Pyrrhonism and the New Academy. In addition to Arcesilaus’ use of the dialectic and reasoning of the Eritrian school, the dialectic of Diodorus and the eristic tendencies of Menedemus, Diogenes Laertius acknowledged a fair amount of Pyrrho’s teachings in Arcesilaus; a fact that is supported by two of Timon’s verses which associate him with Pyrrho. There are, then, three clearly differentiated philosophical components in Arcesilaus’ stance: Platonic, Pyrrhonean and Megarian. A verse by Aristo, which has been cited numerous times, sheds some light on the situation: “Plato in front, Pyrrho behind, Diodorus in the middle”62. The same reference to this “philosophical melange” can be found in Sextus Empiricus who considered Arcesilaus and Pyhrro’s positions to be practically identical as they had many features in common with Pyrrhonean reasoning63. Initially, he acknowledges certain similarities with Pyrrhonic reasoning with which he appears to be in agreement, as demonstrated by the opening phrase: “it seems to me” (moi dokei) (P.H. 232). However, in Outlines of Pyrrhonism 234, Sextus contradicts himself and appears to dismiss Arcesilaus’ dogmatic interpretation as if he refuses to believe it, as if he were in disagreement: “if we are to believe (dei=.. Pisteu/ein) that which is said of him.”

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