Anna Maria Ioppolo is probably the scholar who has worked the most on so-called Academic skepticism in the last three decades. The present book synthesizes, develops, and reinforces the views and arguments expounded in some of the learned studies she has published in this span of time. Its aim is to offer a detailed critical examination of the testimony on the philosophy of the skeptical Academy found in one of our two chief sources, Sextus Empiricus. It should be noted, though, that Ioppolo does not provide an analysis of all of Sextus’ references to the Academic skeptics. Rather, she focuses on the major part of the testimony on the two main representatives, Arcesilaus and Carneades. She thus does not examine Sextus’ arguments against astrology, some of which in all probability go back to Carneades (e.g., Adversus Mathematicos [ AM ] V 88-95), the series of sorites arguments against the existence of gods which he ascribes to Carneades ( Adversus Dogmaticos [ AD ] III 182-90), or the brief but important report on the position of Philo of Larissa (
Besides a short introduction, the book’s main discussion is divided into three chapters: the first deals with the testimony on the skeptical Academy found in the first book of PH, while the second and third chapters explore, respectively, the testimony on Arcesilaus and Carneades found in the course of Sextus’ discussion of the criterion of truth in the first extant book of AD. The work also contains two appendices: in the first, Ioppolo argues that the view that all things are uncertain reported in Cicero’s Lucullus 32 is to be ascribed to Arcesilaus, while in the second she reproduces a paper on the interpretations of Socrates’ stance in the ancient skeptical traditions.1
Sextus devotes a long section at the end of PH I to explaining the differences between Pyrrhonism and its “neighboring” philosophies. In the first chapter, Ioppolo examines in particular the parts of this section dealing with the positions of the New Academy of Carneades and Clitomachus and the Middle Academy of Arcesilaus. But she also tackles at some length Sextus’ discussion of whether Plato can be deemed a “pure” skeptic. I will here focus on her analysis of Sextus’ treatment of the Academic skeptics.
With regard to the testimony on Carneades and Clitomachus ( PH I 226-31), Ioppolo maintains that it is contaminated by Sextus’ intention to misrepresent a philosophy which bears a close resemblance with Pyrrhonism, with the sole aim of showing the latter’s originality. Despite what Sextus says,
As for Arcesilaus, Ioppolo is one of the few interpreters who recognize that Sextus accepts in propria persona the almost total identity between the Arcesilean stance and Pyrrhonism ( PH I 232). Despite what some scholars persistently affirm, nowhere in PH does Sextus maintain that Arcesilaus was a dogmatist. For instance, he merely remarks that “someone might say” that a difference between the Skeptic and Arcesilaus is that the former says that partial suspensions of judgment are good and partial assents bad in accordance with the way things appear to him, whereas the latter says so in reference to the nature of things ( PH I 233). There is, however, a certain unfounded vacillation in Ioppolo’s interpretation of Sextus’ attitude towards Arcesilaus. Not only does she claim that Sextus intends to present Pyrrhonism as utterly original and does not recognize any precursors in other schools (p. 12), but also that Sextus levels the charge of dogmatism against the whole Academy with the “ambiguous exception” of Arcesilaus (p. 13). She even considers it possible that Sextus reports the testimony on the esoterism of Arcesilaus ( PH I 234) with the aim of diminishing or eliminating altogether the affinity between the Pyrrhonian and the Arcesilean philosophies (p. 52, cf. 79-80). However, as has just been noted, Sextus acknowledges that the Arcesilean stance is almost the same as Pyrrhonism and does not subscribe to the dogmatic interpretations of Arcesilaus.
The second chapter thoroughly examines Arcesilaus’ criticism of the Stoic criterion of truth as it is presented in AD I 150-8. Ioppolo argues that, although Arcesilaus’ argumentation against the Stoics is described as being ad hominem, suspension of judgment is presented not only as the state the Stoics are forced to adopt if, as follows from their own doctrine, all things are inapprehensible, but also as a state which Arcesilaus adopts in propria persona. Indeed, the Sextan text says that “it will follow also according to the Stoic that the wise person suspends judgment” ( AD I 155, my italics). The text also points to a difference between the
In the third chapter, devoted to the account of Carneades’ outlook on the criterion, Ioppolo points out the differences between this account and that of Arcesilaus’ stance. For example, whereas Arcesilaus directs his arguments against the Stoics, Carneades aims his at all philosophers, and whereas the former makes no concession to the Stoic criterion, the latter accepts the requirements for the criterion set by the Stoics. Ioppolo thinks that Sextus deliberately constructs his account of Carneades so as to show the differences between the two Academics rather than the similarities. In both cases, however, the argumentative strategy is exclusively dialectical. In addition, like Arcesilaus, Carneades felt the need to put forward in propria persona a criterion for the conduct of life and the attainment of happiness, namely,
Ioppolo maintains that, whereas in PH I Sextus’ purpose is to distinguish Pyrrhonism from the positions of the different phases of the Academy, in AD I he presents Arcesilaus and Carneades as “negative dogmatists” (pp. 28, 34). I think this latter claim is unfounded. In the case of Carneades, the accusation of negative dogmatism is found only at PH I 2-4 and 226 in relation to the affirmation of the
This reference to the notion of
The production quality of the book is quite good; I have noticed a couple of errors in the dates of some of the works cited and a dozen typos, most in quotations of English passages. To conclude, just let me say that this is a must-read book for anyone concerned with Academic skepticism or its philosophical connections with Pyrrhonism, or with Sextus as a source.4
1. “Socrate nelle tradizioni scettico-accademica e pirroniana”, in G. Giannantoni et alii (eds.), La tradizione socratica (Napoli: Bibliopolis, 1995).
2. Ioppolo finds this difference problematic because she maintains that Arcesilaus put forward
3. Ioppolo claims that, in both PH I 23-4 and AD V 162-8, Sextus refers to nature in his explanation of the possibility of action without assent (p. 126). There is, however, no reference to nature in the latter passage.
4. I would like to thank a BMCR editor for his useful suggestions.