Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


The Eclecticism of this third period in the history of Greek philosophy is merely another aspect of the Scepticism which resulted from the exhaustion of speculative thought. The conflict of parties and schools led to the Sceptic despair of attaining scientific knowledge; the same cause led to the Eclectic attempt at finding in a looser concept of system a common speculative basis on which to erect a philosophy of conduct. Eclecticism relinquished the task of constructing a speculative system in the stricter sense of the word, and adopted what may be called a working hypothesis, falling back on common consciousness or uncriticised immediate knowledge as the final test of philosophic truth. The Eclectic tendency penetrated all the schools, everywhere dissolving the spirit of system which, under scholarchs of inferior ability, had already begun to lose its primitive power of cohesion. Accordingly, among the Stoics and Epicureans as well as among the followers of Plato and Aristotle, we find all through the century and a half before Christ as well as during the first three centuries of the Christian era evidences of the Eclectic spirit preparing the way for the more comprehensive syncretic efforts of the school of Alexandria.

Among the Stoics the principal Eclectics were Boethus, who borrowed from Peripatetic sources, and Panaetius and Posidonius. The latter two belonged to the second century before Christ and strove, under the influence of Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, to moderate the rigor of Stoic morality. Later, in the second century after Christ, Demetrius and Demonax exhibited a tendency to return to the ultra-Stoic rigor of Cynicism.

Among the Epicureans Asclepiades of Bithynia modified the teaching of his school by maintaining the indefinite divisibility of atoms.

The Platonic Academy shows the influence of the Eclectic spirit in the teachings of Philo of Larissa and of Antiochus of Ascalon,{2} as well as of Eudorus of Alexandria, who was a contemporary of Augustus.

Mention has already been made{3} of Andronicus of Rhodes, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Galen, who were Eclectics of the Peripatetic school.

{1} For biographical data, cf. Suidas, op. cit.

{2} Cf. p. 124.

{3} Cf. p. 159.

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