The Hellenistic Philosophers:
Skepticism II

Three Possible Justificatory Structures

  1. Infinite Regress: Rests on nothing, answers Nothing.
  2. Circle: Rests on itself, makes no progress.
  3. Termination: Rests on what is not knowledge. What could that be?

Can't be a mere hypothesis. Needs to be justified. How?

The Senses?

Problem of the Criterion

Against Skepticism

The Apraxia Charge

Assent is an essential part of action.

We must assent to "ϕ is to be done", before we ϕ.

How can a skeptic act?

Arcesilaus' reply

Well, animals act, presumably without the kind of rational reflection that stoics want to engage in before assent.


  1. Not so obvious---Chrysippus' logical dog.
  2. Skeptical action---action without assent---would then be not even animal. More like the activity of a plant, or like a reflex.

Cicero: "Arcesilaus robs people of their minds".

Carneades' reply

We don't believe things. We just take them to be "pithanon"---probable, plausible, persuasive---and use that to get through the day

A capitulation?

Approval vs. Belief

Challenge: Don't you at least believe that the stuff you're acting on is probable?

Reply: We "approve" of it. We don't believe it.


Well, Carneades' followers also found this confusing. Some interpretations:

  1. It's OK to believe, as long as you believe that you don't know.
  2. Belief comes in degrees, and approval is partial belief
  3. Beliefs about probabilities are the only kind of skeptically acceptable belief.

Seems like the skeptical arguments kind of undermine (2) and (3)...

Late Antiquity

The Rise of Rome

After Alexander's Death, his territory fell apart into Ptolemaic Egypt (Capital: Alexandria), The Seleucid Empire, and Macedon---and lost its hold on Athens.

City states of central Greece fell into war and squabbing.

All the while, to the west, a new power was on the rise...

150BC: Rome subdues Greece (Archean war)

Defeats Macedon

Props/Annexes up Ptolemaic Egypt. (Battle of Actium, 31 BC)

Philosophy in the Roman Republic

Adaptation of Greek Philosophy.

  1. Lucretius: Adaptation of Epicurus
  2. Cicero: Adaptation of Stoic and Academic Philosophy
  3. Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius: Stoics

Republic to Empire

Power-grab by Julius Caesar (Actively opposed by Cicero), resulting ultimately in Caesar's son, Gaius Octavius, aka Augustus, becoming Emperor.

Emperors are interested to greater and lesser degrees in philosophy.

Philosophers, (in particular, Stoics), remain active in political life of the empire

Seneca, advisor to Nero.

Epictetus, influence on Marcus Aurelius, Stoic Emperor.

Fall of Rome