previous next

Arcesilāus

Ἀρκεσίλαος).


1.

Son of Battus, king of Cyrené, who was driven from his kingdom in a sedition, and died B.C. 575. The second of this name died B.C. 550 (Herod.iv. 159).


2.

A philosopher, born at Pitané, in Aeolis, the founder of what was termed the Middle Academy. The period of his birth is usually given as B.C. 316. Arcesilaüs at first applied himself to rhetoric, but subsequently passed to the study of philosophy, in which he had for teachers, first Theophrastus, then Crantor the Academician, and probably also Polemo (Diog. Laert. iv. 24, 29; Acad. i. 9). Besides the instructors above named, Arcesilaüs is also said to have diligently attended the lectures of the Eretrian Menedamus, the Megarian Diodorus, and the sceptic Pyrrho. His love for the quibbling of these individuals has been referred to as the source of his scepticism and his skill in refuting philosophical principles. At the same time it is on all hands admitted that of philosophers Plato was his favourite. He seems to have been sincerely of opinion that his view of things did not differ from the true spirit of the Platonic doctrine; nay, more, that it was perfectly in agreement with those older philosophical teachings, from which, according to the opinion of many, Plato had drawn his own doctrines—namely, those of Socrates, Parmenides, and Heraclitus.

Upon the death of Crantor , the school in the Academy was transferred by a certain Socratides to Arcesilaüs, who here introduced the old Socratic method of teaching in dialogues, although it was rather a corruption than an imitation of the genuine Socratic mode. Arcesilaüs does not appear to have committed his opinions to writing; at least the ancients were not acquainted with any work which could confidently be ascribed to him. Now, as his disciple Lacydes also abstained from writing, the ancients themselves appear to have derived their knowledge of his opinions only from the works of his opponents, of whom Chrysippus was the most eminent. Such a course must naturally be both defective and uncertain, and accordingly we have little that we can confidently advance with respect to his doctrines. According to these statements the results of his opinions would be a perfect scepticism, expressed in the formula that he knew nothing, not even that which Socrates had ever maintained that he knew —namely, his own ignorance (Acad. i. 12). This expression of his opinion implicitly ascribes to Arcesilaüs a full consciousness that he differed in a most important point from the doctrine of Socrates and Plato. But, as the ancients do not appear to have ascribed any such conviction to Arcesilaüs, it seems to be a more probable opinion which imputes to him a desire to restore the genuine Platonic dogma, and to purify it from all those precise and positive determinations which his successors had appended to it. Indeed, one statement expressly declares that the subject of his lecture to his most accomplished scholars was the doctrine of Plato (Cic. l. c.); and he would therefore appear to have adopted this formula with a view to meet more easily the objections of the dogmatists. Now if we thus attach Arcesilaüs to Plato, we must suppose him to have been in the same case with many others, and unable to discover in the writings of Plato any fixed and determinate principles of science. The ambiguous manner in which almost every view is therein advanced, and the results of one investigation admitted only conditionally to other inquiries, may perhaps have led him to regard the speculations of Plato in the light of mere shrewd and intelligent conjectures. Accordingly, we are told that Arcesilaüs denied the certainty not only of intellectual, but also of sensuous knowledge (Cic. De Orat. iii. 18).

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: