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19 - Post-Aristotelian philosophy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

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When Theophrastus formally established the Peripatetic school or Lyceum, following Aristotle's death, Athens possessed two centres of philosophy, for the Platonic Academy, now under its third head, Xenocrates, had continued without interruption. The activities of the Academy during this period are very poorly documented, but they seem to have concentrated upon systematizing Plato's thought at a time when Aristotle and his immediate successors were engaged upon new researches over a much wider front. It is possible that Xenocrates and his associates began the interpretation of Plato which, centuries later, culminated in the complex metaphysics of Plotinus. For three hundred years, following Plato, the Academy had an uninterrupted Athenian tradition, but it contributed little of substance to Greek literature. The most important Academic philosophers, Arcesilaus (died 242/1) and Carneades (died 129/8), were Sceptics who wrote nothing, though their work, especially Carneades', was well enough known at secondhand to be used by Cicero in his Academica and much later by Sextus Empiricus (see p. 636). Antiochus of Ascalon, in the first century B.C., turned the Academy back to a positivist philosophy, synthesized from traditional Academic teaching and Stoic views. He was known to Cicero, whose philosophical writings contain many explicit reports of his position.

Our knowledge of the early Peripatetics is much better, and certainly sufficient to show that they maintained Aristotle's own interests, including the study of literature. We are best informed about Theophrastus, a scholar of quite remarkable range and energy. His surviving work, a tiny fraction of his total output, is mainly on scientific subjects (especially botany), which he treats in very much the same manner as Aristotle.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1985

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