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Carneades (214–129 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A027-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

The Greek philosopher Carneades was head of the Academy from 167 to 137 bc. Born in North Africa he migrated to Athens, where he studied logic with the Stoic Diogenes of Babylon; but he was soon seduced by the Academy, to which his allegiance was thereafter lifelong. He was a celebrated figure; and in 155 bc he was sent by Athens to Rome as a political ambassador, where he astounded the youth by his rhetorical powers and outraged their elders by his arguments against justice.

Under Carneades’ direction the Academy remained sceptical. But he enlarged the sceptical armoury – in particular, he deployed sorites arguments against various dogmatic positions. He also broadened the target of sceptical attack: thus he showed an especial interest in ethics, where his ‘division’ of possible ethical theories served later as a standard framework for thought on the subject. But his major innovation concerned the notion of ‘the plausible’ (to pithanon). Even if we cannot determine which appearances are true and which false, we are able to distinguish the plausible from the implausible – and further to distinguish among several grades of plausibility. It is disputed – and it was disputed among his immediate followers – how, if at all, Carneades’ remarks on the plausible are to be reconciled with his scepticism.

Citing this article:
Barnes, Jonathan. Carneades (214–129 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A027-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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