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HELLENISTIC AND ROMAN PHILOSOPHY

How did political events after the decline of Greece change philosophy?

The death of Alexander the Great (356-323 b.c.e.) marked the end of the classical period in Greek philosophy. The Greek cities were unable to unify after great losses in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.e.). The next 800 years marked a period of great instability, as the political and cultural center of Western civilization shifted to Europe. As Rome came to dominate Greece, the uncontested brilliance of the Greeks faded into the past. Toward the end of this historical period, christian thought and practice began to define almost every aspect of civilized life.

Some Pre-Socratic thought—particularly the ideas and practices of Pythagoras— lived on after the decline of Greece; Plato's work endured in new forms that were compatible with early christianity. The Hellenistic or Greek-based forms of the new philosophies of skepticism, stoicism, Epicurianism, and cynicism spread throughout the Mediterranean world. There was little awareness of Aristotle's work at the time, although empiricism was easily accepted.

What happened in Athens after both Plato and Aristotle were gone?

Athens remained the center of philosophy until the Romans sacked it in 87 b.c.e. Much of our knowledge of Hellenistic philosophical activity comes from the first century B.c.E. Roman writers Lucretius (99-55 b.c.e.) and Cicero (106-43 b.c.e.), and secondary medieval sources. Plato's Academy became the New Academy, which was devoted to critical work on the thought of other schools. This was the beginning of the skeptics. Aristotle's Lyceum, or the Peripatos, was first led by Theophrastus in 322 b.c.e., but after 287 B.c.E., it fell into decline until the middle of the first century B.c.E.

What was skepticism?

Skepticism was founded by Arcesilaus, who was head of the New Academy from c. 268 to 241. His work was carried on by

Roman statesman and writer Cicero was influenced by the philosophers Panaetius and Posidonius (iStock).

Roman statesman and writer Cicero was influenced by the philosophers Panaetius and Posidonius (iStock).

Carneades, head of the Academy in the second century b.c.e. The skeptics held that nothing could be known, and they preached epoce, which is the doctrine that all judgments, or conclusions or assessments, should be suspended. These academic skeptics posed problems, or tropes, to show that sensory knowledge is prone to error and reasoning does not necessarily result in certainty. They concluded that because we have no absolute standards for distinguishing between truth and falsehood, the best we can hope for is probable knowledge.

Who was Pyrrho of Elis?

Pyrrho (c. 360-275) started out as a painter and then became interested in Democratus' (c. 460-371 b.c.e.) atomism. He travelled with Alexander the Great to the East, where he studied with the Gymnosophists in India and the Magi in Persia. He had students but left no written work. When he would refuse to judge whether a chariot headed his way would hit him, his students often had to rescue him at the last second.

Why was Pyrrho important?

His refusal to make judgments was an important school of skepticism that was developed after the Renaissance and during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

Known as pyrrhonic skepticism, it was the general philosophical approach that many things in human life cannot be known.

What was the debate between the Phyrrhonian and academic skeptics?

Pyrrhonian skepticism was founded by Aenesidemus in the early first century b.c.e. Aenesidemus claimed to be merely passing on the thoughts of Phyrro of Elis (c. 315-255 b.c.e.). Sextus Empiricus (160-210 c.e.) preserved Pyrrhonian skepticism in the second century after Aenesidemus. Pyrrhonian skeptics thought that the academic skeptics went too far in claiming that nothing could be truly known for certain. The Pyrrhonians preferred to suspend judgment on whether anything could be known. They held that suspending judgment led to ataraxia— peace of mind—in which there was simply no concern for what may or may not

Zeno of Citium was the founder of stoicism (Art Archive).

Zeno of Citium was the founder of stoicism (Art Archive).

lie behind appearances or come after them. Phyrrhonian skeptics were opposed to dogmatism and believed that their chief philosophic opponents were the stoics.

 
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