ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

73. The Eclecticism of the Academy. Cicero. -- The Academy became the focus of a full and complete fusion of all the prevalent philosophical systems. To this it lent itself admirably, for its scepticism had a peculiar affinity with the eclectic philosophy of the time.

The eclecticism of the Academy in the first century B.C. assumed its specific form in the philosophy of PHILO OF LARISSA (died about 80 B.C.), the founder of the Fourth Academy, and of ANTIOCHUS (died 68 B.C.). The former contended that the Academic scepticism was only a weapon against the Stoic criterium and did not exclude an innate certitude about things. The latter achieved the complete return of the Platonic school to dogmatism, turned his back on Carneades, professed his adherence all at once to Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno, and held that all the dogmatic systems of his predecessors did nothing more than express the same truths in different ways: this is the most complete form of eclecticism, such as we find it in CICERO (106-43), the celebrated disciple of Philo and Antiochus.

Although he displays a preference for the New Academy, Cicero is in touch with all the systems of his time, and all find a welcome in his assimilative mind. Amongst the many works through which his philosophical ideas are scattered, we may mention the De Officiis, De Republica, De Legibus, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, De Natura Deorum. He shines less by originality of ideas than by a remarkable aptitude for accommodating Grecian ideas to the Roman civilization. Cicero sets out from a theoretical scepticism, which he bases on the want of agreement between the various philosophies in the solution of the most important problems. This theoretical, neo-academic scepticism runs hand in hand with a practical dogmatism. In all moral questions -- and they are the main object of philosophy -- as well as in all those which have a bearing on ethics, we act on a positive conviction which, though not indeed an absolute certitude, far surpasses the probability of Carneades. And where are we to find this assurance which is to be the mainspring of our actions? In the consciousness, the intimate and immediate feeling, that some things are, that others are not: the first truths of the moral order are innate.

As soon, however, as Cicero comes down to the details of the problems raised by ethics, his eclectical wavering reasserts itself. He believes in the identity of the Platonic and Aristotelian doctrines on the sovereign good, but he has some difficulty in reconciling them with the theory of the Stoics. With Zeno he admits the autarchy of wisdom, but he cannot bring himself to exclude corporeal enjoyments from his concept of the good (penpateticism). Epicureanism alone is rigorously excluded from his theory of happiness.

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